In my many conversations with Russian entrepreneurs, they repeatedly told me: “We cannot become too big or too profitable. If we do, ‘the structures’ will notice us and gobble us up.” Instead of rewarding success in business, Putin’s Russia offers entrepreneurs “deals” they cannot refuse. The “deal” is that powerful state and state-connected officials will take their share of your success.
I used to dread flying into Moscow’s Sheremetova airport, consistently rated the worst international airport in the world. There were no lights, the lines were endless, and restrooms were disgusting. In a word, it was terrible. I then learned to fly into Domodedova (airport code DME).
Under the private management of East Line Group, DME was transformed from the dismal hulk I flew out of in 1993 to a brightly-lit, passenger-friendly airport scarcely distinguishable from any other international airport. There were some 90 check-in counters, manned by friendly personnel. International carriers got the message: They switched operations to DME. DME’s revenues rose to $1 billion per year – one of the few success stories of private business in Russia.