Russia Table of Contents

Beginning in 1921, Lenin's Soviet government made industrial modernization a priority. But it was under Stalin that the system of central planning was fully developed and the industrialization of the Russian Republic reached its peak. Throughout the Stalin period, investment resources were directed into heavy manufacturing at the expense of consumer or light industry.

During the later Soviet period, economic reformers such as Nikita Khrushchev attempted to shift some resources to the consumer industries, but the emphasis eventually shifted back to heavy and military industries. This emphasis was especially strong while the Soviet Union was building its military base during the Cold War. In the 1970s, manufacturing productivity declined. As part of his perestroika program in the late 1980s, Gorbachev redirected resources to consumer goods, but the effort proved insufficient to forestall the decay of the manufacturing sector.

In the 1990s, Russia urgently needed a revival of the manufacturing sector to provide employment and steer the restructuring of industrial priorities away from the impractical Soviet emphasis on subsidized heavy industry and the military-industrial complex (MIC). Although a substantial share of Russia's MIC enterprises underwent full or partial conversion to civilian production and most manufacturers were partially or fully privatized, manufacturing output continued a general decline in the mid-1990s (see table 18, Appendix). This trend had slowed by 1995, when the decrease in total industrial production was 4 percent compared with 1994; the 1994 total had been 23 percent below that of 1993.

Ferrous Metallurgy

The Soviet Union's ferrous metallurgy industry was a showpiece of centralized planning of heavy industry. The fast-growing industry, vital in supplying other heavy industries with semifinished inputs, led the world in output in the 1970s and the 1980s. Beginning in the mid-1980s, however, ferrous metallurgy did not keep pace with the demands of domestic industry and foreign markets for more sophisticated and stronger metal materials. Many older plants with outmoded technology remained in full production; Soviet plans called for refitting the industry in the 1990s, but Russia's resources have not been sufficient for such a massive project.

In 1994 the ferrous and nonferrous metallurgical industries accounted for about 16 percent of industrial output. In 1996 more than 80 percent of Russia's steel output came from eight plants, although about 100 plants were in operation. Among the industry's most important products are pipe, pig iron, smelted steel, finished rolled metal, and shaped section steel. The four largest steel enterprises are the Novolipetsk and Cherepovets metallurgical plants, located southeast and north of Moscow, respectively, and the Magnitogorsk and Nizhniy Tagil metallurgical combines, located in the Ural industrial region. In 1995 the Cherepovets plant was re-formed as the Severstal' (Northern Steel) Joint-Stock Company. In the mid-1990s, more than half of Russia's steel production came from the outmoded open-hearth furnace process; the more modern continuous casting method accounted for only 24 percent of output.

In the first half of the 1990s, the steel industry was hit especially hard by Russia's overall economic decline, which caused domestic consumption to drop sharply; by 1996 only 50 to 60 percent of capacity was in use. Between 1991 and 1994, output of rolled steel dropped from 55.1 million tons to 35.8 millions tons. Foreign sales were especially important as the only source of hard currency for some enterprises, accounting for as much as 60 percent of output in some cases. In 1995 Russian exports increased by 30 percent, making Russia the second largest exporter of ferrous metals in the world. The profitability of such sales dropped substantially between 1994 and 1996, however. Much of the steel industry's domestic business was payment in kind to input suppliers and railroads. Production costs are raised by the prices of such domestic inputs as coal and iron ore and transportation, which averaged at or above world levels in 1996. Another major cost to the ferrous metallurgy sector is social support programs for workers. Those costs in turn raise domestic metal prices above international levels.

Nonferrous Metallurgy

The Noril'sk Nickel Joint-Stock Company dominates Russia's nonferrous metallurgy industries. It controls nearly all of the country's aluminum and nickel production and 60 percent of copper production. The largest operations in the industry are Noril'sk Nickel in northwestern Siberia and Bratsk Aluminum, Krasnoyarsk Aluminum, and Sayan Aluminum in south-central Siberia. More than 90 percent of Russia's aluminum comes from six smelters. Some smelters have been privatized and export their semifinished products. Inputs, especially alumina (of which Russia has little), became much more expensive in the mid-1990s, as did transportation and electricity costs. At the same time, export revenues fell.

The Automotive Industry

In 1993 Russia's automotive industry produced 956,000 passenger automobiles, a decrease from the 1991 figure of 1,030,000 automobiles. During the Soviet period, the industry had gained a reputation for extremely slow production of very unreliable vehicles. In the mid-1990s, the plant rated most efficient, the Volga Automotive Plant (Avtovaz) at Tol'yatti, required about thirty times as long to assemble an automobile as the leading plants in Japan. All Russian vehicle plants operated at far below capacity, with outmoded machinery and bloated work forces. Avtovaz, the most productive plant, operated at about 70 percent of capacity, and the Gor'kiy Automotive Plant (GAZ) in Nizhniy Novgorod was the only other major plant operating above 30 percent in 1995. The two main truck manufacturers, the Likhachev Automotive Plant (ZIL) in Moscow and the Kama Automotive Plant (KamAZ) in Naberezhnyye Chelny, have suffered especially from reductions in orders by their main customers--the armed forces and collective farms. GAZ has successfully marketed a light truck, of which it sold 75,000 in 1995, mainly to small businesses. The traditional Soviet truck was a heavy diesel model with limited service life.

Although demand for passenger automobiles has increased substantially in Russia over the last twenty-five years, output has not responded even in the post-Soviet period. In 1994 only eighty-four autos were registered per 1,000 people. In the mid-1990s, all automobile plants retained the Soviet style of organization, which is incapable of self-financing or effective marketing. The lack of post-Soviet government subsidies has placed most enterprises in danger of extinction. Some Russian enterprises have proposed joint ventures with Western firms, but in many cases the Russian partners lack funding for such ventures. Meanwhile, foreign imports further endanger the industry: in 1994 only 65,000 automobiles were imported legally, but another 250,000 to 500,000 entered Russia illegally. Therefore, most new cars in Russian cities are foreign. (In 1996 government vehicles were exclusively Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Saab, or Volvo). Exports of Russian passenger cars declined in the early 1990s.

Machine Building

In the Soviet period, the machine-building industry was at the center of the industrial modernization programs that required a steady supply of capital equipment to respond to new demands. However, the inefficient organization of industrial planning caused bottlenecks in crucial programs and generally unreliable performance. The industry is concentrated in the European part of Russia, with major facilities in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, and the Ural industrial region. (Russian machine building includes the automotive, construction equipment, and aviation industries as well as the tractor, electrical equipment, instrument making, consumer appliance, and machine industries.)

Between 1985 and 1995, production of most categories of machines decreased significantly, mainly because of declining domestic orders. For example, by 1992 production of metal-cutting machines had dropped by 20 percent, washing machines by 47 percent, turbines by 36 percent, and tractors by 45 percent. In 1993 production of about one-third of sixty-two major categories of products declined by at least 50 percent. In 1995 production for the entire machine-building complex was about 4 percent below the 1994 level.

Light Industry

The most important branch of light industry is cotton textiles, which has production centers in Ivanovo, Kostroma, Yaroslavl', and about two dozen smaller cities between the Volga and Oka rivers east of Moscow. The economic slump of the 1990s had a dramatic effect on textile production and other light industries. In 1995 Russia's light industry suffered the sharpest drop in production of all economic sectors, slumping by an estimated 25 to 30 percent compared with the previous year. Prices for light-industry goods increased by an average of 2.9 times in 1995 after having increased by 5.6 times in 1994.

Unemployment in Russia's textile production centers has been among the highest in the country. In early 1996, an estimated 70 percent of workers in the industry were on furlough or working part-time. The chief cause is the Russian consumers' decline in personal income, hence in demand. In the mid-1990s, consumers purchased most of their textile products at flea markets, which offered both a wider variety of merchandise and cheaper prices than most stores. By the end of 1995, orders for all types of light-industrial production were 48 percent of the average for the previous years. Production declined by 20 percent in fabrics, 21 percent in leather shoes, and 44 percent in knitted goods, but stocks of finished products grew because demand decreased at a faster rate.

The high price of cotton also has hampered the textile industry, which had been accustomed to paying low prices for its raw material when the major suppliers in Central Asia were part of the Soviet economic system. Although their cotton is not of high quality, Central Asian sellers now charge world market prices. (Cotton from the "far abroad," outside the former Soviet Union, is even more expensive, however.) In 1996 industry experts expect some improvement because of expanding export markets in Europe and new investment in light industry by Russia's banks. They also expect an increase in domestic shoe manufacturing in the 1990s because the high import duties on foreign shoes make them twice as expensive as Russian shoes--although in 1996 some 65 percent of shoes sold in Russia were imported. The former member countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon--see Glossary) were the chief source of such goods.


The centers of the chemical industry traditionally have been areas where critical raw materials and allied industries were available. Before 1960 plants were near mineral deposits, potato farms, coking coal, and nonferrous metallurgy plants. When oil and natural gas became prime raw materials for chemical production, plants were built near the Volga-Ural and North Caucasus gas and oil fields or along pipelines. In the 1980s, major plants were built at Omsk, Tobol'sk, Urengoy, and Surgut in the western Siberia oil region and at Ufa and Nizhnekamsk in the Volga-Ural region. In the same period, the government gave strong investment and research support to chemical production because of its importance to the rest of heavy industry.

The major divisions of the chemical industry are paints and varnishes, rubber and asbestos products, synthetic tar and plastic products, mined chemical products, household chemicals and washing compounds, mineral fertilizers, chemical fibers and filaments, and paper and pulp. In the 1990s, output has decreased in all of those areas. Among representative products, between 1985 and the early 1990s production of mineral fertilizers dropped by 29 percent, agricultural pesticides by 74 percent, industrial carbon by 28 percent, sulfuric acid by 19 percent, synthetic tars and plastics by 16 percent, paints and varnishes by 43 percent, household soaps by 25 percent, and caustic soda by 15 percent.

Based on Russia's huge supply of timber, a substantial lumber-processing and pulp industry developed in the Soviet period as a subsidiary of the chemical industry. In 1996 Russia's largest pulp and paper enterprises were at Kondopoga near the Finnish border, Bratsk west of Lake Baikal, Syktyvkar in the Republic of Komi, and Kotlas southeast of Arkhangel'sk. Most pulp and paper companies do not own timber resources, but timber suppliers, who lease timberland from the state, generally sell raw materials at below world prices, giving Russian manufacturers a competitive advantage. Some mergers have occurred between suppliers and manufacturing operations.

In the early 1990s, production of raw timber dropped by about 25 percent, mainly because of equipment depletion, lack of credit, higher railroad transport fees, and a drop in construction of lumber roads. In 1993 production of raw timber was 450,000 cubic meters, 75 percent of the 1992 total; production of commercial cellulose was 79 percent of the previous year's total; and of cardboard, 73 percent.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress