What were your impressions of a visit to Russia

As a visiting professor and co-founder of the Moscow School of Management at Skolkovo and a member of the steering committee of the German-Russian Energy Forum, I was once again in Moscow and St. Petersburg in the last few days.

Conversations with many managers, McKinsey colleagues and professors as well as the diverse impressions are anything but unambiguous, even contradictory. Although the gross domestic product is falling for the third time in a row, one does not have the feeling that the crisis is manifest in the two large cities. The shops are full, especially with upscale consumer goods. There are seldom empty tables in restaurants. The traffic jams in Moscow from Domodedovo Airport to the Kremlin seem endless at around 120 minutes.

Some impressions should be highlighted:

The television reports on victories in Syria and visits by high-ranking politicians from Turkey, Syria and Iran. Putin is everywhere. The “well-meaning” President appears daily in very beneficial excerpts. The next presidential election has practically been decided. Putin is likely to be president for another six years.

The 5500 German companies in Russia have come to terms with the sanctions and the current situation in Russia. This year, investments are expected to increase by 22 percent.

The situation in eastern Ukraine is unstable and probably cannot be resolved in the long term by an OSCE brigade. Crimea belongs to Russia forever, after all, that's how the people there voted. Minsk 2 cannot be implemented because the system in Ukraine is not very stable.

The political leadership is considered very corrupt. Traditional relations between Russians and Ukrainians have been badly damaged.

Russia is building on the Eurasian Union, which should at some point be at eye level with the EU and then create a free trade area from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

The impressions described correspond to the image of a country that is essentially at peace with itself and in which the president has over 80 percent approval.

A few frightening signals should supplement this, however: Stalin is considered the most popular person in Russian history (victor in the Great Patriotic War, electrifier, teacher who taught all Russians to read and write. Little is heard of his victims.)

The Western attacks on the Russian doping system are dismissed as propaganda. A dismissal of the Vice-Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who is considered in the West to be one of the main masterminds of the Russian doping system, is considered unthinkable.

Russia turns inward. Western professors and students have increasingly withdrawn. The focus is on Russian or Central Asian professors and students.

Russia suffers from a population shortage. More than 100 years ago, almost ten percent of the world's population lived in the greater empire of Russia (including Poland and Finland). While the US, Europe, and China have exploded, Russia has about as many people today as it did before World War I (140 million), or about two percent of the world's population. In particular, the move of well-trained academics to the USA, Israel, Great Britain and Germany left large gaps.

Relations with Germany are reasonably satisfactory. Today, however, according to surveys, only just under 30 percent of Russians say that they regard Germany as a friendly neighbor. Before the sanctions were imposed, it was 70 percent. Minister Gabriel's metaphor of the “neighbor” Russia is often quoted.

Once again, I was not allowed to fathom the Russian soul, although I have the impression that Russia is a peace-loving nation. The centuries-old attacks by the Mongols, Swedes, French and Germans can be felt in the DNA, and they have caused a deep-seated fear of NATO expansion among the Russians. I came back with mixed feelings, in no way regard myself as a “Russian understanding”, but follow the economic and cultural exchanges with great pleasure.

The author

is one of the best-known German management consultants who worked for McKinsey for a long time. He sits on numerous advisory and supervisory boards. He advised the Bavarian state government several times.