Military Review

The sharp edges of the "black gold"


Unfulfilled hopes

In the middle of the 1960s, the Soviet Union launched an unprecedented hydrocarbon megaproject - the development of unique oil and gas fields in Western Siberia. Few then believed that such an undertaking would be successful. The natural wealth of Siberia was sealed in the impassable swamps of taiga and harsh tundra. For hundreds of kilometers - no infrastructure. Ruthless climate - extreme temperatures, wind. Naturally, the question arose: will it be possible to conquer the Siberian storerooms? At first, skepticism prevailed.

The reality, however, exceeded all expectations. In the shortest possible time from scratch in the most difficult conditions by heroic efforts (and you can’t say otherwise) geologists, builders, transport workers, oilmen and gas industry workers created a new energy base of the country. By the middle of the 1980's, more than 60% of all-union oil and more than 56% of gas were being produced here. Thanks to the West Siberian project, the country entered the world energy leaders. In 1975, the USSR produced almost 500 million tons of "black gold" and overtook the long-term champion in oil production - the United States.

For those who stood at the origins of the development of Western Siberia, a breakthrough to the richest oil and gas fields meant hopes for a bright future. People believed: their work will bring prosperity and prosperity to the country. Do not stint rainbow forecasts and American analysts. In the 1972 year, for example, researchers L. Rocks and R. Rangon, influenced by the “West Siberian epic”, drew the USSR’s perspective in this way: after two decades, the Soviet Union, while remaining a superpower military power, would have the highest standard of living. They predicted the absence of any negative trends in the development of the USSR at least until 2000 and 1. As known, история went a completely different way.

Two decades later, the Soviet Union surprised the world not with the highest standard of living, but with a systemic catastrophe, although historical experience showed that the discovery of powerful energy resources contributed to the qualitative renewal of industrialized countries. For example, the English Industrial Revolution was made possible by access to Yorkshire and Welsh coal. The rapid development of the US economy, universal motorization relied on the rapid success of the American oil industry in the first third of the XX century. A powerful impetus to the development of impoverished France after World War II was the discovery of the unique Lac gas field condensate field. And in the Soviet Union itself they remembered how the "black gold" of the Ural-Volga region helped the country to heal the terrible wounds of the Great Patriotic ...

What happened in the USSR? Why did the state, which annually produced more oil than any other country (20% of world production), was on the verge of a historic collapse? How did it happen that oil turned from a "life-giving medicine" into a highly active drug? Why oil did not save the country from terrible shocks? And could she do that?

On the construction of the main pipeline Photo: RIA News

Energy crisis 1973 of the year

The energy crisis in the West has been talked about since the beginning of 1970's. Against the background of rapidly growing energy consumption, problems periodically arose with an increase in oil supplies. The proposal did not keep up with demand, and the exporting countries, which united in the OPEC 1960 and "play" to increase oil prices, added fuel to the fire.

In the 1967 year, they first applied pressure tools such as embargoes. During the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Algeria banned the shipment of oil to countries friendly to Israel - the United States, Britain, and partly to Germany. However, a selective embargo could not succeed: the ban was easily overcome through third states.

In October 1973, the fourth Arab-Israeli war began, known as the Doomsday War. To support Egypt and Syria, OPEC members again applied the oil embargo, only this time more thoughtful. In addition to a total ban on exports to the USA, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and Rhodesia, the main thing was envisaged - a growing restriction on oil production — an initial reduction and an additional 5% each month. The reaction of the world market has become immediate - more than a threefold increase in the prices of oil and petroleum products. In countries - importers of "black gold" began a panic.

The energy crisis had far-reaching consequences. After many years, it is spoken of as the beginning of the restructuring of the post-war economy of Western countries, a powerful impetus to a new stage of the scientific and technological revolution, an important, fundamental prerequisite for the transition from industrial society to post-industrial society in developed countries. From the height of the 21st century, one cannot but agree. But then everything seemed different - the fall in industrial production, the decline in foreign trade turnover, the depressed state of the economy and the rise in prices.

Oil-importing countries tried to find new reliable partners, but there were not so many options. In 1973, OPEC included Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Qatar, Indonesia, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Ecuador. Who could interfere in the tutelage plans? The eyes of buyers (primarily European) were directed toward the Soviet Union, which in 1970 was rapidly increasing oil production in Siberia. However, the situation was far from clear. In the confrontation of Israel and the Arab states of the USSR traditionally supported the latter. The question arose: would the Soviet Union not want to play the oil card in the ideological vein - to join OPEC and blackmail the Western world with high hydrocarbon prices? Began difficult negotiations.

The country's leadership appreciated the unique opportunities that opened up the energy crisis. Despite the ideological rhetoric directed against the "Israeli military," the Soviet Union took a principled position: we are not going to participate in the oil intimidation of Western countries (after all, the working people will suffer), but on the contrary, they are ready to help in every way to overcome the energy crisis and become a reliable supplier energy resources, in particular oil2. Europe sighed with relief. A large-scale expansion of Soviet oil to the western market began.

The first oil of the Samotlor oil field. 1965 year. Photo: TASS

A bit of history

In the history of oil exports of the USSR there were different times. Immediately after the end of the Civil War, the country struggled to increase the export of oil. By the end of 1920-x, crude oil exports amounted to 525,9 thousand tons, and petroleum products - 5 million 592 thousand tons, which was several times higher than the export level of 1913 of the year. The Soviet power, desperate for currency, actively used oil as a significant source of funds for the renewal and development of the economy.

In the 1930s, the USSR almost abandoned oil exports. Forced industrialization was taking place in the country, an integral part of which was the comprehensive motorization of the national economy, which was inconceivable without significant volumes of oil products. Fundamental changes affected the army - developed aviation, tank compounds, which also required fuels and lubricants. For several years, the country has reoriented its oil potential to domestic needs. In 1939, export supplies amounted to only 244 thousand tons of oil and 474 thousand tons of oil products.

After the end of World War II, the Soviet Union, despite its own limited capabilities (in 1945, oil production amounted to 19,4 million tons of oil, or 60% of the pre-war level), committed itself to supplying oil to Eastern European countries that entered into the socialist camp and lack their own sources "black gold". Initially, these were fairly small volumes, but as the Volga-Ural petroleum province, the Second Baku, and the rapid growth of the Soviet oil industry were developed in 1950 (in 1955, oil production was 70,8 mln tons, and 10 years were 241,7 mln tons) Oil export numbers began to grow. By the middle of 1960, the country exported 43,4 million tons of oil and 21 million tons of oil products. In this case, the main consumer remained socialist camp. Thus, within the framework of "mutually beneficial cooperation and fraternal assistance", an oil pipeline with the symbolic name "Friendship" was built in 1959-1964, through which oil from the Ural-Volga region was transported to Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the GDR. Then it was the longest oil pipeline in the world - 4665 km, and the design capacity - 8,3 million tons.

By the way, it was at the end of 1950 that a fundamental restructuring of the structure of Soviet oil exports took place. If before 1960, the supply of oil products prevailed, then after - already crude oil. Such a transformation is associated, on the one hand, with a lack of in-house refining capacities (although 16 large refineries were built in the first post-war twenty years, but oil production grew at a faster pace), on the other hand, changes in global black gold trade. At the dawn of the oil industry, oil was not a subject of international trade. Crude oil deals were considered rather exotic. Traded products of its processing, first lighting kerosene and lubricating oils, then - motor fuel. After World War II, the situation changed. Importing countries have estimated profits and shifted to imports of crude oil.

Irkutsk region. Here it is - oil of the Upper Chonsky area! 1987 year. Photo: TASS


After the energy crisis of 1973, the USSR quickly increased the volume of oil exports to Western countries, which, unlike allies in the socialist camp, were paying in hard currency. From 1970 to 1980, this figure increased 1,5 times - from 44 to 63,6 million tons. After another five years, it reached 80,7 million tons. 3 And ​​all this against the background of rapidly growing oil prices.

The USSR’s foreign exchange earnings from oil exports are astounding. If in the 1970 year, the USSR revenues amounted to 1,05 billion dollars, then in the 1975 year - already 3,72 billion dollars, and by the 1980 year it increased to 15,74 billion dollars. Almost 15 times! This was a new factor in the development of the country 4.

It would seem that the development of Western Siberia and the global price situation have provided favorable conditions for the internal development of the economy (due to high energy supply), and for its modernization due to export earnings. But it all went wrong. Why?

Fatal coincidence

In 1965, the country announced the beginning of the so-called Kosygin reform. The official wording is "improving planning and enhancing economic incentives." In fact, an attempt to introduce individual market regulators into the planning environment that began to slip, or, as they said, to push economic management methods in opposition to the administrative approach. At the forefront was put the company. Of course, everything had to happen within the framework of socialism. Nevertheless, the reform also had influential opponents who considered the new trends to be ideologically questionable and dangerous. On L.I. Brezhnev was under pressure, but the Secretary-General understood that nothing could be changed. Reform went and brought the first results. However, at the beginning of 1970, due to internal contradictions, the question arose whether to continue reforms (first of all, the release of wholesale prices and the replacement of Gossnab by the wholesale market mechanism). And here "inappropriate" petrodollars poured into the country.

Under the influence of new financial sources, the Soviet political leadership has developed a persistent idea that now the most acute economic and social problems can be solved not by increasing the efficiency of the economic system, but by increasing revenues from oil and gas exports. The emerging system upgrade path has been dropped. The choice seemed obvious. Why the painful and ideologically questionable transformations when there are such financial receipts? Poor industry, not enough goods for the population? No problem! Let's buy them for the currency! Things are worse in agriculture, collective and state farms fail? Also not scary! Bring food from abroad! The foreign trade balance of those years is terrifying. An ugly program - "oil for food and consumer goods"!

Transportation of oil. Photo: RIA News

"With bread is bad - give 3 million tons above the plan"

In the second half of the 1970-x - the beginning of the 1980-s, in the view of the country's top leadership, there was a clear relationship between petrodollars and providing the population with food and consumer goods. Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers A.N. Kosygin, who had direct contacts with the chief of Glavtyumenneftegaz VI Muravlenko, personally addressed him with about such requests: "With bread is bad - give 3 million tons over the plan" 5. And the bread shortage was solved by extracting 3 million tons of oil over and above an extremely tense plan.

The recently declassified working notes of the meetings of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU contain interesting evidence of how top management, when discussing the export of hydrocarbons, directly linked it to food imports and purchases of consumer goods. For example, in May 1984, at the Politburo meeting, Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers N.A. Tikhonov stated: "Mainly oil, which we sell to capitalist countries, goes to pay for food and some other goods. In this regard, it seems reasonable when developing a new five-year plan to provide a reserve for possible additional oil supply in the amount of 5-6 mln . tons for the fifth anniversary "6.

The Soviet leadership did not want to listen to warnings that it was extremely dangerous to replace the work of the economy with imports. The national economy worked worse. Every year it has become increasingly difficult to ensure an already very modest standard of living of the population.

The most painful, of course, was the food question. The agricultural crisis has become an integral part of the party meetings of the Brezhnev era, beginning in March of the Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU in 1965. The government announced an increase in investment in agriculture, mechanization and electrification of production, land improvement and chemicalization. But despite this, agriculture and food industry could not meet the needs of the population. To feed people, more and more food was bought abroad. If in 1970, 2,2 million tons of grain were imported, then in 1975 it was already 15,9 million tons. By 1980, the purchase of grain increased to 27,8 million tons, and five years later it was 44,2 million tons. In 15 years, it was twenty times more! Slowly but surely, the food shortage was rampant.

Especially bad was with meat and meat products. In Moscow, Leningrad, the capitals of the Union republics and some of the largest cities, it was somehow possible to ensure an acceptable level of supply. But in other localities ... This is one of those years, the mystery about the grocery train: long, green, it smells like sausage. Despite the sharp increase in meat imports (by the beginning of 1980's, the country bought almost a million tons!) Per capita meat consumption grew only until the middle of 1970's, and then it almost stopped at the level of 40 kg per person. Huge purchases of feed grain and direct meat imports only compensated for the general collapse of agriculture.

It was possible to feed people with petroleum products on petrodollars. At the counter with the products of the Polish company Photo: RIA Novosti

Not the best picture evolved with consumer goods. Light industry frankly did not cope with the installation: more goods are good and different! At first, they were worried about quality: “Huge reserves were laid in improving the quality and range of products,” noted the 25th Congress of the CPSU at the 1976 year. “For example, last year, leather shoes produced about 700 million pairs - almost three pairs per person. And if the demand for shoes is not yet satisfied, then the matter is not in quantity, but in the fact that there is a shortage of high-quality fashion footwear. The situation is similar with many types of fabrics, sewing and haberdashery products "7. At the beginning of 1980, they were already talking about non-fulfillment of plans in terms of quantity: “It’s a fact,” they sadly stated at the XXVI Congress of the CPSU (1981 year), “that plans to release many consumer goods, especially fabrics and knitwear, are not fulfilled year after year. , leather shoes ... "8 To put on and put on people, they pressed on imports. But as in the case of food, purchases only maintained an already not very high level. Thus, per capita consumption of knitwear stopped at the level of 2,1 products, and footwear - 3,2 pairs per person.

The most offensive was the fact that, buying food and consumer goods for a currency, the Soviet leadership practically did not use oil and gas revenues for large-scale technological modernization. It would seem that in the conditions of the scientific and technological revolution, imports should be radically reoriented and invested in modern equipment and technology. But nothing happened. The disastrous consequences for the Soviet Union were ignored by world achievements in the development of computing technology — it was in this area that the global changes that subsequently led to the formation of the information society.

The 1970s for the Soviet Union were a time of missed opportunities. In advanced countries, a restructuring of the economy took place and the foundations of a post-industrial society were laid, in which the role of raw materials and resources decreased, and the USSR not only preserved the industrial development model, but also formed a resource-based economy, where the country's dependence on hydrocarbons and the global price situation consistently grew. As the last decade of the existence of the USSR showed, a one-sided orientation to the hydrocarbon sector, which was charged with compensating for the inefficiency of the national economy, proved to be an extremely vulnerable position, incapable of leading the country out of economic stagnation.

OIL EXPORT OF THE USSR (million tons)

Year Oil Petroleum Products,
Oil Total
1965 43,4 32,3 75,7
1970 66,8 44,6 111,4
1975 93,1 57,4 150,5
1980 119 63,5 182,5
1985 117 76,5 193,5
1989 127,3 88,3 215,6


1. Dyakonova I.A. Oil and coal in the power industry of Tsarist Russia in international comparisons. M., 1999. C. 155.
2. Gromyko A.A. In the name of the celebration of Lenin's foreign policy: Selected speeches and articles. M., 1978. C. 330-340.
3. Hereinafter refers to the export of oil and oil products, calculated on oil.
4. For details, see: Slavkina M.V. Triumph and tragedy. The development of the USSR oil and gas complex in 1960-1980e years. M., 2002. C. 113-131.
5. Ibid. S. 193.
6. RGANI. F. 89. Op. 42. D. 66. L. 6.
7. XXV Congress of the CPSU: Verbatim Report. T. 1. M., 1976. C. 78-79.
8. XXVI Congress of the CPSU: Verbatim Report. T. 1. M., 1981. C. 66.
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  1. techie
    techie 18 May 2016 12: 15
    What can I say: it's a shame for the country. But from the mistakes of the past it is important to draw conclusions so as not to step twice on the same rake.
  2. cap
    cap 18 May 2016 12: 16
    As the last decade of the USSR’s existence has shown, the one-sided orientation towards the hydrocarbon sector, which was entrusted with the task of compensating for the inefficiency of the national economy, turned out to be an extremely vulnerable position, unable to get the country out of economic stagnation.

    The inability of the leadership of the Central Committee of the CPSU to get away from the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism led to the collapse
    a huge country. Everything won by the labor of generations passed through the fingers, into the carefully placed hands of the "partners" and the preachers of the liberal economy. That's why we live. We used to be cogs of the system, now it's just a population.
    1. g1v2
      g1v2 18 May 2016 16: 38
      It's not even about ideology. The restoration of capitalism began as early as 65. Pt ideology has nothing to do with it. Here either deliberate sabotage - since the 70s or a systemic personnel disaster. It took Putin several years for the Russian Federation to become the largest exporter of grain in the world, it took us 5 years to turn from the largest importer of pork in the world into an exporter - I’m not talking about poultry at all - almost all poultry in Russia is domestic. "And what, so it was possible?" And why - the USSR with much greater resources and capabilities was not capable of this? Bush's paws and Canadian wheat for such a huge economy as the Soviet one was - a shame. And there were only 2 options - they couldn't solve the problem or didn't want to.
  3. Mareman Vasilich
    Mareman Vasilich 18 May 2016 12: 48
    Quote: cap
    The inability of the leadership of the Central Committee of the CPSU to get away from the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism led to the collapse
    huge country.

    He himself at least understood what he said. For reference: That country's leadership, dogmas and Marxism-Leninism are three different things that have nothing in common with each other. Each topic is a separate phenomenon. Take a closer look at the question. Start with lectures by M.V. Popov at the Red University. Well, here is a list in order to understand what it is all about. Enlighten your health. Part one
    List of recommended literature from the military historian K.A. Zhukova:
    A - for sharpening the tool of knowledge. Without a firm knowledge of logic, the tool of knowledge will be dull and ineffective. Therefore, in order of necessity of development:
    1. S.N. Vinogradov A.F. Kuzmin. Logics. Textbook for high school. M. Ministry of Education. 1954.
    2. Hegel G.V.F. The science of logic.
    B - to understand the dynamics of the development of processes in history.
    1.Marx K. Capital. Criticism of Political Economy T.1-3.
    (Without this book, it is very difficult to completely understand the mechanisms of functioning of the modern economy of capitalism, which means that it is completely understand all the basic historical processes going on from the 16th century to the present day. I recall that it is impossible to fully understand “Capital” without mastering Hegel’s “Logic”) .
    2. Braudel F. Material civilization, economics and capitalism, XV – XVIII centuries. T.1. The structures of everyday life: the possible and the impossible. M .: Publishing house "All World" 2006.
    Material civilization, economics and capitalism, XV – XVIII centuries. T.2. Sharing games. M .: Publishing house "All World" 2006.
    Material civilization, economics and capitalism, XV – XVIII centuries. T.3. Time of peace. M..: Publishing house "All World" 2007.
    (A fundamental study of the era of the formation of modern European civilization. No one else published such a concentrated selection of factology on the topic).
  4. Evdokim
    Evdokim 18 May 2016 12: 48
    Instructive, very instructive.
  5. 34 region
    34 region 18 May 2016 12: 48
    And what lesson have you learned from the past? In my opinion no. We also change oil for bucks. If then the economy was general, today it is private. And how do our private traders buy modern technology today after selling oil and gas?
  6. Mareman Vasilich
    Mareman Vasilich 18 May 2016 12: 49
    Quote: cap
    The inability of the leadership of the Central Committee of the CPSU to get away from the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism led to the collapse
    huge country.

    Part two

    3. Lenin V.I. The development of capitalism in Russia. St. Petersburg. 1899.
    (Simple and intelligible: the milestones of the formation of capitalist relations in our country at the turn of the century. Centuries have now changed, however, the similarities come across just frightening. It seems that change your last name - and that's how it is now.).
    4. Engels F. The origin of the family, private property and the state. In connection with the research of Lewis G. Morgan.
    (The book is “not young,” there are definitely outdated views in it, but to understand how civilization developed in general is an irreplaceable text).
    B — for mastering factual material, so to speak, not “to the full bayonet”, but at the average necessary level.
    1. The history of Europe. T.1-5
    T.1 The first volume is devoted to two eras - the primitive communal system and the slave formation. Much attention is paid to the tribal world of the early slavery states. The history of Rome is closely linked with the history of its provinces and other regions that came into contact with the empire
    T.2 Volume covers the first two stages of the history of medieval Europe: the early Middle Ages (V – XI centuries), when a new social system — the feudal system — began to take shape in the interaction of the Late Antique and Barbarian worlds; and the period of developed feudalism (XI – XV centuries), when the feudal system reached its peak and when the political map of Europe gradually developed.
    evekovaya-evropa-dow ...
    T.3 The third volume of the “History of Europe” is built on the problem-regional principle, which allowed to reveal the specifics of socio-economic relations and political structures in Europe at the end of the XV - the first half of the XVII century Special sections are devoted to popular movements in the city and the village, the problems of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and great geographical discoveries. Much attention is paid to the problems of culture and ideology, in particular the Renaissance and humanism.
    ednevekovya-k-novomu ...
    T.4 is devoted to the events of a half year period, from the middle of the XVII to the end of the XVIII century, a very difficult time, marked by contradictory processes of development of capitalist manufactory in the West and enslavement of the peasantry in Eastern Europe, the formation of parliamentary constitutionalism in England and decisive successes in the establishment of bureaucratic absolute monarchies on continent.
    a-novogo-vremeni-dow ...
    T.5, an attempt is made, using the problem-chronological approach in presenting the material, to take a fresh look from the turn of the second and third millennia, to look at the events of the “long XIX century”, to show the main development trends of European countries and Russia. For the first time, the main milestones of the historical development of small European countries - the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, the formation of national states and the formation of civil society are examined.
    ancuzskoj-revolyucii ...
  7. Riv
    Riv 18 May 2016 14: 11
    Oil itself, of course, did not cause a systemic crisis in the USSR. She only accelerated the process. Here's the thing:

    A person performing a relatively uncomplicated (albeit difficult) work will never earn as much as a qualified specialist earns. A skilled worker may demand wages for his work comparable to the surplus value he has produced. And the capitalist will pay, because he will not find another such worker. But this means that one person will live better than another, and under socialism this is unacceptable. The problem was solved comprehensively.

    If industrially developed Ukraine and Azerbaijan produced more products, and Tajikistan less, then the problem was solved comprehensively. In the metallurgical industry in Ukraine, salaries and prices for products were slightly reduced, and for cotton growers in Tajikistan, on the contrary, they were increased. The metallurgist received more money, but not by much. In the end, there was enough money for everyone. It is clear that cotton with this approach is quite expensive. But this is the weakest link in the socialist system: the need for constant control from above. We have to remove and put the bosses in the field. Sometimes shoot, if the plan completely failed. Self-control was ruled out. There, on the contrary, it was profitable to work worse than the average for the Union. You’ll get less money, but ... not much. Oil accelerated the process. Now it was possible to raise the salary of one, without reducing it for others.

    The republics ran into this after the collapse of the USSR. There was no desire to work better, and no one wanted to pay more money for the products, which were very expensive. As in the old movie: "So let's drink to make our desires match our capabilities." Strangely enough, Azerbaijan lasted the longest due to the excess of produced hydrocarbons. But now he is not sweet either.
    1. Nekarmadlen
      Nekarmadlen 19 May 2016 12: 07
      The 1973 oil crisis strengthened the West, forcing at least technological reforms related to reducing energy consumption, and the USSR corrupted it by creating additional revenues for petrodollars (((((... not without reason they say that the crisis is an opportunity ... The main thing is to use it correctly ...