Caroline Dufy

Barter was a prominent issue in public debate during the 1990s in Russia: it prompted a more overall reflection on the nature of the Russian economy and the aim pursued by economic reforms. These major issues shaped a number of divisions: the government opposition portrayed barter as one of the pernicious effects of economic policies that gave priority to finance to the detriment of the national productive sphere. For others, it was to be interpreted as the legacy of the Soviet industrial sector and its lack of competitiveness. The ruble crisis in 1998 paved the way for a reverse trend leading to the sudden decline of barter. Unlike the initial growth phase, the decrease in barter gave rise to little comment. Yet these two colliding changes provide an opportunity to review the relevance of the various interpretations offered. Furthermore, the effort to recontextualizing barter in an historic perspective provides keys to understanding the immense changes that occurred in Russia in the 1990s. The statistical indicator of barter will serve as a basis to formulate a central question: how should this swift decline of barter, offer a long, sustained increase, be interpreted: is it an adaptation in trade behavior to the new economic conditions or the effect of more restrictive legal standards? In the latter case, does this official decrease mask economic practices that are moving toward the informal sector? To understand the barter trade requires looking beyond stylized facts. By nature, statistics tend to objectify multifaceted phenomena. Our analysis fits within the anthropology of economic exchanges, striving to reconstitute the dynamic and subjective dimension that the actors’ practices and discourses give to barter. From this standpoint, we show that barter is the product of constant interactions between legal processes, economic context and socio-cultural context. The statistical decline of the barter indicator in that case seems to be one of the visible effects of deep-seated changes that have marked the new working environment for Russian business.

Sébastien Colin

Since the resumption of talks between China and Russia – still the Soviet Union when this occurred in the mid- 1980s, relations between the two countries have been particularly dynamic. On the international level, the two countries in fact share the same viewpoint on a number of issues. These mutual concerns led to the signing of a strategic partnership in 1997, then a new treaty of friendship in 2001. The complementarity between the two countries in the energy and arms sectors also stimulates cooperation. However, this alliance is not without its limits. The United States, its primary target, can easily short-circuit it, as it did just after the September 11, 2001 attacks. In the field of cooperation, the intensity and structure of trade between the two countries are both inadequate. The rise in trade during the 1990s was very uneven and marked by a drop between 1994 and 1996. The main causes of this are situated at the local echelon along the Chinese-Russian border. After the dynamism characteristic of the 1988-1993 period, the opening of the border triggered new problems, such as illegal Chinese immigration in the little-inhabited border zones of Russia. Although this trend caused friction among the local Russian population, it was mainly the retrocession of certain Russian territories to China when the border was demarcated between 1993 and 1997 that radicalized the inhabitants, paralyzing border cooperation. The Russian and Chinese government played an active role in attempting to resolve most of these disputes, as the Tumen program illustrated. Since then, the various authorities in the two countries have tried to revitalize border cooperation, but a number of problems remain that are mainly economic in nature and vary depending on the border region.