Russia – History Repeats Itself
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Over the last two decades, I have given talks on investing, mainly focused on my books, to CFA Societies around the world, from South Africa to New Zealand to Sofia, Bulgaria, and India in January of this year (you can watch that talk here). As a CFA, I love talking to fellow CFAs; we share a common memory of the pain of three torturous years of preparing for and taking the CFA exam.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak to the CFA Association of Russia about my most recent book.
Here is my reply:
A year and a half ago, I would have eagerly taken the opportunity to speak to your members, especially since my book Soul in the Game has been translated into Russian. However, today, my heart is breaking as I witness what is happening in Ukraine.
To give a presentation to your members without addressing the atrocities occurring there would be similar to giving a presentation in Berlin in 1942 and not mentioning the millions of people being killed by the Nazis in the Soviet Union.
Unless I can also discuss the horrors of the war, which I am sure you would not want me to do, I cannot bring myself to speak to your members.
Writing this reply made me think about Russia.
My heart is bleeding for the Ukrainian people, but once the war is over, I can see a bright future for Ukraine. I don’t see a bright future for Russia in any outcome of the war. Economically, Russia has weathered this war better than I and most Western observers expected. Natural gas flows to Europe have come to a halt, but Russian oil is still flowing to India and China.
But it is not the economy that is on my mind as I write this; it is the political system. Politically, Russia is approaching the Stalinist Soviet Union and Rocket Man’s North Korea. Just like in Stalin’s era, neighbors are tattle-telling on neighbors and teachers on students. The punishment for saying anything against the war is a very real prison sentence.
The majority of Russian people are brainwashed, not all of them. I don’t know the number, let’s say 10-20%. But, understand that in a bit more than a year, Russia turned into a fascist nation and what Russia is doing to Ukraine today is not much different than what Nazi Germany did to the Soviet Union just eighty years ago. Russians feel like prisoners in their own country, without a future. People are censoring themselves in kitchen conversations, afraid that their friends or neighbors might report them to the authorities.
I’d like to think that if we hadn’t left Russia in 1991, I would have been in the group that is not brainwashed and understands what Russia is doing. Though, if I am completely honest, I cannot say that with 100% certainty. I don’t think anyone can really know unless you live in Russia today. What is certain is that, if we were there, my son Jonah would be facing the draft, at risk of being sent to Ukraine to die and to kill people who have done nothing to Russia or to him.
I am not any better than any of those people who support Putin, just luckier.
The stupidity of the situation is, what if Russia were to win the war? Of course, victory is what Putin decides it to be. But let us say Russia captures 20-30% of Ukraine. How would that make the lives of every Russian better? Just like North Korea, Russia is quickly becoming isolated from the West and turning into a vassal state of China, which has its own agenda.
It is amazing how little we learn from history.
Vitaliy Katsenelson, CFA is CEO of IMA – a value investing firm in Denver.
How can you safely invest in a market this speculative? Check out his free series on The 6 Commandments of Value Investing.
Or for something more down-to-earth, check out Soul in the Game: a book of inspiring stories and hard-won lessons on how to live a meaningful life, drawn from classical composers, ancient stoics, and contemporary thinkers.