soviet russia certainly wasn't rich by any modern (and western?) world stretch and it was far from being a paradise either (for one thing the limited freedom its citizens had left a lot to wish for) but... it was economically safe for the average joe. people had their jobs and had the basic means to sustain themselves. that's something that changed drammatically when boris yeltsin and his western-backed capitalist style came to power in the nineties. millions of russians fell into poverty and the GDP plumetted while some filthy gangsters, local and outsiders, managed to become billionaires at the expense of the poverty of a whole nation. for years -even to this day- thousands of russian women went to the west to work as prostitutes just because they didn't have any type of labour opportunities back home.
i'm sure russians at the time would have preferred to keep their "socialist paradise" alive instead of having no food on their plates in yeltsin's capitalist-oriented russia.
things have been getting better for the russians lately, though. as corrupt and shady as putin might be, he's still miles better than boris -and most russians know that.
Yes there were two famines in the mid-90s but North Korea also experienced them despite sticking to communism. This was a transition period in which many very serious mistakes were made. As you said, a few oligarchs became billionaires while much of the country starved. Unlike East Germany, the Russian transition from communism to capitalism was handled extremely poorly. Companies were privatized just for the sake of privatization. Thousands of farmers and their suppliers suddenly had the freedom to move where they wanted. So many abandoned their posts and headed west towards Moscow, St Petersburg or even western Europe.
I've always said, even though I'm a libertarian, I do NOT always condone the act of privatization, especially for organizations which have been in government control for many decades. Even in developed countries like the UK (where investors have more experience) the company is basically handed over from one clueless entity (government) to another clueless entity (hedge funds with no experience in the company's industry). Sometimes it works, but there have been several examples of both success and failure in this regard.
As for comparing Yeltsin to Putin, neither are particularly distinguishable. Both are probably socialists deep down in their hearts. I don't know the details of their differences in policy but I'm sure Yeltsin would have been equally opinionated on America's involvement in middle-eastern affairs. But in any case, Putin should be focusing more on Russia's internal problems before worrying about America.