Barman! Give us two more Yeltsin surprises, please!

Who would have thought that communism would defeat capitalism from the inside?

BEING AS puzzled as the next person about the Russian economy - or indeed almost as puzzled as Bill Clinton about it - I decided to seek expert advice from my financial adviser so that I could pass it on to you. I could not go to a better person than my personal financial adviser. My financial adviser is called Yuri Fedorov. He is a Russian financial adviser. I do not mean that he advises me on Russian finance (all he has ever said to me on the subject is: "Never invest in Russia and sell all your roubles now if you have got any") but that he is a Russian who took up financial advising when he escaped to the West.

As a result, I have made a vast fortune by acting on his advice. Not just from share tipping, but from buying and selling second-hand nuclear devices, good-as-new uranium, oranges, left-footed shoes, things like that. But this time it was merely academic advice I sought.

"Tell me, Yuri," I asked him when I tracked him down to the Old Chernobyl Wine Bar in the City where he likes to relax after a hard day's advising, "tell me the truth about the Russian economy. We in the West do not understand what is going on."

"You in the West understand very little about Russia," said Yuri. "Sometimes I am not sure myself. If someone had said to me 10 years ago that one day there would be a headline saying: `Moscow Stock Exchange jitters affect New York Dow Jones index' - well, I would have said he was mad. Moscow Stock Exchange, indeed!"

And here Yuri roared with laughter and made a sign to the barman to serve us two more Yeltsin Surprises.

"Yes, who would have said that the ultimate triumph of Communism was to defeat capitalism from the inside? Who would have said that we would have joined you and then beaten you?"

"You have not defeated the West yet. After all, Russia itself is in very poor shape. It seems to be run entirely by the Mafia."

"My friend," said Yuri, swaying slightly, "There is no Mafia in Russia. You will find no Sicilians in Moscow. There are only home-grown Russian crooks. We have always had them."

"Did you have them under Communism, these unscrupulous, get-rich-quick merchants?"

"Sure we did," said Yuri. "They were called the Kremlin."

He roared at his own joke again, then grew very serious in the Russian fashion.

"Russia and America are two very different places, as Bill Clinton will find. For instance, in America, anyone can be President...."

"And in Russia?"

"In Russia nobody can be president."

"Why not ?"

"Because Boris Yeltsin has got the job."

At this point, Yuri winked at me loudly.

"Does Boris Yeltsin know what he is doing? Most people in the West feel he is out of control, or perhaps sloshed on vodka."

"Well, if he is sloshed on vodka, he is at least on the same wavelength as most of his countrymen. But I believe he does know what he is doing. I think he is trying Communism back to front."

"What does that mean?"

"In the great days of Communism everyone had a job and got paid, but there was nothing to spend one's money on.

"Nowadays, everyone has a job and there is plenty to spend one's money on. However, nobody gets paid any more.

"My theory about Boris Yeltin's refusal to resign is that he too has not been paid his salary for months, maybe even years, and he is just waiting for his wages. If Bill Clinton wants him to go, all he has to do is make up his back pay. In dollars, naturally."

At this point Yuri's glance fell on the newspaper on the table, showing impoverished Russians lining up outside Russian banks in the vain hope of retrieving their savings, and I will swear tears came to his eyes.

"You feel sorry for them?"

"I? Not at all, my friend. I merely feel nostalgic. These queues are queues like the queues we had in the old days. Ah, we had good queues under Communism!

"Do you know, when Princess Diana died, I actually went to join the queues to sign the book of condolence, not because I cared about her death but because I wanted to do some proper queuing again. Barman! Two more Yeltsin Surprises, please!"

"Why are they called that?"

"Because nobody knows what goes in them and nobody can ever remember how many they have had."

More from my friend Yuri anon.

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