Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute

Image of McDonald's opening in Russia. Image links to event page



McDonald’s and the Opening and Closing of Russia
Reserve Your Seat



Please join the Harriman Institute for a discussion with Kristy Ironside. Moderated by Timothy Frye.

The opening of the first McDonald’s in Moscow on January 31, 1990, was widely seen as proof of the Soviet Union opening up to the outside world after years of Cold War isolation. McDonald’s decision to pull out of Russia within months of its full-scale attack on Ukraine in early 2022 was thus naturally seen as the end of an era. This talk will look at how we got from Point A to Point B. Why did Soviet leaders agree to allow McDonald’s in, first as a joint venture with the Moscow city soviet, and what did they hope to get out of it? How did McDonald’s, unlike so many other joint ventures with Western firms, weather the tumultuous period around the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 and, not only that, become the leading fast-food chain in the country over the next three decades, with over 800 restaurants by 2022? And why didn’t Russia merely let McDonald’s go in the wake of its departure, quickly replacing it with a “patriotic” copycat run by the company’s only Russian franchisee? The talk will ultimately examine how McDonald’s—now through its absence—has functioned as a powerful symbol of, and vehicle for pursuing, Russia’s global economic aspirations since the late Soviet period.

Kristy Ironside is Associate Professor of Russian History and William Dawson Scholar at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She is the author of A Full-Value Ruble: The Promise of Prosperity in the Postwar Soviet Union (Harvard, 2021), co-winner of the W. Bruce Lincoln prize from ASEEES.