A media frenzy ensued. Newspapers around the world ran articles sympathizing with IKEA's plight and criticizing the Khimki authorities. Under pressure from his higher-ups, who worried about the damage to Russia's reputation, Strelchenko finally called Dahlgren into his office and said the Mega Mall could open its doors.
IKEA has been remarkably persistent in the face of such difficulties, investing $4 billion in Russia to date and opening a dozen stores throughout the country. But lately the company has shown signs of wearing down. Last year, it announced that it was halting its expansion plans in Russia because of trouble with bureaucrats. (Notably, officials in the city of Samara had prevented a store from opening because they said its walls could not withstand hurricane-force winds, though such weather conditions are virtually unknown there.) And in February, IKEA's squeaky-clean image took a hit when it fired two senior executives for tolerating the paying of bribes to a Russian subcontractor.
Throughout his time in Russia, Dahlgren kept searching for farsighted officials who could grasp the value of working with a big foreign investor like IKEA. He got help from some colorful characters, including a mysterious man whom Dahlgren suspected of being a former KGB agent. He once showed up at Dahlgren's office carrying an odd device with glowing lights. "Lennart, do you know your office is being listened to?" he asked. Then he pushed a button: "Now nobody can hear us."
Dahlgren's book made a splash in Russia this year after a selection of juicy excerpts was published in various magazines and newspapers. For those familiar with the struggles of Russian entrepreneurs, the book was further proof of a grim reality. "It is clear from this book that many here are not especially concerned about our country's attractiveness to foreign investors," Kommersant business daily dryly observed.
There will likely be more books documenting the grip that corruption holds over life in Putin's Russia. But until the Kremlin is ready to open up society, allowing a free press and genuine opposition parties to criticize government graft, whistle-blowers like Lennart Dahlgren are unlikely to have much impact. And bribery will remain just as omnipresent in everyday life as IKEA furniture is in the apartments of middle-class Russians.