Is it fate or coincidence that Anna Delvey of the Netflix hit Inventing Anna should arrive just as we are beginning to unmask post-Soviet pseudo-capitalism, perhaps the greatest scam of our times? For the uninitiated, Anna Delvey a.k.a. Anna Sorokina, is a Russian-born, German-accented pretend socialite who arrives on the New York scene “to build something.” Through a mix of charm and chutzpah she rips off friends and investors to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars before finally being rounded up by the police and later ICE.
If you’ve never done business with the XSSR it might seem as if Anna’s wiles are an origin-less, Eurotrash pastiche — a particular kind of Instragram-era surface-y sham not particularly attributable to one culture or an other. But for those of us who witnessed, first the fleecing of defenseless ordinary Soviet citizens, and later the large-scale scamming of the West, we understand Anna’s particular craft as a distinct byproduct of the collapse of the Soviet state.
In the world beyond the Iron Curtain laws, any laws, even if they were legitimate and fair and derived from the will of the people, were viewed cynically by post-Soviet biznyesmeni as mere obstacles to personal enrichment
It’s sometimes said that no matter how wealthy the Russian oligarchy appears today and how legitimately their millions might be invested, the first million for many of the Russian super rich came through either a crime or a bluff. This is not because Russians themselves are inherently criminal. But, rather, because the Soviet Union had embedded within it powerful incentives to do the wrong thing. With private industry essentially illegal during most of the country’s existence, a thriving black market grew underground for decades. Dark actors, intertwined with the Soviet bureaucracy at the highest level, were therefore in the best position to take full advantage of economic liberalizations when they came.
After government-owned enterprises were privatized in the Yeltsin-era 90s the auctions that dispersed state-owned stock options (vaouchery in post-Soviet New Speak)…