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?
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,
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.