SUMMER UPDATE FROM RUSSIA: PART 2

I had finished this part of the update when I posted part 1, but I needed to proofread and edit. Then, however, I had to focus on an urgent family matter concerning my wife’s health. Now I’ve decided to go ahead and publish it without a lot of editing. In part 2 of my update I will finish the discussion of the current status of Russian/American relations with one remaining topic–sanctions. Then I’ll move to an update on a couple of other issues before concluding with a longer discussion of freedom in my two worlds.

Sanctions. Leaders here have stated they are not expecting America’s sanctions on Russia to be lifted anytime soon, and they believe new sanctions are likely in the future. I can’t remember the exact words the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister used, but he indicated sanctions have become an inherent component of American foreign policy.

At the risk of oversimplification, I believe the motive for individuals, companies and corporations to engage in international trade is quite similar to the reason they do business domestically. The entities do business with each other because transactions between them–of whatever sort–are mutually beneficial. Usually one side receives goods or services they need but cannot provide for themselves, while the other side is able to provide what the trading partner needs at a profit. I know even from working in small business things can get more complicated, but I think the basic scenario remains. International trade just moves it to a different level.

American politicians have grown accustomed not only to having the largest economy in the world but also to the dollar being indispensable for international trade. Thus, they try to use economic clout for political purposes. They pressure American and sometimes allied companies to withdraw from trade with any country that refuses to submit to U.S. political dictates. The company or the corporation often has little or no voice in it. The goal is U.S. unipolar power. The theory is that the economic pressure created by the sanctions will force the recalcitrant adversaries to change their behavior or their leadership. It rarely works, but that is the theory.

The obvious but unstated factor here is that sanctions impact both sides, not just the intended target. You can’t punish only one party in a deal that is mutually beneficial. Putin stated after the summit that the sanctions have hurt both countries, but they have hurt America more than Russia. Based on my readings and observations of life in both countries I would say he is correct.

Nord Stream 2 has been America’s biggest sanctioning project against Russia. I’ve mentioned it several times. The U.S. was not directly involved in the actual agreement, which was between Russia and Germany. Germany will double the supply of gas it gets from Russia. The U.S. stepped in to instruct Germany they must not allow another natural gas pipeline from Russia. Germany refused to submit. They needed the quality natural gas at the price Russia was offering. The U.S. conducted an all out sanctions war to stop it. The pipeline was delayed but work resumed.

The Biden administration has admitted there is nothing else the U.S. can do. The pipeline is now 98% complete and will be completely finished by the end of August. Then there will be a 3 month process of trials and certifications. Germany announced this month that everything looks good for approval, and the gas should be moving normally by the end of the year. Angela Merkel then agreed that Germany would invest in Ukraine and promised to keep pressure on Russia not to discontinue pumping gas through Ukraine. Merkel will be leaving office this fall, however, and there are those who believe the next Chancellor will not be as submissive to the Americans.

The U.S. has been using sanctions against Russia and other countries for quite some time. After Crimea voted to rejoin Russia in March 2014, President Obama significantly and immediately expanded sanctions on Russia. U.S. politicans and media falsely claimed that Russia had “invaded” Crimea. In January, 2015 President Obama assured everyone the sanctions were working: “Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters.” Most articles in the American press at that time praised Obama’s decision to sanction Russia.

We moved here in 2016. I soon realized that either Obama was badly misinformed or, more likely, he was lying to the American people and the world to make his decision look good. The majority of the American press was too lazy, too ignorant or too scared to point out the deceit.

I agree America will continue the sanctions primarily because American leaders just can’t go before the American people and admit both 1)the many sanctions against Russia have failed to achieve anything, and 2) they (the leaders) have been lying all along. They depend on the American people being ignorant of what the economy is really like in Russia and the fact that Russia is far from being isolated.

Nevertheless, I did read one recent article in TASS that indicated the Biden administration is trying to soften some of the sanctions against Russia and other countries. ( https://tass.com/pressreview/1311339. This link is to “Top Stories in Nezavisimaya Gazeta,” so you have to scroll down to the second article. The Wall Street Journal is the one that broke the story.) If the sanctions are softened, then I suspect that many American journalists will look the other way and not accuse of Biden of kowtowing to Putin as they did with Donald Trump. Biden has some “wiggle room” that the American press did not grant Trump.

TRAVEL. One thing that happened quickly after the summit is that travel between Russia and America has resumed. Both ambassadors have returned to their respective embassies, and visas are being processed. I regret that COVID shut down travel between Russia and America for so long. We know two families who had tentative plans to move near us in Russia. One family had already secured housing, and the other was starting to look. They had to change their plans when all borders were closed. By the time they opened, these families had missed their window of opportunity and now circumstances are such that they will not be able to move. I understand but deeply regret it. Nevertheless, we have made arrangements for an American couple who wants to visit Luga for the month of August. Hopefully there will be more to come.

CITIZENSHIP. Receiving my Russian citizenship has been a relief. Now I do not have to worry about any further paperwork in regard to my stay here. I admit to showing off my Russian passport to friends at church and other places–even to my doctor when I had bronchitis. I have been pleased to hear their encouraging comments and sincere congratulations. Russians know how difficult the bureaucracy here can be, and they really seemed to appreciate the fact that an American would go through all the frustration to become a Russian citizen. They have accepted me with great kindness. I am very thankful to my wife for all the work she did in making sure we had the right information and forms were filled out correctly.

CONCLUSION: REFLECTIONS ON FREEDOM. I think the strangest experience as far as evaluating my own emotions was July 4. Since our move back here just over 5 years ago, I have seen an increase in the dissatisfaction of many of my friends and acquaintances in America with the situation there. The tension between different groups is more intense. My anti-Trump friends hated the fact he was (in their opinion) unfairly elected in 2016 and believed Trump had colluded with the Russians to get himself elected. (They tip-toed carefully when they talked about the Russia part with me.) Then after Biden was elected in 2020 many of my pro-Trump friends have complained, with some apparent justification, that the election results were rigged. Both sides believe the electoral process has been violated. When voters in a republic do not trust the electoral process things do not look good for that nation.

Another complaint I have heard has been concerning the increasing frequency of censureship of opinions on social media, YouTube, and in other public forums when those views do not conform to the accepted U.S. political or social narrative. And it is not just the peons who are being silenced. Last month, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis) uploaded videos with positive claims about the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine for those with COVID. The videos were removed, and the Senator was suspended for 7 days. As usual, the censurers did not point to anything factually incorrect in the videos. The claims were not called lies; the YouTube medical team determined the Senator was passing on “misinformation.”

Many have complained Facebook’s fact checkers are quite predictable. In reference to Facebook, someone posted on VK, “I’m really interested to know what a ‘fact checker’s’ credentials are? What are their sources? Seems like they are just given a script and told to run with it.”

Yet, on July 4 I read many FB posts from some of the same folks celebrating what several of them referred to as the greatest and freest country in the world. I thought that sounded strange after all the complaining over factchecking, censorship and rigged elections. FoxNews commentator Tomi Lahren said, “Even at a time when America is sadly and moronically put last, it is still the greatest nation in the world.” Sounds good, but what are the standards for greatness among the nations? Exactly what is it that makes America the greatest nation in the world?

Further, I know most of the people making these statements have never lived outside the U.S. A few have toured or vacationed abroad. Others lived on an American military base in another country, but none of the folks I saw making these claims have ever tried to make a life somewhere else.

I am not saying there is something wrong with loving your country or believing in its greatness. Our family treasures our years in America. We still recall so many wonderful experiences with people we grew to love. We think of our life there in such positive ways. But it’s not enough for many Americans to say, “I love America,” Or, “America is a great country to live in.” They must go further: It is the BEST country in the world to live in. It is not just a free country, it is the country with the MOST freedoms anywhere. Hubris, masquerading as patriotism, is now an American virtue.

I remembered our first July 4 after we had just moved back to Russia. We did our best to make it a holiday. This year, however, all that was gone. I’ve heard all the lies about Russia continue year after year even after they’ve been proven false. I still read articles written in mainstream news outlets and hear speeches from American politicians that decry how the dictatorship in Russia robs its people of freedom, and it is a country run by a “kleptocracy.” Putin is lying to and stealing from his own people. The implication is that American politicians, especially an American President, would never do that.

I am not the only American living in Russia who will say I enjoy more freedoms here than I did in America. And living abroad has let me see the violence, wars, and deaths the American government is responsible for all over the world. And I honestly don’t believe the American people will ever be allowed to see any of that. As I wrote to an American Facebook friend with whom I was discussing this issue, I am sad to say it, but for this ol’ U.S. Marine July 4 was just another day.

Freedom, for residents of both my worlds, depends to a significant degree on what you want to be free to do and say. And we all know freedom is never absolute, as in the old saying, “My freedom to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.” For example, there are apparently a significant number of people in America who understand gender to be a very fluid concept and unrelated to biological differences. As best I can tell they strongly believe in spreading their views and in America they can. They would not be free to say or do things in a public place in Russia, however, that they are free to do in America. They would not be allowed to teach in a public school or present programs to children here in Russia as they can in America. Teachers here are not free to teach kids to explore transgenderism.

On the other hand, freedom of speech in America is being curtailed by greatly expanding the semantic range of the word “racism.” A lot of things can’t be said in public in America because they fit under that large racism umbrella. Racism in Russia is defined in a more narrow and traditional manner. There are no restrictions on free speech here because someone somewhere calls it racist yet common sense indicates the speech or behavior had nothing to do with race. Yet, conversely, perpetrators of some actions in America that look like crimes to me, like looting and destroying stores, are not punished or stopped because to do so would be to practice racism. BLM gets a free ticket.

My point is not who is right or wrong; my point is clearly there is a significant subjective element in the concept of freedom. Also, choosing what is the best and freest country is contingent to some degree on where each individual, family or nation believes the line restricting freedom should be drawn. People in other nations see what is happening in America and are baffled at the continuing insistence that it is the freest nation in the world. Watching people openly destroy another’s place of business does not look like freedom to most of the world.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I have received a number of contacts and questions from Americans who are interested in moving to Russia. My wife and I were chatting about what characteristics are important to a family or individual who would be happy living in Russia. The first thing that came to both our minds was Orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy came to Russia many centuries ago. After Communism did its best to eliminate or at least contain it, Russian Orthodoxy has sprung to life again. My experience has been that Russian Orthodox values and beliefs are respected here by a majority of people―many of whom are not Orthodox. In some sense, however, it goes deeper than being accepted by the citizens here. It seems to us that Orthodox believers from other countries grasp aspects of Russian culture more easily.

On the other hand, over July 4 I saw posts on Facebook by two of my American friends who have lived in Russia for several years now. They apparently were also a bit irritated by all the claims of America being the freest country, and they both wrote in their posts of how much freer they feel here than in America. Neither of these individuals is Orthodox. They are not religious at all. This is the part I can observe but can’t really explain. We believe our Orthodox faith makes the adjustment to living in Russia easier. Yet, there are those here of different faiths and no faith who have come here from America and find the same sense of belonging and freedom of expression that we have.

I never tell anyone Russia is the greatest place in the world to live. Neither do I tell anyone they should move here. Those kind of decisions vary from family to family―and from individual to individual. There are “blessings and battles” no matter where one lives. Choose your battles; choose your blessings.

There are, however, many oppressed people groups around the world who can’t think in terms of the degree to which they are free. They don’t have even basic personal freedoms. I am thankful to be living in a place where I can genuinely celebrate freedom and the lines where I believe freedom is appropriately restricted. I’ll just do the celebrating on May 9, not July 4.

SUMMER UPDATE FROM RUSSIA 2021: PART 1

I have not done a general update in awhile, so in this blog entry I’ll comment on how things things are in Russia from my perspective in the small town of Luga. I’ll cover the weather, COVID, and a few other miscellaneous issues. I will also include something on the relationship between my two countries because the relationship between Russia and America keeps evolving. The blog turned out to be longer than I planned, so I decided to divide it into two shorter ones for more convenience. Here is part 1, and part 2 will be published shortly.

THE HEAT. This summer is by far the hottest summer I have ever experienced in Russia. It’s not just me. I have also heard some life time residents here say the same thing. The weather this past winter seemed a bit colder than normal for Luga. We had over a foot of snow in our yard for about 3 months. The temperatures were cold, rarely getting even a little above freezing during those months and well below freezing most of that time. This summer, however, we have had a many days with the temperature over 90 degrees (32 C). From reports I’ve been getting these temps (or higher) have extended from below Moscow up to St. Petersburg and to other regions as well. https://www.rbth.com/lifestyle/333934-hot-summer-russia.

The weather has seemed similar to our summers in South Carolina with high temps and high humidity. In S.C., however, almost all homes, apartments, and places of business are now air conditioned. While that is true of a few places in Luga, it is definitely not the norm. The summers here are usually short and the temps rarely get even close to what we are having now, so it’s just not worth it for most of us to spend money on air conditioning we would rarely use. So this summer we have been forced to purchase more fans to keep the air circulating in our home. It’s been very much like the American South of my childhood—hot and humid with no air conditioning.

I think over the years my body has adjusted to normal Russian weather, because despite my Southern, hot-weather background, I have very little energy in this heat and yet I can do my 5 mile walks in the snow with no problem. The good news is that according to the long range forecasts this is supposed to be the last week of the brutally hot weather. I hope the weather folks are correct.

COVID. By the end of February of 2021 the number of new COVID cases had plateaued in Russia with less than 10,000 new cases per day, and the recoveries were frequently higher than the number of new cases. Around March 1, the rates began to rise sharply. The numbers of new cases per day are often over 20,000 now. The mortality rate for those who get COVID in Russia has also gone up.

The total numbers overall are not near as high as those in the U.S. (even accounting for the population difference), but they are going up here rapidly. Here are the latest stats from worldometer.

Total # of cases U.S: 34,929,856 Russia 5,907,999

Deaths: U.S. 624,606 Russia: 146,868

Recoveries: U.S. 29,358,531 Russia: 5,300,908

There is still cause for concern, of course. I have heard several theories as to why this recent uptick has happened in Russia, e.g., new strands, more social interaction, the normality of viruses going through phases of growth/plateau, etc. The “experts” just can’t seem to reach a consensus on anything having to do with COVID. I will refrain from offering my own relatively uninformed opinion as to what caused the uptick. That is not the point of the blog anyway.

Oddly enough, despite the rising numbers, the Russian economy seems well on the way to recovering from the pandemic. Further, many believe there is no evidence of any long term negative impact of the pandemic on the unemployment or inflationary figures. President Putin said this week that the consequences of the pandemic have been largely overcome and the economy is generally back to normal.

Daily life still goes on as usual for most folks here in Luga. Some wear masks in public, but most don’t wear them even inside stores or taxis. I asked my stepson about how it is in St. Petersburg where he lives. He said the only place people are required to wear a mask is on the metro (subway).

Vaccines. Russia was the first country to develop a vaccine, and now there are four to choose from. Estimates vary, but most from last month indicated that less than 23% of Russians have received the vaccine. (I found estimates on the U.S. rate around 67%. One article that said that in the U.S. it is now up to 70%.) Several within the administration would like to make vaccination mandatory in Russia. President Putin and others have strongly encouraged people to get vaccinated, but he has stated he does not support mandatory vaccinations. He believes a great deal of flexibility should remain with local governments to make decisions. He stated early on that he believes Russia is just too large to have one set policy for the whole country. One health minister said that if you “shade and color” regions in Russia according to the number of cases, it would look like a patchwork quilt. The numbers vary a great deal.

Some cities, particularly Moscow and St. Petersburg, are making it mandatory for many workers and businesses operators to have the vaccine. A recent report in RT said that Moscow has become the first city in the world to make vaccination against coronavirus compulsory not just for healthcare workers, but for employees in a range of public industries which demand that they interact regularly with the public, e.g., catering, transportion, tourism and museums. A TASS report this week says 25 regions in Russia will adopt similar measures. They also have now begun a major “campaign” to convince Russians they should take the vaccine. They reported number of people getting the vaccines has started to increase.

There have been a few surveys as to why the large majority of Russians are still choosing not to be vaccinated. One reason frequently mentioned, and some regard it as the main reason, is that the majority of those surveyed said they don’t want the vaccines because they believe a longer period of testing should have been required. Many Russian people are reluctant to get the vaccine over concern for the long term effects on one’s health. It isn’t that they don’t believe COVID is a real or a potentially dangerous disease. They simply think the vaccines could present a greater danger in the future. They know they risks of getting COVID, and they realize their health could be negatively impacted, but they weigh the probability of those risks against the unknown impact the vaccines may have.

From articles I have read and comments I have heard about Russians in the American media, it seems the idea being pushed is that Russians just do whatever Vladimir Putin tells them to do. Putin still enjoys a high approval rating as president, and he has made it clear he wants more people to get the vaccine. The idea, however, that Russians just immediately submit to whatever Mr. Putin says about anything is a fabrication. I hope it is not what the majority of Americans believe, but some in the Western press seem to like presenting Russians as mindless and subservient Putin underlings. The truth is many who voted for Putin don’t consider him or his staff their medical advisor. And thank God there is no Russian equivalent of Anthony Fauci pontificating his own view as the only truly scientific one. If Putin’s goal is to become the dictator people like Sen. Ted Cruz say he is, then he is not doing a very good job of it.

The majority of Russians think for themselves and make their own decisions. There are members of my extended Russian family who want me to get vaccinated. I have chosen not to. They don’t agree with me, but they respect my decision. There is no arguing or condescending remarks about the ignorance of the other’s perspective.

I read an article last week in which it was reported that the leaders of the Democratic Party in America were saying it’s the Republicans in America who refuse to get the vaccine. It is all about politics. Maybe more Republicans than Democrats refuse the vaccine. I don’t know, and I don’t care. My point is that in Russia whether you do or do not get the vaccine tells me absolutely nothing about your political views or preferences. Putin has strongly pushed the vaccine in several public remarks, as have other members of his administration. Yet I know people who strongly support him as president say they will not get the vaccine. Individual decisions like this one are about how people evaluate the risks and advantages of the vaccine. That principle applies to a number of social issues in Russia, by the way.

RUSSIAN/AMERICAN RELATIONS. I won’t go into great detail about the political relationship between America and Russia since I have done that in a number of blogs. Nevertheless, some recent events and changes need to be mentioned I think. First, I have noticed a sharpness that was not there before in the comments of even diplomats like Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, when he speaks of the actions of America. Lavrov is the epitome of what a diplomat should be in my opinion. He is always in command of the facts, and he is careful, clear, and thoughtful when he speaks–whether in Russian or in English. (He is fluent in English.) Yet both the tone and content of his and other Russian leaders’ comments lately indicate they have largely given up on believing the U.S. will come to the proverbial table accepting Russia as an equal. I think Putin, Lavrov and others have tried a long time in their public statements not to frame the relationship as adversarial, but I sense that time is over. American politicians frequently refer to Russia as an adversary. I think the folks in the Kremlin have accepted that status.

Why the change? After Biden was elected, but before he was inaugurated, Putin, Lavrov and others stated that they were hoping for improvement in the relationship but not really expecting it. I think their slim hopes disappeared when the folks at the Kremlin saw in February that the new administration was still going to back protests in Russia over Alexei Navalny. I wrote on this issue in my February blog. At that point I think Russia moved beyond actively seeking reconciliation with the U.S.

America held to the wrong-headed belief that Alexei Navalny was some kind of populist leader of the opposition to Putin. It appeared they believed he could be useful in undermining Putin’s presidency. I think it obvious that the U.S. and other Western countries seriously overestimated Navalny’s popularity in Russia. They also seriously misjudged his character, but that’s another topic.

There have been a few minor events that indicated Russia would no longer tolerate the taunting actions of Western aligned countries near its borders. A very significant one occurred when the British vessel HMS Defender went 3 kilometers inside Russian waters not far from the coast of Crimea. The Russians reported that they warned the ship to turn around, and after it refused to do so they (the Russians) opened fire near the ship and even dropped a warning bomb.

Initially, British officials denied what Russia said had happened. There was a BBC reporter aboard the Defender, however, and confirmed (with a video) that warnings were directed at the ship, then gunfire and a warning bomb followed–just as the Russians had said. British officials then changed their story to say they had every right to be there because in their opinion Crimea is not a part of Russia.

Despite clearly being caught in a lie about a serious international incident, other Western countries still supported the British. I have lost count of how many lies about Russia have poured from the mouths of Western politicians, but they still insist Vladimir Putin is the dishonest one. One can be quite confident that if the West really had caught Putin in such a lie it would be front page news. In the U.S. and Western Europe, however, if you lie about or lie to Russia it really doesn’t count as a lie. Boris Johnson’s administration didn’t lie. They just misspoke.

I found what President Putin said in his Q & A with the Russian people afterwards extremely significant. There were many who were saying WW3 could have been started over this incident had the British ship not left the waters near Crimea. Putin responded to his questioner, “You said the world teetered on the brink of a world war. No, of course not. Even if we had sunk that ship, it would still be difficult to imagine that this would have put the world on the brink of WW3, since those who are doing this, they know that they cannot emerge victorious from this war.” Clearly, Mr. Putin was sending a message that he believes the West knows that Russia has superior strategic weaponry. He will not back down in the face of further provocations. I have not heard him speak so bluntly before.

In my next blog I’ll conclude the discussion of Russian/American relations and then move to personal reflections on how our long absence from America has impacted my thinking on life and freedom in the two countries.

THE PENTAGON PAPERS

Michael Gravel

I seldom write two blogs in less than a month, but after my last blog on the summit with Biden and Putin we now come to the fiftieth anniversary of the “release” (I use that word loosely) of the Pentagon Papers. Sadly, one of the key players in that saga, Michael Gravel, passed away last week at the age of 91. So this blog is not directly related to life in Russia, but it seemed fitting to honor him in the only small way I know how.

WHAT WERE THE PENTAGON PAPERS? Given this event was 50 years ago I realize many readers may have never even heard of them and other folks in my generation may have forgotten a lot about them or did not see the significance of them at the time. The Pentagon Papers were over 4,000 pages describing the results of a massive government study of the Vietnam War in which the U.S. had been officially involved since 1954.

Most of us were able to read only a few excerpts from the papers. According to “insiders” who did, however, all aspects of the war and the political issues surrounding it were included. Everything from how each president had maneuvered around public opinion and press reports to mundane statistics from the field were there to read.

The study was top secret. It was sealed with two sets of secret codes. Politicians and other government officials who were permitted to read it were not allowed to be accompanied by aides in the special room reserved for reading the documents. No one was allowed to take notes on what they read.

The main conclusion of the report later became widely known, however, and proved to be the most controversial aspect of the papers. The authors of the study concluded that the war in Vietnam would never result in a victory for the U.S. There was no way America would win this war. Nevertheless, they directed the war should continue.

I am not privy to why they concluded the war could not be won. I only know what I read in various publications around that time and my personal conversations in the early 1970s with fellow U.S. Marines who had been there. The enemy was “squishy,” they said. They were never organized in a manner expected for conventional warfare. They struck from the bush in small groups and quickly disappeared either back into the bush or into one of the small villages. One often could not tell who was a combatant and who was just a poor resident. They recounted other difficulties in trying to fight an elusive opponent. Additionally, they said directives from their U.S. superiors were often unclear and confusing. I’m sure the report went over the far more complicating factors. The point was the authors of this study knew the U.S. could not win against this seemingly small opponent. Yet they insisted the war must go on.

Again, I don’t know all the details as to why continuing was imperative, but at stake was a lot of money, power, and pride at high levels. I think the majority of folks would agree that President Eisenhower’s warnings in his farewell speech in January of 1961 “against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex” were to a large degree shaped by what he had already seen happening with Vietnam. I am one of a multitude of cynics who believe a lot of money was being made from this war by weapons sales, and those companies were rewarding certain politicians with hefty campaign contributions.

Another factor for continuing the war was the pride and insecurity of Washington politicians. In a recent article Paul Robinson refers to Lyndon B. Johnson’s biographer Doris Kearns’ quote of Johnson when asked about why he continued the war in Vietnam: “If I left that way and let the communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward, an unmanly man, a man without a spine.” So to keep Johnson’s masculinity intact young American men had to keep on dying in Vietnam. https://irrussianality.wordpress.com/2021/06/27/brits-in-crimea-scared-of-looking-scared/?fbclid=IwAR3imXuwliyaOSP947NyBXs4iF47JnZg_ErNU7PV_Q2ZN_q8p7prNRHwZ1g. (Women were not permitted in combat roles at the time, by the way.)

I wrote in another blog that I think what I was told in 1971 in class by my high school social studies/history teacher was the standard line D.C. politicians wanted us all to believe. According to her we had to keep fighting in Vietnam because if the Communists won there, they would get a foothold in Asia and could perhaps then take over the world. I believed her. Of course, after U.S. troops left, Vietnam did in fact become one country, which is communist. I have not checked since the pandemic, but the last time I looked into it, Vietnam had a much stronger economy than when the Americans were present. And the Communists did not take over the world.

DANIEL ELLSBERG. The name most frequently associated with the Pentagon Papers becoming widely known is Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg was a member of the commision that did the study and wrote the papers. He was disgusted with the conclusions I mentioned above. He leaked the contents to the New York Times, which promptly published some excerpts. The Nixon administration moved quickly and got the publication of the excerpts stopped. Ellsberg then leaked the papers to The Washington Post, which also published excerpts. They were also stopped as were a few more papers to whom Ellsberg leaked the contents.

Daniel Ellsberg

While the issue of the legality of the publication of the excerpts was tied up in court, Ellsberg sought to find a politician who would get the papers made public somehow. At first George McGovern, who planned to run for president the next year, indicated he would do so. After seeking counsel from his chief advisor he refused, however. It was too dangerous to his political future. Eventually Ellsberg was able to find someone who detested the conclusions of the report and who was not afaid to take the risk of revealing them. Senator Mike Gravel was the man.

MIKE GRAVEL was a first term senator from Alaska. Gravel said he thought probably every Senator thinks at least for a short term about what it would be like to be president. After reviewing the contents of the papers, he knew if he got them released he likely would never become president. It would be worth it, however. The American public needed to know.

He told fellow Senator Alan Cranston, “We as leaders are killing innocent people (and) it does not add to our national security.” He added, “The people of the United States have not lost confidence in the leadership of the nation, but the leaders have lost confidence in the people.” He said he believed when the leaders run the country by keeping the people either uninformed or misinformed about what they are doing and why they are doing it, there is no democracy.

(Caveat: Gravel did try to become the Democratic nominee for president in 2008 against Clinton and Biden, but by then the Democratic Party had joined hands with the pro-war neocon Republicans, and he never came close to getting nominated. He even tried again in 2020.)

Gravel’s plan to get the contents made public was to get them read into the congressional record. That would circumvent the problems associated with leaking them to the press. Gravel had already planned to filibuster a bill extending the mandatory military draft in America. He didn’t have enough votes to stop the draft, but he would wear his colleagues down by reading the contents of the papers. Thus, the information would be entered into the congressional record. He calculated that it would take him 30 hours to read just the pages which were essential. That would be longer than the record fillibuster of just over 24 hours by South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond in 1957.

He had no doubts about whether it was the right thing to do, but he did realize there were dangers. He feared that if the wrong people found out, the FBI would show up at his office and prevent him from getting to the Senate. He called a contact he knew with Disabled Vietnam Veterans Againt the War and explained his dilemma. Shortly thereafter the halls leading to his office were filled with wheelchair bound veterans of the war. They swore to him that for the FBI to get to him they would have to climb over the vets’ bodies in the hallway.

On a totally different note, he worried about a practical and sensitive matter: bodily functions. He remembered that Senator Huey Long would just urinate on the floor during his filibusters. Gravel did not want to be crude. Therefore before he made his way to the Senate floor he made an appointment to go by the office of the Senate doctor to receive an enema and then get a colostomy bag attached to his person. While he was reading the documents into the record, his chief aide could empty the contents of the bag by a valve attached to his ankle.

Plan A, as he called it, did not work. When he prepared to start the filibuster, he saw clerks and staff there, and he warned them they may need to call home and tell family members they would be late. Republican Senator Robert Griffin heard him and was immediately suspicious. He objected and successfully prevented Gravel from being given the floor on the grounds no quorum was present. Gravel was devastated.

Gravel thought he had lost his chance, but his chief aide came to the rescue with “Plan B.” Although Gravel was only a first term senator, Senator Ted Kennedy had arranged for him to have chairmanship of a sub-committee. Gravel said it was the least prestigious of any sub-committee in Washington: Buildings and Grounds. Gravel quickly arranged a meeting of said sub-committee. The committee meeting started that night at 9:45 p.m. Gravel was actually the only member there. He had arranged with his friend Congrssman John Dow to appear and make a request of Gravel’s committee: “I want to build a federal building in my district.” On cue, Gravel responded, “We have no money for that because of the war in Vietnam.” He then started reading the contents of the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record.

I won’t go over all of the repercussions of Ellsberg’s and Gravel’s actions. Gravel later said the strongest criticism that he received came from the fact that as he was reading how the soldiers and civilians were killed, how villages with children were destroyed, bodies were maimed, he began to well up in tears. Then the tears flowed down his face as he continued. Finally, he broke down. The news outlets–even the NY Times–were unanimous in their condemnation of him because no real man, especially a senator, should shame the U.S. Senate with such behavior.

Eventually, however, charges and threatened actions against Gravel were dropped. He served in the Senate until January of 1981. The last of the U.S. troops in Vietnam were pulled out in 1975, although a peace treaty was signed in 1973.

LESSONS FOR TODAY. One of the reasons I am writing a blog on the Pentagon Papers is because I fear critical lessons have not been learned. I also believe the powers in D.C. do not want people to remember this event and would prefer to continue doing business as usual. America has been fighting in Afghanistan since October of 2001. It is essentially this generation’s Vietnam. President Biden’s announcement that American troops are to be withdrawn by the twentieth anniversary (this fall) is still being met with strong criticisms from both Republicans and some Democrats. Members of the American military have been there killing and being killed and injured for twenty years, and it appears that nothing was accomplished. Well, unless you are in the business of selling weapons to the U.S. government that is.

I believe that government leaders in general still do not trust the people. I don’t need to read reports or articles contending that U.S. politicians lie about other countries and create fictional monsters of them. I’ve seen it first hand from living in Russia. I’ve communicated with other Americans in other countries who say the same thing. I don’t like what is said about Russia, but what America has done in Syria (and then lied about it), as well as the ramifications of their actions in Yemen, are horrible. There are other examples.

The misinformation being spread to the U.S. public by the media also continues. I claimed in my last blog that there are reporters or newscasters who know very little if anything about Russia, yet still feel free to inject their opinions as facts into their newscasts. Eva Karene Bartlett, who has lived in Palestine, Syria, and now Russia, recently interviewed veteran journalist Steve Kinzer, who has spent two decades traveling around the world to complile his reports. He describes the way journalism has changed from his time of reporting on places and events you were actually there to see and learn about, rather than simply communicating what you were told to write by some U.S. government apparatchik. https://www.rt.com/op-ed/527732-us-media-stephen-kinzer/?fbclid=IwAR2beWVT_lMrXaZzF_NtjcMS570HJ70467XZGlsS7BN_-Bg_x8wrccy1H3Q

As a positive aside, I also can claim I was right about something else I said in my last blog. I indicated that in my opinion many Americans no longer trust what the American media outlets tell them. I just read of a report done recently by The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism on the topic of media trust in 49 countries. According to their study, America finished last of all 49 countries in terms of trusting their media. Only 29% of Americans say they trust their media for accurate information. In his article on this study, Jonathan Turley delves into the ways journalists and editors are shamed or even fired if they present any perspective that does not mesh with what the political and media movers and shakers have decided America needs to hear. Fortunately, many Americans are now seeing through the manipulation. http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2021/june/26/report-united-states-ranks-last-in-media-trust/?fbclid=IwAR0PrOsesRROLE_AN3SukRkw5NHh_uHLr_X_ykHjUlimS7zehKSdv6ngrBI.

Then there are the cases against Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Snowden saw James Clapper lying to a Senate Select Committe on Intelligence and leaked the information that proved Clapper lied. Snowden is now in exile in Russia, and Clapper is still free and can still be seen on newscasts from time to time providing his unique insights. Julian Assange has been treated horribly for supposedly advising someone who leaked secret information. Assange didn’t even do any hacking and his life has been pretty much destroyed for his part advancing the truth about what Washington leaders were doing. At least Gravel and Ellsberg were vindicated and allowed freedom. Now those with the courage to release the truth in America get sent to prison or worse. The liars in government, on the other hand, are free to become news analysts. The way to advance your career now is, “Hear no evil, see no evil, and if you do see it, report that it is Russia’s fault.”

Finally, I wanted to write this article to honor Michael Gravel. As I said above he passed away this past week on June 26 just as some of us were revisiting what he did 50 years ago this month. There were a number of political issues I’m sure I disagreed with Gravel on. But America was never about agreeing on everything with everybody. The main thing was he hated war. He never lost sight of the fact that good people die in war—even if those wars actually have nothing to do with U.S. national security. That people in high places exploit the courage of these young people is a horrible facet of American politics. Gravel was not among the politicians Mike Lofgren described as shouting loudly at each other in front of the cameras and then going out for drinks together afterwards. Gravel acted on his revulsion at the meaningless wars with integrity and conviction.

Consortium News recently starting publishing excerpts from the book, A Political Odyssey, the book Gravel and Joe Lauria did on the events I have been describing. My wife came in while I was reading the first article. I started telling her about it, but then I just pushed my computer across the table and asked her to read it for herself. As she read, I saw tears start coming down. She said, “You mean…an American politician did that? So the people would know the truth???” I told her yes, there was a time when some American politicians were motivated by the desire to tell the truth and had the courage to act on convictions. I said, “You don’t get an enema and have a colostomy bag attached for political theater.” (For the first excerpt from Consortium News see https://consortiumnews.com/2021/06/21/revealing-the-pentagon-papers-in-congress/. You can find all the excerpts on their website.)

I say a lot of negative things about America. And while I have gotten some very kind and encouraging responses, I’ve gotten some from people who do not appreciate what they see as my lack of patriotism. Sometimes it hurts a bit; many times it triggers anger. In this view truly patriotic people only say good things about their country. But the bad responses I’ve gotten are NOTHING compared to what Mike Gravel and Daniel Ellsberg endured. In my opinion, they exhibited more patriotism than their cultured despisers could ever imagine. I honor them for doing what they did.

THE BIDEN-PUTIN SUMMIT

As is commonly known, Presidents Biden and Putin recently held their summit in Geneva. Unfortunately I had a bad case of bronchitis and could not watch everything. I would watch as much as I had the strength for, then read what transcripts and articles I could. I would read for short periods, take a break and resume reading. I also watched a number of news clips from America. Most of those focused on how Biden “stood up” to Putin.

The Western press really didn’t get much into the specific issues discussed in the summit. The interpretations I saw from America of how Biden did broke down pretty much along party lines. The MSM, with a few exceptions, tried to put the best light possible on how Biden performed vis-a-vis Putin. The majority of commentators I saw on FOXNEWS took the other position—Putin dominated Biden. To what degree they were successful in moving toward the goal to “develop stable and predictable relations” between the two countries got lost in the partisan political noise I fear. When FOX called in Mike Pompeo as their foreign policy expert I knew not much in the way of deep analysis was going to happen. I think a lot of my American readers will agree with me that newscasts today have lost the focus on “just the facts.” Each talking head feels free to inject her or his own presuppositions and views into the conversation—whether that “journalist” knows anything at all about Russia or not.

Therefore I’ll set forth a few basic points about how the summit looked to this American living in small town Russia. I’ll give a summary of what I believe was positive about their meeting and what was disappointing. I admit these are my opinions. I guess that is why one writes a blog to some degree. Nevertheless, I am aware that there are many articles analyzing the summit in greater detail and with more expertise than I, so at the end of this blog entry I’ll provide links to a few articles by Russia specialists I have come to respect. I’ll add brief comments explaining the focus of each article.

A little background. The summit was requested by President Biden. The request came shortly after NATO sent out an alarm that it had discovered that Russia was conducting a massive buildup of combat ready troops near the Ukrainian border. Russian Defense Minister Shoigu stated openly that yes that was true. He said Russia was doing nothing in secret. Russia had deployed two armies and three airborne units in close proximity to the Russian/Ukrainian border. Russia was preparing for battle if Ukraine and the West continued to push for conflict. He also told the Americans he could not guarantee the security of their two ships entering the Black Sea. NATO and the U.S. backed down, the ships turned around, and the “Ukrainian crisis” subsided. Shortly thereafter Biden requested a summit with Putin. In general I think everyone agreed that, as forecasted, there were no major breakthroughs, developments or announcements as a result of the summit.

POSITIVE ASPECTS OF THE SUMMIT

First, they agreed that the Russian and American ambassadors would return to their respective embassies, and there would be resumption of normal consular functioning. For some folks this was viewed largely as a symbolic step I suppose, but for those of us who live abroad it is unsettling when the embassy is not fully staffed. I also think having the ambassador present to communicate directly with the foreign government is very important. That is one of the main functions of an embassy. After the summit there was an announcement that regular, albeit limited, flights would resume between Russia and America. The borders between the two countries will open June 28. People still cannot get visas right now, but TASS reported the embassies are beginning conversations on the policies of issuing visas.

Second, there was agreement that negotiations will begin on the new START treaty. A general desire for reduction of weapons is a good thing in my opinion. They made reference to the statement by Reagan and Gorbachev that “a nuclear war can never by won and should never be fought.”

More than that, however, I gathered from some of the comments by American advisers that there finally seems to be an awareness among American team members of the advances that Russia has made in its weapons systems—both offensive and defensive. They know that Russia has hypersonic missiles that can evade all the American ABM systems. The reference to Russia as “a regional power” by Barack Obama and others will hopefully be thrown in the dustbin sometime soon.

Also, related to this point an “unnamed source” from within Biden’s circle of advisors acknowledged the fear that Russia and China will work together on military matters in the future, and they consider this very dangerous. Ray McGovern has stated that while there is nothing official, Russia and China have a “virtual military alliance.” The U.S. would do well to consider the ramifications of that alliance. The simple fact that the U.S. team maybe—just maybe—realizes that open conflict with Russia might not go well for them is a positive step in curtailing America’s military aggression.

NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF THE SUMMIT.

In general I would say the disappointing aspects of the summit for me were primarily related to the language that was used by the Americans. There was still a condescending tone in much of what Biden and others said. On June 10 he gave a rousing speech in the UK declaring “the U.S. is back,” and defiantly promised he was going to tell Putin “what I want him to know.” America is unwilling to recognize Russia as a country with equal nation status. Fortunately President Putin takes all this American hubris in stride. On June 4 at a forum in St. Petersburg he said, “Russia-U.S. relations have become hostage to the internal political processes that are taking place in the United States.”

Biden is still to some degree stuck in the mentality of his former boss Obama. The U.S. is THE “exceptional and indispensable” nation in the world. Again to borrow from Ray McGovern, the opposite of “indispensable” is “dispensable.” There is a limit to what can be achieved in international relations as long as America regards other nations as dispensable and unexceptional. Putin responded to this attitude in his post summit conference: “It’s just that when a person says that the U.S. is an exceptional nation, with special, exclusive rights to practically the entire world, I cannot go along with that. God created us all equal and gave us equal rights.” Quite ironic that the Russian president lectured America on his belief that God created us equal and gave us all certain equal rights.

The Americans continued to insist that Russia must accept a “ruled based international order.” As Caitlin Johnson recently wrote, what they really mean is a “Washington-Based International Order.” The problem is there are plenty of international laws already in place, and America does not believe it has to submit to them. For example, recent documents have revealed that after confiscating an Iranian tanker, the US sold around 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil the tanker contained. https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/us-sells-off-iranian-crude-oil-seized-off-77997885. The American government wants to set the rules for this orderly system to which other countries must submit, but believes it has the right to steal a tanker of oil and then keep the profits from the sale of its contents. From listening to Putin and others on his diplomatic team, there will not be any major breakthroughs until the U.S. surrenders what it perceives to be its place as leader and commander of the world.

Second, some of Biden’s statements left one wondering if he was terribly uninformed, extremely forgetful, or both. He criticized Russia for interfering in the elections of other nations. He stated, “The U.S. never interferes in other countries elections.” He then asked rhetorically, “How would it be if the United States were viewed by the rest of the world as interfering with the elections directly of other countries and everybody knew it?”

In the five years I’ve been writing this blog the highest readership by far came from two blogs I did in January of 2018 responding to an article by Joe Biden and Michael Carpenter in Foreign Affairs magazine. A number of online sites ran those two blogs. I detailed the fallacies in the FA article. I also included a discussion of the July 15, 1996 cover story in Time magazine titled, “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisors Helped Yeltsin Win.” The article discussed the “open secret” of how President Clinton sent a cadre of highly paid American advisors (pretending to be antennae salesmen) and plenty of IMF money to turn the tide in the Russian election and get Boris Yeltsin re-elected as president of the Russian Federation.

I have mentioned in more than one blog how Victoria Nuland’s intercepted phone call revealed the work of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine in conducting the coup to overthrow the legally elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych—in which she specially mentioned Biden’s support. We also know of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s laughing comment, “We came, we saw, he died,” in reference to the overthrow of Libya’s leader Muammar el-Qaddafi. Yet Biden and others continue to insist that Russia is the one who must repent of election interference, although America’s own investigations found no evidence of interference.

There were other comments that clearly indicated ignorance on the part of the American diplomatic team over the issue of China and Russia. Biden “warned” Putin, “You’ve got a multi-thousand mile border with China…China is seeking to be the most powerful economy in the world with the most powerful military in the world.” He later said to the press, “Let me choose my words. Russia is in a very, very difficult spot right now. Russia is being squeezed by China.”

America sees the growing Chinese economy and military as a threat, and assumes Russia should as well. Russia does not see things that way. I don’t think Vladimir Putin cares if China’s economy becomes the largest in the world. Russia has a great trade relationship with China and has a debt surplus with them. China signed an agreement last year to buy natural gas from Russia for the next 30 years. I would hardly call that “being squeezed.”

Further, unlike the U.S., China doesn’t sanction other countries in order to compensate for its diplomatic inadequacies. As for their military, China has far fewer nuclear weapons than either the U.S. or Russia. Their navy is huge, but, unlike the U.S., China does not try to dictate to Russia or any country what its own policies should be. In June of 2019 Chinese President Xi Jinping referred to Putin as “my best friend.” So while there were some statements that indicated the U.S. is wary of the growing closeness between Russia and China, the Americans are diplomatically incompetent when it comes to engaging in dialog that would prevent this increasing closeness between what it calls its two main adversaries.

POST SUMMIT. After the summit the huge differences in the press conferences of the two presidents were glaring. Biden insisted that they would not have a joint conference. He did not allow any members of the Russian press to be present at his conference, and he began by stating that he had been given a list of the names of journalists he was to call on. This was not a real press conference in the minds of many. Even normally Biden-friendly CNN’s Jeff Zeleny complained, “I have never seen a president…who is so protected by his aides in terms of not wanting (them) to ask him questions.” Everything about the Biden conference looked orchestrated.

Putin’s press conference was attended by press from around the world. This is in addition to the interview he gave NBC before the conference. He willingly engaged in “give and take” with reporters who challenged him on various issues. I have never seen a president who can pull facts out of his head like Putin. No one ever caught him off guard or unprepared. In what I saw, the “sparring” never got fully confrontational, but, as with most such conferences, there were some tough questions and tense moments.

Finally, I was quite surprised at what Putin said about Biden after the summit. He said Biden is a veteran politician who is “collected, professional, and skillful.” https://www.rt.com/russia/526858-putin-media-biden-portrayal/?fbclid=IwAR2GnhH5lao1k8QX-wmp1dxXoSt1B6mmliaATPAlzB1mHh1Y-gITLbgQmKA Putin was asked about Biden’s mental capabilities because anyone who watched Biden could see he struggled at points to stay coherent. When asked would he still call Putin a “killer,” Biden fumbled in silence for several moments and never rendered a coherent answer.

Putin responded that Biden had called him after he had made the “killer” comment in the interview with George Stephanopolis. Without going into detail Putin said he was satisfied with Biden’s explanation. As far as Biden’s mental capabilities and the stammering, Putin defended Biden by saying he had travelled across many time zones and had many meetings in just a few days. He said we all have trouble focusing after we travel such great distances.

He was then asked about Biden’s notes which, even in the photo op, Biden kept fumbling around with. Putin said everyone uses notes and some people are in the habit of using them more than others. In other words, reporters opened the door for Putin to elaborate on many of the rumors about Biden’s mental competence, but he chose to remain diplomatic and positive. The difference between the diplomacy of the two leaders could not have been more stark.

FOR FURTHER READING.

Obviously the above summary is not a full study of the issues related to the summit. I include the links below to a few of the articles that were helpful to me.

https://gilbertdoctorow.com/2021/06/09/1856/?fbclid=IwAR0J8crLz0K46BUPoQm5ibpodfs7fOkGiT2EvAzXQssZESWYVDiTmGxrB8w. Gilbert Doctorow has posted three blogs recently on the summit. Two were before the summit, and one was written afterwards. The articles are brief but very helpful summaries of the important issues. He is especially good in his discussions of Russian military capabilities.

http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2021/june/09/biden-putin-summit-boon-or-bust/?fbclid=IwAR3QfzSKzcxlLVnRejqVG4MLPCbFm61B9ZwdEu06o4aaBaaY5R6agYQoa7o

This is an article by Ray McGovern that I saw posted on Ron Paul’s site. McGovern has as much experience as anyone in the area of important summits. He is very knowledgeable of Russia, and was a key advisor to American presidents back in the days of the USSR. He also gave before and after interviews with my friend Regis Trembley on Regis’ youtube channel. Both interviews were excellent. Here is a link to the interview after the summit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=po5SCzwfXSw

This is a republication of an article written by Jack Matlock in 2018 on the American intelligence reports saying Russia had interfered with the U.S. election. Jack Matlock is another long time Russian expert who understands and explains what “intelligence reports” really are and how the U.S. diplomats have analyzed them over the years. Matlock is no Trump fan for sure. He has written much on his unhapppiness with the Trump presidency. Yet Matlock is of the old school that believes you don’t let your political preferences influence your evaluation of evidence in the search for truth. He clearly shows the intellectual dishonesty by James Clapper and many others in the way they lied about what these agencies had discovered on Russian interference.

https://www.antiwar.com/blog/2021/06/16/ray-mcgovern-trust-lacking-at-blah-summit/?fbclid=IwAR3RCb8I74bjWOYCLVr_6xWELAUb4CWXMctBEsWB6v3ncTcYoCDzCnzZ4X0

Another article by Ray McGovern, this one written after the summit. He explains how the old method of “trust but verify” has been turned on its head in current U.S. policy, especially with reference to Russia.

https://irrussianality.wordpress.com/2021/06/21/the-not-so-strange-death-of-liberal-russophobia/

This link is to a brief article by Paul Finlay Robinson who explores to what degree the Russophobia of the Trump years may be coming to a conclusion. He does not believe it is dead, but he does believe much of the Russophobia was more about being anti-Trump than about U.S. “national security.” Perhaps with Trump gone Russophobia will fade in importance.

In conclusion, there is some room for hope that the two countries did achieve a meaningful beginning to establish a fully diplomatic relationship. Of course, the proverbial “jury” is still out. In my opinion, the central question is will the reality of the advances made by Russia and China convince American leaders to surrender their commitment to a uni-polar world order? I do fear that they will not do so without a serious and senseless confrontation. The Russians have an expression, however, that “hope dies last.” My deep and abiding hope is that the voices crying for reconciliation and peace between my two worlds would be heard and heeded above the senseless clamor and babel of the dogs of war.

FIVE YEARS BACK IN RUSSIA: HOW HAS IT WORKED OUT?

My last post was a repost of an old blog I had written after we had been in Russia for four months. In it I explained the main reasons we moved to Russia. We are approaching our fifth anniversary back, and every year I review our time here. In this entry I want to review how those hopes were or were not realized. Did it work out like we thought? Here’s a follow-up almost 5 years later.

FINANCES. I stated in the 2016 blog that the catalyst for moving was the birth of our daughter in September of 2014. Since I was an older than average new dad, I wanted to make the best of the years I have left with my family. Yet even though my income was actually a few thousand dollars above average in America, we struggled financially. To stay in America meant I would have to continue working for the next few years. Based on conversations with folks in Luga, we thought my Social Security checks would be sufficient.

It turns out our estimates were correct. We sold our house, car and a lot of our possessions in America and moved into a small apartment near downtown Luga. Our rent was only $200/month. We did not need to buy a car since taxis are cheap and plentiful. So we paid off all our old bills from the States and saved some money. After 3 years in the apartment we figured out a way to pay cash for a house of our own and remain debt free. We are in a much better place financially in Russia on Social Security than we were in America on my full time salary.

There is an aspect of our experience in Russia I have not heretofore revealed since my wife is only now ready for me to disclose it. In the fall of 2019 Oksana was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2020 she received 8 rounds of chemotherapy treatments and then had two surgeries. She now is following up with a different kind of treatment and is doing well. She has returned to an active life.

In 2018 the “Journal of the American Medical Association” published the results of a long term study they had done (2000-2012) on the financial consequences of having cancer in America. They found 42% of families with a cancer patient lose their entire life savings; 62% are stuck with long term debt; 55% owe more than $10,000. The average cancer patient lost $92,098 as a result of cancer treatments. They stated these figures do not include the added financial hardship of lost work while undergoing treatments.

https://www.insider.com/half-cancer-patients-lose-their-entire-life-savings-2018-10?fbclid=IwAR2SrdA2IaAz-nkZh-ldDaQKc260hLTwdso-GAAL7AX8LoHN4OabxmoiR_Q

I know “socialized medicine” is a hot topic in America. It is too complex to explain but the historical development of medical care here is so different from the U.S. that you cannot compare them. One basic difference is there is an extremely strong cultural bias in Russia against any politician or healthcare official who thinks in terms of making a profit on a serious illness. We have had to pay for some initial treatments and medications, but most of her treatments and medicines have been free. I have no doubt that had we been living in America when my wife’s cancer was found we would have been part of that 42% that would have lost everything. She has received excellent care, and we have no medical debt at all. Both medicines she is now receiving are from America and are provided free to us.

FAMILY TIME. I have had plenty of time to spend with my family. That little girl will be 7 years old in September, and I have enjoyed being home to watch her grow. Every morning when she wakes up, I hear, “Daddy!!!” That is my signal to go and lie down with her before she is ready to get up. We spend 10-15 minutes talking over any dreams she may have had overnight, events of the previous day, plans for the day ahead, or whatever is on her mind. I know that when she starts school this fall, things will change. But the time I have had with her in these early years is invalueable. This in itself has made the move worth it.

When we first moved here I was also able to spend a lot of time with Gabriel, but he made friends pretty quickly and prefers now to be out with his buddies. The fact that kids can play outside or ride their bikes around town safely is nice. We lived in a nice neighborhood in America, but I would never have let him just go off with his buddies on bikes for a whole afternoon.

EDUCATION. I mentioned we were also concerned about our children’s education in America. Our main concern was the increasing influence of groups whose goals seem related more to politial correctness than academic achievement. We could not afford sending our kids to a private school in America. If we had stayed homeschooling would have been the only option.

Overall I would say we are pleased with the education our boys have gotten in Luga. Gabriel enjoyed his 3 years in elementary school, but middle school has been much more difficult. The degree of difficulty increased dramatically—too dramatically in our opinion. Then COVID hit and for a couple of months they did school on-line. Parents hated it; the kids hated it: and the teachers hated it. It was a tough and disappointing school year.

The biggest problem we have with education in Russia is the obsessive focus on the standardized tests that students have to take before finishing school. So much about their future education in a university depends on how they do on these tests, and the tests are very difficult. Gabriel had excellent grades in elementary school, but his joy in learning was stunted by the focus on “teaching to the test” in middle school.

Fortunately, this year Oksana’s mom retired from the school system and was able to spend a lot of time with him daily in study and doing homework. Eventually he was able to get to the point where he understood how to get the homework done by himself, and he is doing much better.

Roman completed 9 grades in America, but he had to go back to the 9th grade in Russia, because they don’t accept students without a Russian middle school certificate into 10th grade. Middle school is from 5th through 9th grade here and you have to take big exit tests in the end to get your certificate of completion of the middle school. You can graduate after 9th grade and go to college and that was what Roman chose to do.

A college education in Russia is very different from a university education. It is somewhat like a technical college in that it prepares you for a particular profession. Students take the entrance exams that particular college gives. They also count GPA from their middle school certificate and that adds extra points. Further, students need to be sure they know what their chosen profession will be, for there is no way to change your major half way through. Roman did well on the exams, and he had known for some time he wanted to study architecture. So after four years of studying he will be getting his degree from the St. Petersburg College of Engineering and Architecture this summer.

As I have mentioned above, we have not been pleased with the laser like focus on standardized tests scores, but overall the experience has been good. We decided to stay with public schools and not do homeschooling. First, if a student wants to go to university standardized tests are a part of the system whether we like it or not. Oksana was not sure she was prepared to take on homeschooling given she had been out of Russia for 8 years and was not up-to-date on how to prepare kids for the tests. Second, we never felt the public schools here interfered with the basic values we were teaching at home. Third, Gabriel simply did not want to be homeschooled. He enjoyed his friends at school.

I also mentioned that the language issue was a concern for the boys and me before we moved, but going to school and being immersed in the language took care of that for the boys. Roman picked up conversational Russian pretty quickly, but had to study the grammar intensely. Gabriel learned Russian at school and on the playground. He never seemed to struggle. Marina Grace became fully bilingual without any instruction. It is truly amazing how a small child’s mind can seemingly absorb two languages at once. She speaks with no accent in either language. I am still a work in progress. I do not teach at the English school anymore, and I have my Russian citizenship behind me so I am able to devote more time to it. I continue to progress slowly, but I sense I am progressing.

I mentioned I’d warned the boys that in a small provincial town we most likely would have to go without some of the American “creature comforts,” e.g., fastfood. We rarely went out to places like McDonalds while in America, but occasionally we would splurge. My warning about Luga, however, turned out to be a “nothing burger” (horrible pun, I know). They have burgers, pizzas, sushi, etc. here in Luga. We even now have a KFC. And most of these places deliver.

The most negative of our concerns was over the tense political situation between the U.S. and Russia, and unfortunately that continues to intensify. I spend a lot of time writing about this topic because what happens at a political level impacts us directly sometimes. For example, we had to go all the way to the U.S. embassy in Moscow to renew the kids’ passports since the U.S. had shut down the consulate in St. Petersburg. Now the embassy is greatly reducing its services as well. Little known to the public, one of Biden’s executive orders says that anyone supporting Russia “in a destabilizing manner” can have their assets and the assets of their grown children in America seized by the American government! Even what is said in a blog (like mine) or on social media can be included in “destabilization.” (For a longer explanation see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5EaJlmjDco) What if a real war breaks out between the two countries? So what I write about politics is profoundly personal.

During the 2016 campaign Trump had said he would like to work with Russia to fight terrorism. By the response of the Democrats one would have thought he had offered Vladimir Putin the codes to U.S. nuclear weapons. I really had no idea at the time how intense the anti-Russian propaganda would get in America. After Mueller’s $35 million investigation, Adam Schiff’s House Intelligence investigation, and every reporter the MSM could spare to look for dirt about Russia, no one ever came up with actual evidence of collusion. Yet Russia continues to be blamed for election inteference, and Schiff and others were never held accountable for their lies to the American people.

Republicans complained vociferously about the Democrats lying and blaming Russian collusion while Trump was president. Yet last week when President Joe Biden waived sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 project operator, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz immediately blasted Biden. He said the waiver was a “reward to Russia for Russian hackers shutting down a major infrastructure pipeline on the Eastern Seaboard. Today he (Biden) signed a waiver greenlighting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.” https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/may/20/ted-cruz-rips-biden-sanction-waiver-on-russia/

There is more than one lie packed in the Senator’s remarks. First, the hackers were a non-political group called Darkside, a group that is very open about its operations. They admit they hack into large corporations and then demand a ransom to repair it. They are not tied in any way to the Russian government. https://www.moonofalabama.org/2021/05/more-hacks-more-baseless-accusations-against-russia.html?fbclid=IwAR1vtFA2ZIxd8S8Ub2n0wj5P8ZkwhwMr85jLl_VT_EnZqVW7BJLhRG2ZQnU#more.

Second, the CEO of Colonial Pipeline has admitted Darkside did not actually hack into the company’s operational systems. They hacked into the company’s billing system. The CEO, Joseph Blout, was actually the person who ordered the operations halted, and the pipeline was shut down at his direction. Then he paid Darkside $4.4 million to remove the hack. Again, no evidence emerged that Russia had anything to do with it. https://jalopnik.com/the-colonial-pipeline-was-fine-but-it-was-shutdown-to-1846911689.

Like his political opponents from the last four years Cruz did not care for or bother to wait for any investigations. He “played the Russia card” after spending the last four years complaining about the Democrats doing the same thing. And Cruz did not stop there. On May 22 he tweeted, “Yes, Colonel Vladimir Putin of the KGB is and always has been a communist. Most brutal left-wing dictators are.”

This is typical dishonest inflammatory garbage. I sincerely thought Ted Cruz was a better man than that. Yes, Vladimir Putin was a member of the Communist Party during the days of the USSR. So was my father-in-law, mother-in-law, my doctor and several friends. If one wanted to move up in one’s profession you joined the party. It wasn’t about ideology. None of these people, including Putin, are still in the party. If Senator Cruz did actual research he would know that the Communist Party has opposed Mr. Putin every time he has run for president.

Cruz does not deal with the basis for his opposition to Nord Stream 2 because there is little rational basis. Here’s a review of what I have written before: Germany can get natural gas from Russia for 25-30% cheaper than it can get it by having it shipped from America. The gas is also of a higher quality. Further, there is a sufficient supply with Nord Stream 2 to provide gas for other parts of Europe when needed. America can promise neither the quality nor the quantity that Russia provides. American politicians complain that Ukraine could be hurt by Nord Stream. They should have thought of that before they led the coup in Ukraine. And why should Germans pay higher prices for gas because of what has gone on in Ukraine? America’s supposed belief in free and open trade is simply a farce. America believes it has the right to tell Germany who it can buy natural gas from.

Biden stated that he issued the waver because Nord Stream 2 is too close to completion for the U.S. to stop it, and he did not want to jeapordize further the relationship with Germany. I am actually glad someone finally admitted that. Nord Stream 2 is over 95% complete. Cruz said Biden gave the green light to Nord Stream. Nord Stream was going to be completed with or without any kind of light from America. When I last checked the line was less than 70 miles from completion. There is simply nothing the U.S. can do about it. Cruz and other Republicans as well as Democrats cannot admit the cold hard truth that America no longer controls the world.

The point is that the Democrats and Republicans have simply swapped roles. Thus, it seems there is no end in sight to the Russia narrative. Biden is scheduled to meet in person with Putin June 16. I hope there are positive developments, but I am not expecting much. It will be interesting to see how the MSM, which blasted Trump for meeting with Putin in Helsinki, handles Biden’s meeting with Putin in Geneva.

I’ve lived in Russia almost 8 years total. I firmly believe that if Senator Cruz were right about Putin being a “brutal dictator” I would know that by now. The Senator knows nothing about life or politics in Russia. Furthermore, dictatorships can be initiated in different ways. In October of 2020 candidate Biden said, “You can’t (legislate) by executive order unless you’re a dictator.” I believe Biden has signed at least 46 executive orders already as president. In response to one of President Biden’s Executive Orders a Christian college went to court over being forced to allow men in the women’s dorms and showers. The College of the Ozarks lost the case. The guys cannot be stopped from going in the women’s showers. So much for the rights of private institutions.

The day before Biden was inaugurated, the world watched as U.S. troops and razor wire surrounded the White House. There it was for all the world to see. The White House of the United States of America looking as if it were under seige―not from fear of attack by the Russians or the Chinese, but from fear of its own citizens. Nevertheless, the U.S. still insist it is the kind of democracy needed around the world. Most of the world does not want the American version of democracy.

Another very different way the political situation has impacted us in terms of personal friendships. I’ve said before one of the things I like about social media like FB is catching up with friends from my past. Most of the independent news sources I like get blocked or put in FB jail a lot.

While many of my old friends are interested in my life in Russia, over these 5 years I’ve learned why politicians as different as Adam Schiff and Ted Cruz play the Russia card. My Cold War generation was raised on anti-Russian or anti-USSR (we didn’t really distinguish between the two) attitudes planted in our brain. Obviously, my experience has shown me things are very different. But I still see posts and comments blindly following the “Russia is the Evil Empire” thinking from both those friends who vote Republican and those who vote Democrat. It’s not anger I feel when I see or hear these. It’s a sense of greater emotional distance from my homeland. The fond memories of our time in America are being swallowed up by people who simply won’t believe the times and countries have changed. I can get angry at Ted Cruz for a while and then go on with life. Feelings of alienation from old friends are at a deeper level.

CONCLUSION. In Russia, things have gone as well as I expected in some areas and better than I thought in others. I enjoy living here. And, yes, I do know it is not perfect. I had to jump through too many administrative hoops to finally get my citizenship to claim this is a perfect system. But I did get my citizenship, and I feel accepted here. I can still say no member of my family has ever been treated poorly or had to endure any nasty comments about Americans. I feel more freedom than I did in America—even before recent events. I say that with sadness, not glee.

I recently saw a reference to Ronald Reagan’s old quote, “If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.” As difficult as it is for some to accept–and entirely impossible for others–that is not the way it looks from here…

WHY WE MOVED TO RUSSIA: REVISITED

The most frequent question I get from new readers is why we moved to Russia. Perhaps due to recent political events in America, it seems to me more people are curious about moving here. Therefore, I am reposting this blog from September 30, 2016. Although I wrote it almost 5 years ago after we had lived in Russia for less than 4 months, it still gives a summary of what led us to make the move.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2016 This weeks blog is a bit more personal than most I have written, although most of them have essentially been personal observations. I have been asked many times why we moved to Russia from America. The motives for the question seem to vary. Some are friends who just want to know more about us; some are interested in moving to Russia and want to know more about and discuss our motives and theirs; others just think it is so out of the realm of the ordinary they would like to know what could ever make one think moving to Russia from South Carolina is a good idea. Some aren’t interested at all, and you may want to skip this one!

There are several reasons, so first I’ll review the background. Oksana and I were married in August of 2007. We moved from St. Petersburg, Russia to America in 2008. The main reason we moved was because Oksana was pregnant, and we wanted the child to be born in America. We thought then that the paperwork to get American citizenship abroad would be very complicated. (We learned later it would not have been that difficult.)

Coming back to America was more difficult for me than I thought it would be. I had taught at a University there, and it was the job I believed I was made for. I taught Koine Greek and New Testament at a Baptist school. I loved what I did and worked with a great group of friends. I resigned in 2005 because my marriage was on the brink of divorce. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I hated leaving that school and the close friends I had there.

That is when I moved to Russia, and stayed here almost three years. When we returned to America in April of 2008 I took a job working for my brother at a small company. He and I both thought it would be temporary until something else turned up. I worked there eight years. In November of 2011 we found out my in-laws from Russia were coming in March of the following year for a two week visit. I knew the visit would go better if I “studied up” on some Russian. When we had lived in St. Petersburg I had learned very little Russian. After living in America for three years I had lost what little I did know. I went on Amazon and bought the first level of three levels of conversational Russian (Pimsleur) to prepare, since my in-laws knew no English. I finished it and got the second and then later completed all three levels. It was good because it focused on pronunciation and listening, and I could listen to the CDs on my way to work and back. After purchasing the Pimsleur CDs, Amazon posted some books on my account as “you may be interested in these.” So I ordered a history of the October Revolution by Richard Pipes and another one on Orthodox prayer written by Orthodox monks. I became addicted! I read Russian history, practiced the Russian language lessons, and got into Orthodox writings.

I still had no intent of ever going back to live in Russia or becoming Orthodox. I just found it all very interesting. Having lived in Russia and being married to a Russian I’m sure was part of the impact. I wish I could have studied the language, history, and religion of Russia as a younger man in a university where I could get the insights of those more knowledgeable than I in a classroom setting. Nevertheless, I was the sole bread winner and had a wife and two kids. I had to do it on my own, although Oksana tried to spare some time to help me with the language. I recently counted over fifty books I had read on Russian history and Orthodoxy, not counting the Pimsleur collection and the grammar books. It got to be an addiction that was a bit expensive!

Occasionally I started to have thoughts of moving back to Russia, but never mentioned it to anyone—even my wife. I did start looking around on the i-net for opportunities for study or work near our home in South Carolina that would allow me to use or enhance my knowledge of Eastern Europe, but I found nothing. The process, however, made me realize I no longer yearned to go back to a teaching position like I had had before. Only a few of my old friends came around anymore. I think I was a pariah to some who I had thought were dear friends. My interests had changed, and it was impossible to go back to the way things were before Russia. My life was different now, and I had finally accepted that fact.

Then in late January of 2014 we got our biggest shock ever. We found out that Oksana had gotten pregnant in December. Years before, when she had her first son in Russia, she was told that she probably would never be able to have other children. She had had a hard time getting pregnant in her first marriage. So when she got pregnant two months after we were married we thought it was a fluke. That was nothing like our response when she got pregnant with our second child! I had to endure all the “old daddy” jokes, like the one from my nephew asking about the visiting hours in nursing homes for those with children in elementary school! At first I actually was devastated and confused. From a practical stand point I wondered how we could afford the medical costs. But then we found out the baby was a girl and my thinking changed. I had four boys—now a girl!? It was exciting now.

When she was born in September of 2014 I knew I did not want to miss her young years by leaving for work and coming in too tired to play. I had learned from experience how quickly the years pass, and they grow up. So I started thinking about what I could do to have the family time I craved. I thought of semi-retirement and working part time. My brother was fine with that. So I checked with the Social Security office and found out that with two minor children I could retire early and my benefits would be double what it would be with just my wife and me. Now, Social Security isn’t much, but that did sound better. On the other hand, I feared if I stayed in my old job part time it would end up not being truly part time. I had grown into taking care of many things there, e.g., office manager, inventory and purchasing manager, customer relations, sales and more. I had trouble taking a couple of days off without the phone ringing from work.

Then not too long after our little girl was born we were in a Skype conversation with my in-laws in Russia. My mother-in-law, Sveta, said, almost in passing, that the director of the secondary school was closing the English program in Luga. English would still be offered in the schools, but they had a program here in Luga which had won several awards. The director no longer wanted the headache of doing all the paperwork for that program. Sveta said that since I had taught English in Russia before I could easily get plenty of students.

I said nothing to my wife but could not get it off my mind. I thought, I prayed, I examined every angle and thought of every reason not to follow up, but the idea of moving to Russia would not go away. Then after about two months Oksana and I were on our walk late one afternoon and were almost back home when she said, “You know, I never thought we’d move back to Russia, but I can’t get what mom said off my mind.” So we started discussing, praying, and analyzing everything together!

Several factors merged in our thoughts. One was financial. It took me a long time to learn the sales and business world, but I had finally gotten to where I was making a decent income. Yet it required a lot of time and energy, and it was not particularly fulfilling to me. Further, it takes a lot of money to live in America. I don’t mean to live elaborately. I mean just to have a home, cars, food and clothes. If my sales fell off one month we struggled. We rarely went out; we bought clothes second hand; we were careful to hold down expenses. We still had trouble making ends meet some times. Health care with three kids was a big issue. “Obamacare” was devastating to us. My salary was too high to benefit from it but not enough for it to be of any advantage to us. The small company I worked for could not afford to cover our health insurance. Our health care costs soared. It was a heartless piece of legislation. We talked to friends in Luga, and the cost of living was so much lower. We could never live on my social security benefits in America, but our research indicated we could live comfortably on it in Luga.

The second component of our thinking was the political situation in America and Russia. As the political talk increased in 2015 in anticipation of the 2016 elections I grew more pessimistic about a stable political future in America. I read a book called, “The Deep State” by Mike Lofgren. The book completely changed my thinking on American politics. The author spent practically his whole career working for Republicans in Washington D.C., mostly in the Senate and mostly for John Kasich. He presented his information in a way that convinced me he was being honest. His main point was that D.C. is not run by the politicians you see on T.V. There is a world of invisible bureaucrats who control things. Their primary interest is in keeping America involved in conflict, war, and the sale of arms. They want a huge military budget, but not for the privates, corporals or low ranking officers to get deserved salary increases and benefits. They do not care about them. They are pawns to send into wars. These bureaucrats care about arms producers and dealers. Follow the money!

He stated that the arguments about domestic issues, e.g., abortion, are primarily for show. Nothing ever really changes on those issues. The “conservative pro-life” Republicans had a majority in both House and Senate when the videos of Planned Parenthood selling body parts came out in 2015, and how did their federal funding change? Not at all.

Party differences are not significant according to Lofgren. Neocon Republicans and neoliberal Democrats really work off the same page. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, for example, may appear to be on different sides, but do not be deceived. Look at their positions on conflicts around the world. America has gotten used to being involved in wars around the world, and most of us no longer can name countries where our military men and women are dying. We reward diplomats for their contributions to important politicians, not for their ability to solve conflicts without the loss of life.

I wanted very much not to believe him. But the book was a best seller, and I could find no one who wrote a response proving his work was a distortion. The most chilling part of the book was when he described talking with a lobbyist for a company that made weapons. After 09/11/2001 he told Lofgren with some sense of glee, “We’re gonna make a lot of money out of this!” Lofgren alluded to Cicero’s quip that the sinews of war are infinite money. I wanted to throw up.

As the campaigns of the numerous candidates got rolling I was no longer the political junkie I had been. I faded into cynicism. And what would all this mean for us—a Russian-American family? Increasingly what was said about Russia reminded one of the manipulative paranoia of Joseph McCarthy. To fast forward briefly, since then as the election has gotten closer, I note how every time Donald Trump mentions he’d like diplomatic ties with Russia to be stronger to fight ISIS both Hillary Clinton and the mainstream media started talking of his “bromance” with Putin or claiming he was Putin’s puppet or whatever. Let ISIS keep chopping off heads of innocents, but trust the candidates: the real enemy is Russia.

As I said, I’m far too cynical now to have a political purpose in making these statements. I don’t care who you vote for. But the fallout from this stupidity was I felt squeezed and quite insecure as to what would happen if we ever did want to make a move to Russia. I concluded we better do it sooner rather than later if we were going to do it. One frustrating thing is that you simply cannot trust what the Western media and the political wags say about Russia. The picture they paint is a complete distortion in most instances. Whether it is Chris Matthews or Charles Krauthammer, it really is the same stuff from people who do not know the language or the culture of Russia. They’ve never listened to a full speech from Vladimir Putin, but that does not stop them from droning on. They are static in the ears of those who want to know what it is really like. But I digress.

Another consideration was our boys and how they would handle the idea of a move to Russia. When we told Roman and Gabriel that we were thinking about moving there they both immediately said they liked the idea. My sixteen year old stepson Roman was ready to move immediately. Seven year old Gabriel was positive, but still apprehensive. He feared riding on a plane, but that quickly faded. He liked the idea of being around his Russian grandparents.

I started researching education in Russia. I was pleased with what I found out. We had great experiences with teachers and administrators in the schools our children attended in South Carolina. We were concerned about the increasing role the U. S. Government plays in education, however. The social agenda was highlighted later by what seemed to us the ridiculous issue of transgender bathrooms. It more and more seemed no issue was too “far out” for the government to step in and force what was politically correct on local school districts. That was not a problem in Russia, as I have written before. If “fluid distinctions” between the genders are what one likes, then you will not be happy with public education in Russia. Conversely, parents like us who are far more traditional are not as comfortable with public education in America. From discussions with people here in Luga about the schools we learned that children here are introduced to certain math courses and the “hard sciences” like chemistry and physics at an earlier point in their education than children in America. International scores of children in Russia are on the rise. We concluded that they would get a very good education here.

We also let the boys know that they should be prepared they’d miss some things from their life in America, mainly the creature comforts. We would be living in a small apartment, and they would not have their own rooms with plenty of space. There were no fast food restaurants like McDonalds or Burger King in Luga. We rarely ate at them anyway, but they did say they would miss Chick-fil-A.

Of course, an overriding issue for the boys and me was the language issue. Roman was better than Gabriel, but he did not understand the more complex grammatical aspects of Russian grammar well. He left Russia after he completed the first year of grammar school. I can communicate the basic things I need to, but my listening skills are not good. I have a very difficult time with “native speakers” unless they consciously slow down. Gabriel knew no Russian at all. So we knew struggles were ahead in those areas, and decided we would simply have to work hard. We would not let the language barrier stop us. Learning Russian would be tough for us, but it is essential.

After many discussions and tentatively coming to the decision to move, I sought out some responses from people I trusted. I told my best friend with whom I had taught for 14 years and had known much longer than that. He said he hated to see us move but at the same time he was not surprised. Essentially he said, “Man, you have been talking to me a lot and boring me some about Russian history so long I’m ready to see you finally go over there! You need to do it!” I also told our priest and wanted to get his response. He was very positive and also had a somewhat humorous response, “I’m almost envious. I say ‘almost’ because envy is a sin and I’m not to the point of sin, but I am almost envious.” I spoke to others and everyone we talked to said they thought it seemed like a natural move for us. The hardest part was the thought of leaving my two sons by my first marriage and their families. My oldest son was not surprised. He seemed to have “seen it coming” to some degree. My second son was more surprised, but he was also supportive. As I thought then, moving away from them has been the hardest part without question. I miss my boys.

We made the decision to move here the fall before we actually moved. I gave my brother an eight month notice at work! That gave us a lot of time to prepare physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I thought maybe it was too long for goodbyes, but I see now it was not. It also allowed us to let the decision sink in and “settle” in our thoughts. I constantly examined and reexamined my motives for moving. I knew this was a huge decision to move our family of five half way around the world and essentially start over. I did not want to move until all our minds were completely certain that we should make this move. We all were in agreement that this was right.

So in March we bought the plane tickets and got a better deal by ordering in advance and giving the site flexible dates to fly. Adjusting has been more difficult than we thought. Even Oksana, who was born here, has had some challenging times. We prepared ourselves for leaving family and friends for a long time, but that doesn’t mean you won’t miss them terribly. We miss my grown boys, their wives and children so very much. There are very few days we don’t recount our times with them. My brother and I had, for the first time in our lives, worked together at the same place. We saw each other most every day. I knew we’d never have that again. We miss our church and the wonderful friends we had there.

We are all glad we are here, however. It is just the adjustment has taken longer than we thought.

The truth is, however, I had continuing troubles adjusting to life in America the way it is in 2016. I still love America, but the America I grew up in is gone. It is simply not the same country. Apparently the majority of Americans have decided they want those changes. No one forced America at gun point to change its cultural values, how it educates its children, and how it resolves political differences. I respect the rights of others to change values and policies with which I do not agree, and I made my decision on leaving America accordingly. America has chosen to go down a path I regret. But I don’t get to make the call.

When I lived here in Russia before I always felt I was out of place because I was an American and things were different in America. Frankly, I feel out of place in America now. I am a stranger in my own country. When I go to the market here I feel like I’m back in the world of my Grandfather Freeman selling his vegetables in Pickens, S.C. We craved that simpler, more “connected” life. We had looked forward to more natural foods and nutrition in Russia and a life closer to the soil. We have not been disappointed. The schools and the moral approach they couple with education, along with a more rigorous education, is far more like what I was accustomed to early in my life and what I believe is good. I don’t even dread the coming cold weather!

When the struggles come, as they do, we know we could not have been any more careful in our decision. We discussed every angle, we prayed over every detail, and we sought advice from people we trusted. There were positive things that drew us to Russia. I don’t think any move like this should ever be done just to “get away” from things where one is. There are going to be problems and stresses wherever you are going. I know, however, I did not want to let fear of change or an unwillingness to move in faith keep us from pursuing what we believed was best for our family and right in the eyes of God.

A CITIZEN OF RUSSIA

I mentioned in a previous blog that I had applied for Russian citizenship back in December. When we moved to Russia almost five years ago, I had no plans to become a Russian citizen. I intended to stay on my private visa for three years, and then apply for Temporary Residency. Temporary Residency is good for another three years and after that I thought I would apply for Permanent Residency. That was so far down the road, however, that I really didn’t think that much about it. I knew applying for Russian citizenship was complicated, but the biggest drawback was that you had to sign a document that you intended to have your American citizenship revoked. Russia did not officially allow dual citizenship, although I read the U.S. did not accept the letter of revocation without you first paying a sizable fee for this service.

The situation changed around May of 2020 when Russia changed the law to allow dual citizenship. The application process for my Temporary Residency had been awful and had involved several trips to St. Petersburg to their ever crowded Immigration Center. The Luga office had been no help. In the remarks I saw when President Putin spoke of the change in the citizenship law, he was quite emphatic that things had to be simplified and potential citizens had to be given more help in local offices and on-line. I decided to apply.

THE PROCESS. When we applied in December we were able to do so here in Luga, and the official at the local immigration office was very helpful. She went over the whole application with Oksana with specific and clear instructions on how it was to be done. When we returned she reviewed the document, printed it out and assured us it would be sent to St. Petersburg promptly.

She was very positive that the application would eventually be approved and I would receive citizenship. The requirements as she explained them were not complicated. And we had all the necessary documents on hand to support the application. 1) I had my American passport translated and notarized. 2)We also presented our marriage license to prove we were legally married. 3) We had my birth certificate, as well as the birth certificates for our two children who were born to our marriage. (When they received their Russian citizenship a couple of years ago Russian immigration officials just put big red stamps on the back of their US birth certificates stating they were now Russian citizens; they didn’t issue Russian birth certificates to them.) 4) Finally, we all had been residing in Russia. All documents issued in the US had to be apostilled (verified by State officials) before we even left the country. This makes them valid in the countries that are members of the Hague Convention. When we came to Russia, we had all our US documents translated and notarized. When the Luga immigration officer told us we should expect to hear from them in three to four months I still had my doubts. It seemed too simple for Russia.

Nevertheless, we got a call in mid-March that my application had been approved. I was to go to the local office for the “ceremony” at which time I would take the oath for Russian citizenship. I was unsure as to whether I would have to read it or say it from memory, so I memorized it in Russian. There were about ten of us there to be sworn in. The others were either from Ukraine or Belarus, so I was the only non-native speaker. We were allowed to read the oath, but since I had memorized it I was not a “slave to the text.” The official seemed surprised that I said it so well and gave me a genuine word of congratulation. I felt pretty good about myself, till I went to fill out the document and started writing my name in English. I paused rather embarrassed. The lady smiled and joked, “Now what country are you applying to for citizenship?” She cheerfully gave me another form to fill out in Russian.

We then began the hard work. We went down to provide all the details to be put in my Russian internal passport. All Russians carry a domestic or internal passport. It is not like in America where a driver’s license is all you need. Then I had to go to the next office and “unregister” as a foreign resident of Luga.

I thought after I got the passport the paperwork was over. I was completely wrong! We had to go to various offices over the next couple of weeks. I had to have my medical insurance changed; I had to unregister as a foreigner living at this address and re-register as a citizen. I had to unregister at Sberbank as a foreign account holder, and then re-register as a citizen. I also decided to apply for a pension since I am old enough to qualify for retirement in Russia. Although I have never had an official job in Russia I do qualify for a pension. Since I’ve never worked here, the base amount is so small they say it is not enough to live on. So they sent me to the equivalent of “Social Services,” which will supplement my retirement. I’m not sure of the exact amount I will receive as of yet. It will certainly be small by American standards, probably $175/month at the most, but given the low cost of living here it will certainly help.

Our visits to all of these offices were complicated by the fact that no one had ever handled an American becoming a Russian citizen in Luga. A big problem is I do not have a patronymic name. All Russians have a first name, patronymic name and family (last) name. The patronymic name indicates who your father is. For example, my wife’s name is Oksana Ivanovna, because her dad’s name is Ivan. Female names end in “a” usually. A male whose father is named Ivan would be Ivanovich. When addressing someone formally Russians do not use titles like Mr. or Mrs. They use the first name followed by the patronymic name. The computer systems here are all set up to take a patronymic name. They were shocked I didn’t have one. So at every stop they had to call in the supervisor, the computer person and anyone else available to figure out what to do. I am thankful they were willing to work until they got me in their systems.

On the negative side, it seemed like these offices didn’t communicate with each other at all. And you have to prove by your documents what you are saying is true. I even had to have official documents to prove my address. They do not take your word for anything. The thing that surprised me was that they required all this proof after I had gotten my passport certifying I had been approved for citizenship. Do they not realize you can’t get that passport without proving all this stuff!? On the positive side, all the workers were cordial and helpful. They really wanted to get everything in order for me. I was the first American for all of them, and obviously it meant extra work. Unlike the apparatchiks I had faced when I first came to Russia, they were never rude.

The only documents I lack now are my Russian foreign passport (required for traveling abroad) and my senior train pass for local trains. Oksana was able to apply for the foreign passport online through gosuslugi site. I will pick it up this Friday. I will get my “train pass” on May 14.

REFLECTIONS ON BEING A RUSSIAN CITIZEN. A question I am asked now is whether I feel like I am a Russian or not. The answer is no. I am officially Russian, and the government will treat me as such. I have all the “rights and priviledges” as any native born Russian citizen. That does not make me Russian. I was born, raised and spent most of my life in America. One cannot change that.

Nevertheless, I still feel a kinship with this country, its customs and its people. I have said on several occasions that I am not a Russian scholar. I did not have the advantage of going to a university and studying the history, language and culture as many “real” Russian scholars from the West have. I do benefit from their works. I have at least three shelves of books on Russian history and culture that I’ve read. I grieved when Stephen Cohen passed away because I treasured his insights gained from his years of scholarship. I still profit from books and articles written by a new generation of Russian scholars.

At the same time I spent most of my adult life in the academia. I attended conferences, gatherings, and exchanged papers and research with other scholars in my field. Those are so helpful, but at the same time there can be sometimes an “artificiality” about the academic world. You are studying something objectively. While I don’t have the advantages of an academic pursuit of Russian studies, I believe my experiences of living here in a small Russian town have made me more “Russified.” I shop at the market; I chat with family and friends here; we celebrate holidays together; we go to a Russian Orthodox Church here; my kids attend Russian schools. So, no, I don’t feel like I am a Russian, but I do know intimately what living in Russia is like. I am not a Russian scholar, but I can tell who the good ones are. I have also seen a side of Russian life that it seems many of them have missed.

Another question concerns to what extent I am still an American. After all, I chose to leave America. Additionally, I did not leave America to pursue further academic study or because of my career. We simply packed up and left. As I tried to make it clear in my early blogs, there were several reasons we moved here. First, I had a 7 year old son and a 1 year old daughter, in addition to a teenager. I knew to stay in America meant I would have to continue working past retirement age to afford living there. I would miss a lot while my kids were growing up. A family of five cannot survive in America on Social Security. I knew the cost of living in Russia was such that we could live comfortably there, however.

There were other reasons as well which were more than personal. I didn’t like the trends I saw in American culture. It had not gotten to the point of being “woke,” but I feared that was where things were headed. The American culture I saw unfolding was not the one in which I was raised, and it was not one in which I wanted my children raised. I do not believe “democracy” should be defined as one group telling the other how they must live. As I said in a couple of blogs, I never believed I had the right to say what American culture must do or how life there should be. But I don’t think the culture should be one that forces its fabricated values on me either. I feared that was where things were headed. If you read what the forefathers of America said, you find they detested the idea of democracy, in part, for this very reason. See the latter part of this article by Patrick Buchanan https://buchanan.org/blog/autocracy-vs-democracy-or-china-vs-america-149527?fbclid=IwAR2XGF1GzoTWr5qUavLQ8Oqf6WuTEk3Krh5i6tv9VvPsPtoSlQtj0sOQ9a4

Facebook is famous for its memes. Some are hilarious, and some are stupid. Some are, well, thought provoking. One I read essentially said, “If you don’t love America, then you should leave.” I paused and reflected. For most of my life I never doubted I loved my country. I willingly signed up for the U.S. Marines. I paid my taxes and did what I could for my community. But I cannot honestly say I love what America has become. Again, it isn’t because my views are not held by the majority. It is because the corporate stifling of freedom of speech and press has removed honest debate from the marketplace of ideas. And the violence toward other, often weaker, nations by leveling inane sanctions infuriates me, not to mention the knee jerk pro-war attitudes of most in Washington, D.C.

Further, having lived outside the United States before, I knew that much of what Americans hear about other countries—especially Russia—is blatently false. Americans are often given a view of the world by their press and politicians that has no connection with reality. My particular concern was the power of what is usually conveniently called the Military Industrial Complex that General Eisenhower warned about. I have written enough about that in my previous blogs. I simply do not see America as anything close to an “instrument of peace and justice” in the world.

That is not say I do not believe there are good, peace-loving and moral people from all political perspectives in America. They are many in America still trying to make the country better than it is. They care about people. I sense that many of them feel helpless in their efforts, however. So in light of my family situation and the fact that I had the opportunity to leave, I chose to do so.

There have been many struggles in adjusting to life back in Russia. We have moved twice. We bought a home. The paperwork on anything is often a nightmare. Even so, I have not once regretted the move. I still have a long way to go in becoming “Russified.” After all the distractions of becoming a citizen, I am refocusing on my Russian language skills. I have a Russian friend who comes over twice a week for an hour and we chat in Russian. It’s not Russian lessons in the sense of grammar, etc. It helps me practice. I really thought I would be further along by now. I was feeling sorry for myself and complaining to my wife last week that I don’t feel I’ve made much progress at all. My wife stopped my whining when she said, “I could hear you talking last night while I was cooking, and you conversed in Russian for almost an hour straight.” Her words brought me encouragement—even if her tone was a little sharp. Now I’m even more inspired!

Russian literature is also more interesting to me now. I understand the plots differently after having lived in Luga for five years. I am reading “The Brothers Karamazov” by Dostoevsky again. I said “again” because I started it before we moved and finished about 500 pages. But the move to Russia took me away from it, so I started reading it again from the beginning last week. I’m surprised at how differently I read it now that I’ve lived in Luga all this time. I must admit, however, I do not claim I fully understand Russian literature. I just completed, “The Master and Margarita,” and I didn’t come close to a clear understanding of it. So I’m still a “work in progress.” (The good news is several Russians have told me they can’t understand that book either!)

We have finished Great Lent in Russian Orthodoxy and are in Holy Week. Being a part of a local congregation of fellow Orthodox has also meant a lot to my “Russification.” We have a wonderful priest, and I am enjoying getting to know some of the members much better. I still have Protestant friends in America and in Luga with whom I am very close. My move to Orthodoxy was never intended as being “anti-Protestant.” But worshipping with a Russian Orthodox congregation and reading the deep thoughts and spirituality of the Orthodox thinkers from long ago, as well as more contemporary ones, has been very helpful to me settling in here.

So I am quite grateful to be a citizen of both Russia and the United States. Those two “worlds” of mine continue to clash politically, however. Many fear a military confrontation may be on the horizon. I hope not. I long for an environment to emerge where mutual respect is present on both sides. But I’ll admit I am not optimistic. When Trump was president and he talked of working together with Russia and met with President Putin in Helsinki, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and others attacked him for being Putin’s puppet. Biden mentioned last week that his administration was trying to set up a meeting with Putin. Lindsey Graham, after condemning the announcement of the U.S. withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, immediately accused Biden of letting Russia push him around. Both parties use the same playbook apparently. The love of conflict and war runs deep in D.C. It’s way too deep for me to stop it.

Even so, I will not stop doing my little part in helping my American readers appreciate this country and this culture in which I now live. And let my Russian readers be assured, there is a significant segment of the American population that also longs for peace and mutual respect and understanding. My dream is that these who would “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” will one day be rendered powerless. Until then, I’ll keep writing.

THE POLITICAL CONFLICT BETWEEN MY TWO WORLDS

I stated in my last blog that my hope is to write about politics one more time before moving back to writing about daily life in my next few blogs. Of course, given the relationship between America and Russia who knows what will transpire? I write this blog entry because the situation between my homeland and my chosen country of residence is becoming more intense, and I don’t think my friends in America are getting an accurate picture of things from the press and the politicians there. Events here are seen very differently from the picture presented in my “other world” of America.

In my last blog I indicated there were a couple of developments that I considered to be positive as Joseph Biden began his presidency. Biden signed the extension of the START treaty with Russia. I also referred to an article in The New York Times which stated that some of his advisors had concluded that future sanctions on Russia would not be productive.

Events since then have not left me so positive. I have selected some public statements Biden himself has made about Russia and will comment on the presuppositions of those statements that he and his foreign policy advisors want the American people to accept without proof or justification. The danger of the old adage, “If you keep saying it enough, then they’ll think it’s true” comes to mind when I hear the same old cliches used about Russia. I will summarize the major assertions Biden has set forth about Russia and then respond.

I will add one caveat. I have no idea if Biden understands what he himself says or the significance of said statements. I personally think his mental capacities are diminished, but that is a topic outside the realm of this blog. He is the President of the United States, and his statements must be accepted as such. He has condemned Russia for its interference and aggression and promised to retaliate.

RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE. As early as January 27 Biden raised the issue of Russian interference in U.S. elections—including the election of 2020. He has also mentioned Russian hacking into SolarWinds. I’m sure all my readers will remember the repeated cries over the last four years from Democrats claiming Russian interference led to the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

RESPONSE. The Mueller investigation took 22 months. Mueller used 19 government lawyers, 40 FBI agents, and issued about 2,800 subpoenas. He spent around $35 million tax dollars investigating charges of Russian collusion and found nothing. Further, the accusations against Concord Management by Mueller that Russian hackers in St. Petersburg were involved in changing the election outcome were dropped with no evidence of such hacking ever presented.

I cannot really respond to the accusations about SolarWinds and the 2020 election, since neither Biden nor any of his staff presented any evidence other than the generic and meaningless statement, “It has all the earmarks of Russian interference.” None of those “earmarks” were ever defined by anyone. The intelligence folks involved actually said they had no evidence. The “Russian hackers” narrative has almost become a part of the Democratic party’s folklore. No evidence was found from 2016 and no new evidence has been presented for the more current accusations.

RUSSIAN AGGRESSION. Biden did not initially say what he meant by Russiaian aggression, but on February 24 he focused specifically on the return of Crimea to Russia in 2014. Biden chose the upcoming observance of the seventh anniversary of that event as the occasion for his remarks. He called it a “somber anniversery” and said, “We affirm a simple truth: Crimea is Ukraine.” He then went on to say the United States will never recognize Crimea as a part of Russia.

Many in the Western press still refer to it as a Russian invasion, and I still see posts about the violence of the invasion, despite the fact there was no loss of life or any concrete evidence of armed Russian soldiers roaming the streets. (Go to YouTube and check out videos by my friend Regis Trembley who lives there.) This month the U.S. Department of State announced it is appropriating 125 million dollars worth of “lethal” military hardware for Ukraine, apparently to supply forces from Kiev if they want to attack fellow Ukrainians in the Donbass region. Since 2014 the U.S. has given over 2 billion dollars worth of military aid to Ukraine. This money is supposedly for the defence of the American people.

RESPONSE. I don’t deny that Russia has helped the residents of the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine. They have been repeatedly attacked by the Nazi led groups supported by the late John McCain and others. The difference between Russia and the U.S. is that Russia shares a LONG border with Ukraine. America is half way round the world. Many of the residents of Eastern Ukraine are ethnically Russian. They speak Russian and think of themselves as Russian.

Before I came to Russia I could not have found Ukraine on a map and knew absolutely nothing about the country or its history. I think most Americans are like I was. Ukraine is not an ancient country. Its history is tied to “old Russ.” Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev, was at one time the capital of what was known as Kievan Russ (ancient Russia). Later, for 70 years Ukraine and Russia were part of the same country—the USSR. Thus, the bond between Ukraine and Russia is unlike the bond between America and any other country.

While the U.S. continues to blame Russia for the crisis in Ukraine, I will remind my readers of the clear evidence that it was the U.S. who was behind the coup to oust Victor Yanukovych, the duly and legally elected President of Ukraine in 2014. One can still access the recording of the leaked phone call between the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Jeffrey Pyatt. This phone call became well known because of the crude remark Nuland made when she agreed the EU might not like the planned coup. In her words to Pyatt, “F##k the EU.” See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2XNN0Yt6D8.

As I said in an earlier blog, I regret that she made this comment. It’s not because this old Marine has never heard bad language. What I regret is the fact the press focused on the profanity and not on the rest of the conversation. She actually details who the next president of Ukraine should be—because the U.S. has decided. Nuland believed she should pick the president of Ukraine, not the majority of Ukrainian voters. And they called it “spreading democracy.”

As an addendum the man she chose, “Yatz” as she refers to him in the conversation, did become president. He turned out to be a disaster. After his shameful departure, Petro Poroshenko, another corrupt U.S. puppet was designated as president. (You may recall this is the man who Joe Biden bragged about pressuring to fire the investigator of the corruption involving Biden’s son, Hunter. The investigator was dismissed without cause.) As a result of the leadership of these men, the Ukrainian economy has tumbled to the worst in Europe. Poroshenko was replaced by Vololdymyr Zelensky, who has no political experience other than playing the part of the President of Ukraine in a TV series. The point is that it was the U.S., not Russia, who initiated the interference in Ukraine to remove the democratically elected President. The American mainstream media referred to those Ukrainians who disagreed with America choosing their president as terrorists sent by Putin. It was all Putin’s fault.

PUTIN THE MURDERER. Biden recently and dramatically raised the stakes in the antagonistic relationship between Russia and America when he said in response to a question by George Stephanopoulos that he thinks Putin is a killer. Then he boasted about how he confronted Putin over his misdeeds. He also said he will make Russia pay for interfering in the last presidential election.

RESPONSE. There are some basic flaws in what Biden said. I won’t go into most of them. Suffice it to say for one national leader to call another national leader a murderer without any trial, investigation or presentation of evidence is horrible. Apparently he is referring to the unproven accusations that Putin had journalists killed. I reviewed those cases quite some time ago in a blog and see no reason to revisit. Again, no actual evidence was ever presented that linked the very popular Putin to the deaths of the journalists other than the fact the journalists did not like Putin. I have read a number of articles written by journalists here who obviously do not like Putin or his policies. They don’t seem to fear for their lives.

The reference to Putin as a killer is even more horrible when the accuser (Biden) just ordered the bombing of a country with whom the United States is not at war. He ordered the deaths of individuals about whom we know nothing.

EXCURSIS: THE BOMBING IN SYRIA. On February 25, even before his first press conference, Biden ordered the U.S. to bomb Syria. This decision is not directly related to Russian-American relationships, but Russia was invited to help fight terrorism in Syria by President Assad. The U.S. has also been present as an uninvited guest who supports and arms rebels opposed to Assad.

The reason for the bombing given by the Biden administration spokesperson John Kirby was that the U.S. was responding to alleged Iranian-linked violence against the U.S. in Iraq and Syria. It was a bit hard to follow his logic, but I’ll try to summarize as best I can. According to Kirby, an “Iranian linked militia group” attacked a location in Iraq, and an American contractor was killed and an American soldier was wounded. So the U.S. responded by bombing a facility in Syria, which ostensibly was used by one of the Iranian militia groups. Approximately 22 people were killed, but no one seems certain of the exact number.

A bit of background: In the spring of 2003 America decided to invade Iraq based on the unambiguous testimony of Colin Powell that Iraq had acquired weapons of mass destruction. After the invasion the U.S. had to admit to the world that there were no such weapons in Iraq. Rather than leaving the country it had invaded, the U.S. still has troops and personnel there 18 years later.

So to summarize, the U.S. declared it bombed Syria because Iranians had attacked Americans in Iraq. That rationale seems strange to me. Now, to be clear: According to international law the U.S. has no right to be in any of the three countries. The question of why the U.S. still has contractors and military personnel in Iraq was never asked. Nevetheless, the U.S. declared it was an issue of national defense.

The U.S. has invaded Syria, openly stolen its oil, and believes it has the right to bomb the country without any attempt at diplomacy with the leadership of Syria or any other country or international forum. Caitlin Johnstone accurately describes the attitude of American political and military decision-makers: “The U.S. can bomb who it likes, whenever it likes, and when it does it is only ever doing so in self defense, because the entire planet is the property of Washington, DC.” https://consortiumnews.com/2021/02/26/us-bombs-syria-ridiculously-claims-self-defense/?fbclid=IwAR3BTfUNNCHwZGkzUk1ycRnx7l5SqW0zHpcFvH07p9GwHITdTNmYiWjmM38. No evidence of any link to attacks on Americans by those people in Syria was ever presented. Biden wanted to kill them to make a point. There is far more actual evidence for calling Biden a murderer than Putin.

Putin’s response to Biden calling him a killer was very reserved and diplomatic—and translated incorrectly in most U.S. news outlets. I have already heard from Russian family members and friends very upset that Putin’s answer was translated as, “It takes one to know one.” We used that phrase as kids in America when we were called names. In Russia, there is also a child’s retort that is similar, but it is accurately translated, “You yourself are what you are calling me” (Кто как обзывается, тот так и называется). Putin went on to make the point that we often project onto others our own characteristics. I think American leaders have been doing that to other leaders for some time!

The Russians I’ve heard from were not overly upset that Biden called Putin a killer. They already think Biden is a bit demented and don’t take seriously what he says. Americans should know that much of the world thinks Biden is demented. What my Russian friends were angry at was how the press mistranslated Putin’s response. “Takes one to know one” sounds to them like Putin was saying he and Biden are both killers. The truth is this is far from the first time Putin has been mistranslated by the American press.

I’ll make Russia pay…” Lastly, I will focus on the emptiness of the threats that Biden made that he would make Russia (and Putin) pay for the concocted charges of interference and aggression.

WHY AMERICA CANNOT CONTROL RUSSIA. The United States is desperately trying to recover the monopoly on power it enjoyed after the dismantling of the Soviet Union. The world has changed, however. First, while America is still the biggest economy in the world, it also has the greatest debt by far. Senator Rand Paul stated recently that America has borrowed 6 trillion dollars in one year. The national debt is now larger than the national economy. The economy of China is rapidly gaining on America, and the U.S. has a $5.5 trillion trade deficit with China. Russia is also increasingly doing business with China, but Russia has a trade surplus with China of almost $12 billion.

SANCTIONS & SELF-SUFFICIENCY. Biden has mentioned more sanctions against Russia several times recently. In addition to the fact that sanctions against Russia have never worked and, in some cases, have been counter-productive, the uncomfortable truth for the Putin-bashers in the U.S. is Russia could sustain itself no matter what America does.

Even in a global worst case scenario Russia would fare better than the U.S. In May of 2020 President Putin announced that Russia is self sufficient in terms of feeding itself. Production of wheat, grains, meats, dairy and fish have gone way up since the sanctions started. Further, Russia could supply itself and its allies with natural gas, crude oil, timber, coal and other natural resources. [*As an aside, despite sanctions on other countries, the U.S. still buys crude oil from Russia. https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Why-Is-The-US-Importing-So-Much-Russian-Fuel-Oil.html.] The areas in which Russia is still dependent are auto-technology, medicines and fruit, but Russia has already formed trade alliances with countries outside the U.S. field of influence.

Putin would still like a good relationship with the U.S. He repeats that often, but he insist that it must be “based on the principles of equality and mutual respect.” Biden, however, said in January that America is back “at the head of the table.” So Russia has found trade partners outside the U.S. field of influence. China is the biggest economic ally. Trump let Pompeo have his way in international relations, and now Russia and China are working even more closely together and trade between them is increasing. China has not gone along with U.S. sanctions, and I do not believe that it will do so in the future. https://www.rt.com/russia/518544-china-invite-lavrov-meeting/?fbclid=IwAR3rUnUMc1oQ3g5dm73DqJoKbzhJhJ_Tq6g1lw4JeviYs9oloY-iysVSnvk.

MILITARY ADVANCEMENT. President Biden also mentioned “other means” than sanctions for making Russia pay for its bad behavior. He and his spokesperson Jen Psaki tried to be very coy. Of course we are to wonder what else it could be. Given the current low level of diplomatic expertise in the White House and Department of State, I don’t think outmaneuvering Sergei Lavrov with super clever diplomacy is in the realm of possibility. The U.S. has had to push rather hard on old allies to keep them in line already. Some easily fall in line, but none of those are any match for Russia and China.

In the background the fear of military conflict looms. Of course, for many in the so-called Military Industrial Complex this is not a fear—it would be a windfall. The U.S. has long proudly proclaimed it has the finest military in the world. But does it?

Toward the end of last year I made myself read a book I had been intending to read for some time. It was Gilbert Doctorow’s A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs. I don’t mean I had to force myself to read it because I don’t enjoy Doctorow’s works. I have high regard for him as a Russian scholar and enjoy his books and blog. But this book is 651 pages, and when I start a book I like to finish it. Fortunately I was able to set aside time to complete it.

It is a collection of essays and blogs he has written since 2016, some of which I had previously read. He has several entries on Russian military preparedness. One from 24 February 2019 caught my eye. I remembered reading it when he first published it. Doctorow gives a detailed analysis of both Russia’s offensive and defensive missile systems. It was the first article I had read by a scholar I really trust that asserted that Russia was not just equal to the U.S., it has military superiority.

I have long admired the S-400 (and now S-500) defense system. In recent years, however, Russia has “upped” its offensive arsenal. America has continued to move its missiles closer and closer to Russia’s borders. Their attempts to intimidate have been obvious, and Russia responded. Doctorow gives the details of how America is completely vulnerable to a Russian attack simply because of the speed of the Zircon missile. Even if America fired the first nuclear missile, Russian missiles would reach the Pentegan first. Another author said, “There is no technological solution for stopping this type of weapon in the US currently—the ramifications are colossal.”https://anti-empire.com/russias-zircon-missile-relegates-carriers-to-bombing-small-poor-countries/?fbclid=IwAR3-3BZk0gJicUn269OPqHfotR-US0pqcvPUWffluE10v0DeUBPBTyu8aA0.

America has long pointed to how much more it spends on defense than any other country by far as proof of its military superiority. Yet much of that money is to support the over 800 military bases outside its borders. Further, the spending of huge amounts of money clearly does not mean superiority in quality. The F-35 stealth fighter cost $100 million per plane, yet the Air Force admitted in February that it is simply not reliable. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2021/02/23/the-us-air-force-just-admitted-the-f-35-stealth-fighter-has-failed/?fbclid=IwAR2Dq_NOcQoxunazYDDeurw0u62ZBYqvKfn2XWF3eg_Guf5y_UyXJ5Hgfjs&sh=129bf3851b16.

The overall cost of the program was $1.7 trillion. https://www.rt.com/usa/516507-f35-failed-airforce-reactions/.

Wars usually do not start because both sides line up and arrange a starting date. They often begin as mistakes or misunderstandings. I am anti-war. We live in a nuclear age.The thought that a nuclear war could begin just as an idiotic attempt to show off superiority or a misevaluation of an opponent is a horrible thought. Back in the Cold War days Gorbachev and Reagan agreed that “a nuclear war can never be won and should never be fought.” Now, it seems American leaders, often elected with contributions from the MIC, are afraid to appear weak. Even authentic diplomacy itself gets labelled as a weakness.

The massive ignorance of the truth about Russia is scary to me. I fear America grossly underestimates Russia’s military capacities. What bothers me about Biden’s recent statements is his misplaced confidence. His attitude is one of pure hubris. I guess it impresses some voters. I suppose he or his team believe it will quiet the suspicions that he has lost something mentally. Maybe he can make up for his frail, uncertain gait and confused expression by boasting of “making Russia pay.” Let me be clear. I don’t think Biden or most of his advisors have decided to start a war. But then I don’t think anyone actually decided to start the first world war.

BIDEN, NAVALNY, PROTESTS AND PROPAGANDA

Much has transpired since Joseph Biden was inaugurated as President of the United States. From his first full day in office he began signing a flurry of executive orders, many of which, he openly stated, were aimed at undoing the actions of his predecessor. They primarily covered domestic issues, however, so I will refrain from commenting on those controversial orders.

My blog is about things that impact relations with Russia either directly or indirectly. Maria Zakharova, Director of Information for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia, stated there would be a 30 day period of analysis and interaction before a full assessment of how things are going with the Biden foreign policy team and their Russian counterparts. Thus, for now, I will only make a few general observations and then move to the controversial actions of Alexei Navalny and the significance of those actions for relations between Russia and America.

One of the very first actions of the Biden foreign policy team, which was good news (in my opinion), was the decision to sign the five year extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction and Limitation Treaty (START). It was originally signed back in 2010, as I recall. It was quite close to expiring, since President Trump had refused to extend it. At various times Trump had put three conditions on signing it. He wanted it to be extended for only one year; China would have to be included as part of the treaty; and third he wanted a freeze on any research and development Russia was doing in the area of non-strategic arms. Russia refused. The Biden administration decided to go ahead with the signing. China has nowhere close to the number of strategic arms of Russia and the U.S., and obviously non-strategic arms are not relevant to the treaty.

The second bit of good news was from an article in the New York Times. As readers of my blog know, I rarely—if ever—have found anything good about Russia coming from the NY Times. In the electronic version on February 3, an article stated that several top aides to President Biden had indicated that sanctions against Russia have become “close to exhausted.” While Biden himself continues to mention using sanctions in his public statements, one unnamed aide said, “We’re sanctioned out.” Ivo H. Daalder, former Ambassador to NATO, said that sanctions can become a trap. You feel like you’re making a statement, and you are—but they don’t alter the behavior of the sanctioned country. Neither Russia, China or Iran have altered any policies because of sanctions.

The third bit of potential good news is not directly related to Russia and America, but there are reports that the U.S. will cease supplying Saudi Arabia with arms. The Saudi record of human rights abuses and especially their horrible treatment of the Yemeni people have long been condemned by many. Nevertheless, I put this one in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category. Saudi Arabia buys a lot of weaponry from the U.S. The Trump administration consistently looked away from their horrible war crimes. Nevertheless, I will wait to see what pressure the military industrial complex puts on Biden’s team and how they respond before I get too happy about this announcement.

There were, however, some very negative (and untrue) statements about Russia made by Biden and members of his team. I will discuss those statements and the subsequent decisions in my next blog. By then I should have fuller reactions from Russia’s foreign ministry team.

Alexei Navalny. One major unavoidable issue, however, was the status of Alexei Navalny. I wrote a blog about Navalny in September of 2020. His claim was that Putin’s hit men had tried to kill him by slipping him the nerve agent “Novichok.” By way of review, Navalny passed out on a flight to Moscow from Siberia on August 20. The plane made an emergency landing, and Navalny was taken to a Russian hospital and treated. His family insisted that he be transported to Germany, so Russian authorities allowed him to be taken. He returned to Russia from Germany on January 18 and was promptly arrested. There have been a plethora of articles written about him since his return. I will try to be as brief as possible.

I will set forth the basic reasons I don’t believe Navalny, but I don’t hide the fact that I don’t like him. He is a racist. I don’t use that term lightly, as folks commonly do in America now. I posted a video of him in my earlier blog referring to Muslims living in Russia whose ancestors were from the Caucasus Mountains as “cockroaches,” who need to be eliminated with a pistol. Before Trump and the whole Russia hoax on the elections, the New York Times used to report facts about Russia. Here is an excerpt from the Times, back before they were blinded by Trump Derangement Syndrome:

“He (Navalny) has appeared as a speaker alongside neo-Nazis and skinheads, and once starred in a video that compares dark-skinned Caucasus militants to cockroaches. While cockroaches can be killed with a slipper, he says that in the case of humans, ‘I recommend a pistol.'” Ellen Barry, NY Times 2011.

The U.S. media “narrative” has certainly changed over time. Now they tout Navalny as an honored leader of “the opposition.” Again, I will state as succinctly as possible why I think Navalny is lying when he says Kremlin messengers tried to kill him back in August, 2020.

The main reason is he changed his story too many times. When I wrote on him in September I mentioned that the first explanation his team gave was that Putin’s men put Novichok in his tea, which he drank at an airport restaurant. No one at that restaurant even remembered him being there. When his handlers were questioned how someone knew what establishment inside the airport he would stop at to drink tea, there was no answer. Was there a waiter there waiting with the Novichok in case he came in?

They not-so-deftly moved to a second explanation: Novichok was put in the water bottle from which he drank in his hotel room before departure. But then reporters discovered that there were at least 5 people in the room with him when the water was delivered. How did they know which bottle Navalny would drink from? Was it hotel staff who delivered it? Again, no real answers from the Navalny team.

So Navalny, now healthy, moved to a third explanation. He made a video that supposedly recorded a phone conversation he had with someone from the FSB (Federal Services of Security). In the call Navalny pretended to be an important person in the FSB, and wanted to know how they had tried to kill him and why it did not work.

The alleged security person Navalny was talking to claimed that they had put the Novichok in his clothes. They concentrated on packing it into the inner seam of the crotch of his underwear. All the Novichok absorbed into his system. He said Navalny survived because of the quick work of the medical team at the hospital when he landed.

So first we were told they knew where he would drink tea at the airport. Then we were told they knew which water bottle he would drink from. When the majority of people refused to believe either of those, Navalny tried to convince us that they knew which underwear he would put on. Then despite everyone at the hospital claiming he showed no signs of Novichok poisoning, they treated him for it so well they saved his life. Because they wanted him dead. Obviously Navalny is not familiar with the phrase non sequitur.

Russia has repeatedly requested a conference with doctors from both countries who treated Navalny to compare tests results. Russia suggested bringing in experts from the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons to study all the reports. Germany has consistently refused. The German military doctors insist it was Novichok, but refuse to allow anyone to view their test results. I realize it is an argument from silence, but if they are telling the truth why do the Germans prevent certified professionals in chemical warfare from reviewing their results?

Let’s be clear. Novichok is an extremely lethal nerve agent. Rarely have there been cases of anyone surviving direct exposure like Navalny claims, and when they did they were left with significant physical and psychiatric damage. Navalny, like the Scripals in England, recovered rather quickly with no lasting impairment. He could not resist posting pictures quite early. I saw a few of them. He looked quite happy and healthy.

Russian authorities told him to return to Russia. Navalny was due to appear in court on December 30. In 2014 he was convicted of embezzling 30 million rubles from two companies, one of which was the French company Yves Rocher. He received a suspended sentence, but as is the law in Russia, he was required to make regular appearances before the court until the time of sentence was complete. Such persons normally are not allowed to leave the country, although the request of Navalny’s family that he be allowed to go to Germany for medical treatment had been granted.

Navalny refused to return to Russia to appear before the court despite the fact he was clearly healthy. Further, it was not just the one appearance he had missed. I saw the list of scheduled appearances at which he never showed up. It was almost every month in 2020. Thus, when he did arrive back in Russia on January 18, 2021, he was promptly arrested. A chorus of protests arose from the American government, as if America normally gives suspended sentences to criminals convicted of embezzling money from foreign companies. He flagrantly and repeatedly violated Russian law.

The Protests. Protests immediately were arranged. The leaders, however, never received permission for staging the main protest. That is the law in Russia. Dmitry Babich, in an interview with RT, stated that Navalny’s leaders were told if they applied for official authorization they would be granted permission to protest in a couple of venues in Moscow. Both areas were very spacious. Navalny’s team did not want permission, however, nor did they want space. They wanted to be in tight quarters to make everything look crowded. And they clearly did not want to abide by Russian law.

The Americans openly supported the protests, and the U.S. Embassy even posted the schedule of planned protests. (They later claimed it was to warn U.S. citizens not to be in those areas, although I did not see any real warning posted with the schedules.) The American support and assistance given to the Navalny protests were happening even as Nancy Pelosi, Nikki Haley and others were trying in vain to find evidence that Russia was behind the Capitol riot. No one in the MSM seemed to see the glaring hypocrisy.

The Propaganda. A number of American sites immediately posted reports that the “peaceful protesters” were treated with police brutality. I trust independent reporters like Eva Karene Bartlett, who I have mentioned before. She was there before the main protest began in Moscow and stayed until after it was over. She has seen many protests in her career as an independent journalist. She is now living in Russia, and I strongly recommend that anyone who wants to be informed of events like this in Russia follow her reports. Here is a link to her thorough observations of what went on. In summary, the American reports were complete anti-Russian propaganda. It is absolutely clear that the protesters were trying to provoke the police by kicking them and diving into their lines. https://ingaza.wordpress.com/2021/01/30/the-navalny-protests-charade-western-interference-disinfo-on-russia-once-again/?fbclid=IwAR1VsOwPeFcPB7GzYd-KDdpS0VtIhs2l_R0TlIjfLLN2nP-CUD5GYv2H1b8

The Navalny story began to die down here in Russia. His second in command, Leonid Volkov, announced there would be no more protests this winter. Nevertheless, after Volkov met with NATO officials, he said the protests were back on. When many Russians saw him change his plans immediately after his meeting with NATO officials, they concluded the Kremlin was right: Navalny’s team is being directed by NATO. That last protest turned out to be an extremely pathetic protest of shining lights into the air above Moscow.

Navalny was subsequently brought before another court for slander against a 94 year old veteran who fought against the Nazis. That war was horrible for Russia, and the few remaining living veterans are highly respected and honored in Russia. During his first court appearance Navalny continued to make fun of the old veteran, “that puppet with his little medals,” and his family as well. I thought the judge was overly patient with him given the fact Navalny even called the judge himself a “Obersturmbannfuhrer,” which I understand means a senior assault leader in a paramilitary Nazi unit. The judge adjourned the court until a later date when the argument could be more reasonably executed. Navalny remained hostile in his next appearance as well and again called the veteran and his family derogatory names. There are cameras in Russian courtrooms, and the nightly news played the videos of Navalny verbally attacking an old veteran who risked his life fighting the Nazis. I suspect his current approval rating of 3% may drop down even more.

What These Events Show. In my early blogs I mentioned my struggle with whether reports about Russia in the American news are based on willful ignorance or intellectual dishonesty. I have concluded both are involved. Clearly, there is rampant ignorance on the part of many of the members of the U.S. media about Russia. Years ago there were “foreign correspondents.” They lived and moved about in the country they reported on, hopefully getting a “feel” for life there. Many would try to learn as much of the history, culture and language as possible. As I wrote in 2016 many outlets―even large ones―announced they would no longer be doing that. Hence, many reporting on Russia have no sense of what life really is like here.

It goes deeper than that, however. They could learn a lot about Russia with some research into its history, its laws, its culture. But they don’t. The same is true with many politicians. As I pointed out in my blog on Navalny in September, Lindsey Graham, U.S. Senator from my home state of South Carolina, completely bought into the story of Navalny being given Novichok in his tea. He didn’t investigate; he didn’t withhold judgment until all the facts were in. It was a chance to condemn Vladimir Putin. Then in early February Marco Rubio announced he and other Senators were introducing a bill to sanction Russia because of the “poisoning and imprisonment” of Navalny. https://tass.com/world/1252501?fbclid=IwAR0TeGK6HMt0F9Zst-XG-wLmVflOhKQtsBAg3d7tt5jvUe5xEI6SV3nhdys) I would contend that neither Rubio nor any of his colleagues have spent any time investigating the merits of these charges. So it is a combination of laziness, intellectual dishonesty, and political grandstanding.

Russia’s response to America meddling in its internal affairs has basically been, “You need to take care of your own issues.” America is the world’s most famous country. The news from America travels around the world. The downside is the people of the world, including Russians, have seen the bitter fights over the 2020 election results; TASS carried all the news on the recent impeachment of Trump. Russians know all about people shivering and some dying recently in Texas because they had no heat or water. Earlier they saw the news on Jeffrey Epstein and his “suicide.” They saw the names of the politicians and rich tycoons who flew down with him to “Pedophile Island.” So when America assumes it has the high moral ground with the right to tell evil Russia to stop imprisoning this convicted criminal, Alexei Navalny—after his tortuously convoluted explanation of how Putin poisoned him—it rings hollow at best with any thinking person.

Personal Reflections & Conclusion. We’ve been back in Russia almost 5 years. As one adapts to a foreign culture I think it is inevitable that one’s perspective on many things will change. For the most part my changes have been gentle and positive. I’ve always loved snow, but now I am also used to the extreme cold—extreme when compared to South Carolina anyway. I like the simplicity and overall honesty of life in small town Russia. I have mentioned all along the positive improvements in this town. No one has ever treated me rudely because I am an American. Thus, my perspective on Russia is even more positive than it was when we moved here.

Politics in any country can be confusing and disappointing. I’ve been open in saying I’m glad Putin got re-elected and hope he runs again. At the same time, I understand my Russian friends who disagree. It’s not like I wear Putin shirts or caps or talk about how I think he is wonderful. In the same way, I wrote about how I disagreed with Trump on many issues—particularly his foreign policies and the people he had chosen to direct them. Yet, I didn’t feel the anger and hatred toward him like so many in America.

I think my views on politicians could be related to my Orthodox Christianity. I already have a Messiah. I am not expecting a perfect president to appear. I do look for some semblance of integrity and a good work ethic. I believe it is possible to have a generally honest, wise, albeit flawed, leader. But I’m old enough to have been disappointed many times by those I thought were shining lights of deliverance. I’m not looking for any leader to come along and solve all my problems or the nation’s problems. For example when we came here the Russian bureaucracy was extremely confusing and frustrating. My wife spent hours wading through the details. We had to deal with other inconveniences like going to St. Petersburg to stand in long lines, but I don’t blame V.V. Putin for my frustrations with life in Russia. I try to keep the bigger picture in mind.

The hardest adjustment to living here is the constant and glaring lies from America about this country. It comes from both political parties and from the main stream media. Few, if any, of these politicians and journalists seem concerned that a war could start over empty and ignorant lies about “Russian aggression.” I can tell from the responses I get from people who have never been here instructing people like me that we just don’t know the real truth about Russia. People really do believe that Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and others like them know what they are talking about. That’s dangerous.

I don’t like writing blogs about Alexei Navalny or politics in general. I do it because it is my way of putting another perspective out there in the “marketplace of ideas.” I have no delusions that my little blog is going to change international relations. I do believe, however, it has changed the minds of some I hear from and has encouraged others. So I hope to return to blogs on daily life soon. But for now, I’ll say what I think needs to be said.

A NEW YEAR UPDATE FROM LUGA, RUSSIA

The U.S. elections are over; 2020 is over; the holidays are over. And America has a new president. Things have changed quite a bit in my “other” world across the ocean. I think it is a good time to update any who are interested in how things look peering out from here on the ground in a small town in Russia.

THE RUSSIAN WINTER. The weather has turned quite cold here. Last year I complained that the winter was too mild. I admit my reasoning was completely selfish. It would snow a bit, then warm up above freezing, so the streets and sidewalks stayed muddy and dirty. It was not pleasant for my walks around the town. This year we had a mild November so I feared this winter would be the same. Not so! The snow arrived a few weeks ago. We have blanket of about 9 inches on the ground. The temperatures have remained well below freezing since late December. I thoroughly enjoyed my walk in the snow today, but this South Carolinian has still not learned how to shovel snow efficiently. Our first 3 winters here we lived in an apartment, so the snow was shoveled for us. Our first winter here in our home, as I said, the weather was mild and the snow was light. To put it euphemistically this winter has become a learning experience.

THE HOLIDAYS. We had friends and family in for the holidays. Of course, the holidays here are different. Christmas is January 7, since the Russian Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar for all Christian holidays. But we had an American/Russian family arrive on December 24 for a 5 day visit, so we did have a bit of an American Christmas. Oksana cooked traditional American Christmas dishes for our friends: a former student of mine, his Russian wife and their little daughter. We used to get together with them in South Carolina, and now they live in Arkhangelsk, Russia. We had a great time with them, and they are now planning to move to Luga next week. We are looking forward to that–another American living in Luga!

My wife’s sister and her family—husband and two daughters—came in from Germany to visit for New Years. Their daughters are about the age of Marina Grace so they had a wonderful time playing. Their girls speak both Russian and German; our kids speak Russian and English. My father-in-law says everyone at his work teases him and says they know he must be a spy to have such a family!

Gift-giving in Russia takes place on New Years, not Christmas. We invited Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and Snegurochka (Snow Maiden) over to our house to give gifts to the girls. (Actually we paid them, but we won’t go into that.) Watching the kids reciting the poems and singing the songs they prepared for Grandfather Frost (in three languages!) brought us all so much joy. The old man was impressed, too!

It was also nice to be able to order meals while we were all here together. Of course, the kids wanted pizza one night so we ordered a full spectrum of pizzas of all flavors. My favorite is Hawaiian pizza. I’ll admit I love pineapple on pizza. Then another night we ordered burgers. These were all delivered to our home. So we have gone from not even being able to buy pizza and burgers in Luga a few years ago to being able to have them delivered to our home. Oh, the little joys in life!

The main gift I received was three pairs of new jeans from my wife. My old jeans that I brought from America were getting tattered, and it seems the waistline has shrunk a bit in all of them. (That is my story, and I’m sticking to it!) My wife ordered the jeans on-line, and Ozon delivered them to our home. When I first came to Russia you couldn’t even buy jeans here in Luga. They were a treasured commodity in Russia at that time. Now they are sold everywhere and you can also order them online and have them delivered to your home at no cost. The e-commerce is booming in Russia!

The reason I include this information is because the two major on-line delivery companies—Ozon and Wildberries—have said their sales over the holidays increased dramatically. Ozon said this years sales were 2.5 times higher than last year. Wildberries recorded 3 times more sales. Both are Russian companies, despite having names that sound “Western.” The sale of some gift items were “through the roof.” For example, gifts sets of women’s cosmetics were up 242%. I realize the convenience of food and gift deliveries may not sound like much to some folks in the West, but it represents a huge change from the Luga I first visited almost 20 years ago.

COVID 19. There has not been a drastic change in the situation, but for the first half of January the number of cases did decline. On most days the number of new cases were fewer than the number of recoveries. Also, the morbidity rate is down. Of course, these things are always subject to change, but health officials are saying they believe the pandemic will be over for Russia by mid-summer (https://tass.com/society/1243537). Children in most of Russia have gone back to school. Here masks are still hypothetically required in stores, etc., but that regulation continues to be widely ignored. I hear the same from friends in other parts of Russia. So COVID is still here, and there are precautions being taken. Nevertheless, it still does not seem to impact daily life as much as in America.

They began vaccinating people with the new Russian vaccines in certain professions as I mentioned in an earlier blog. Putin appeared very perturbed last week that mass vaccinations had not begun. He said Russia has a huge supply of the Russian vaccines. So they begin administering those January 18 around the country. Anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be, regardless of profession. To receive the vaccine is optional, not mandatory.

In a blog early last year I noted how Western writers were proclaiming the end was in sight for Putin’s leadership since COVID would soon destroy his presidency. I stated that I saw no evidence for these claims. In a recent article Canadian scholar on Russia Paul Robinson reviewed how wrong these claims were (https://www.rt.com/russia/511088-western-predictions-russian-economy/?fbclid=IwAR18yVGDLk3TK9mS7NHS9RZS1ZA565DNF-1vdCH5LQzKi7mV8E2z3Ww_NDE). He mentions an article from early 2020 in the Wall Street Journal predicting COVID would “imperil” Putin’s presidency. This past spring The Spectator said, “The situation in Russia is bad and going to get worse.” The reports of the death of Putin’s presidency turned out to be wishful thinking on the part of those “journalists,” however.

COVID has impacted Russia in negative ways, just as it has almost every other country. But the latest Levada Poll I saw put Putin’s approval rating at 68%. I don’t think any leader of any Western country comes even close to that. The GDP in Russia declined by just under 4% in 2020. That is not good, but it is less than half of the decline seen in other European countries. (I was not able to find the final 2020 data on the annual GDP in the U.S., which lurched about in the second and third quarters.)

On the positive side Russia finished with a budget surplus. (Yes, America—it is possible.) They now have nearly $200 billion in the reserve fund. Their gold reserves continue to increase. The GDP is predicted to grow by 3% in 2021. Robinson called Putin the “regional peacekeeper” in helping to resolve the Armenian/Azerbaijan crisis. He pointed out Putin also had a hand in keeping things from getting worse than they could have in Belarus. Putin, according to Robinson, is getting a reputation as one who works for peace.

In my “other world” things are very different. America’s budget deficit continues to soar. It was over $3 BILLION last year. Millions of Americans do not trust the election results. Some cannot believe Joe Biden got more votes for President than anyone in American history, including over 11% more of the votes from Americans of color than Barack Obama. Others, however, just as insistently claim there is absolutely no evidence of election tampering, and Trump supporters need to accept the results and work together. Compared to the political situation in America, Russia is the epitome of stability.

It seems I end up mentioning Putin in a lot of my blogs. That is because American political leaders and journalists can’t quit talking about him. As I frequently remind my readers, I am not suggesting everyone in Russia loves Putin. They don’t. I don’t agree with all his decisions, but I do think he is a good president. The reason I mention his approval ratings frequently is to show how wrong and deceitful Western writers are when it comes to Putin and Russia. I keep bringing up Putin, because he is still getting blamed for what goes wrong in America. Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi are claiming Vladimir Putin called Trump and told him to initiate the assault on the Capitol. Clinton says she wants something along the lines of a 09/11 investigation according to her tweet I saw published. There are apparently many Americans who still like to hear Putin and Russia get blamed for America’s problems even after the lies of the last four years were found to be without evidence.

MISUNDERSTANDING RUSSIA. These claims of Clinton and Pelosi take me to another recent article by Robinson addressing the common claim by so-called leaders in the U.S. that Putin and Russia enjoy all the unrest in America. https://www.rt.com/russia/512071-capitol-violence-consequences-fear/?fbclid=IwAR2rs5XalGngjJGbL2r-NOUi8ACy9BcmQ-d16xQ7QeXJyfSUhAWKbIHw3dQ I read this unsubstantiated claim both from Democrat Nancy Pelosi and Republican Nikki Haley. Both women blamed “the other side” for opening the door to instability in America that makes Vladimir Putin so happy.

About a month before Robinson wrote that article an American friend here in Russia posted an article on Facebook by someone blaming Russia for America’s problems. My friend posted it in jest, because we joke about all the craziness over Russia in the heads of American politicians and journalists. I read the first paragraph, and the author (whose name I do not recall or care to recall) claimed three times that Putin loves “chaos.” I told my friend I was not going to waste my time going further than that one paragraph.

From the books I have read on Putin, from reading his speeches, and my own observations of him while living here, chaos is the last thing Putin wants. The man loves order. I heard him describe the “tyranny” he wants in Russia: “The Tyranny of Law.” He is a lawyer by training and education. Putin can handle people or national leaders disagreeing with him; he is remarkable in his ability to take their criticisms and name-calling. What seems to drive him is the need to establish order within Russia and work for it throughout international relationships. As Robinson says, “Vladimir Putin regularly portrays himself as defending the international order, and his complaints about the United States often center around accusations that the USA is causing international instability by launching wars, supporting rebellions, and inciting regime change and color revolutions.”

Russian leaders do not enjoy the instability in America and the world. I suspect one reason is they know they usually get blamed for it. The only thing Russia has gotten from the disorder is more and more sanctions have been put on them. They also know there are those “behind the curtain” in America who are exploiting the political and social divisions among Americans and creating international divisions, which Russians do not like. I’m not a lawyer, but I am certainly familiar with the phrase cui bono? The ones who have the most to gain from such disruptions of order in America and the world are not the Russians or Vladimir Putin.

I suggest the question that needs to be asked is, “Who supports the politicians who are trying to shift the blame to the Russians?” What corporations, weapons manufacturers, publishers, or social media tycoons make the most of all this turmoil being created in America? Whose power and financial resources have been increased dramatically in America in the last year? Russia stands to gain if order returns to America. International trade and communication could be restored.

Remarkably, Russia is doing well considering COVID, the increasing number of American sanctions, as well as the decrease in the price of gas and oil over the last year. It would do even better if diplomacy replaced sanctions and turmoil initiated by America. Russia has nothing to gain by promoting an atmosphere in America which enables politicians, media magnates, and corporate heads to have an excuse for punishing Russia. These tycoons use Russia as a diversion. They can increase the sanctions on Russia and go on exploiting the American people.

CONCLUSION. I first came to Russia less than two years after Putin had become president. The Russia I see now is far more stable, with far less crime now than then. The old debt of the USSR has been paid off. Russia keeps within its budget and pays its bills. Employment rates have taken a hit during COVID, but it is still far better than when I came here. Over the last four years America has kept adding to the Russian sanctions in any area Mike Pompeo could think of, but the Russian reserve fund keeps growing. It has dealt with the economic and trade sanctions in a truly remarkable way.

Russia is in many ways quite diverse. Since its borders spread from Finland and the Baltic countries in the west to China and North Korea in the east it encompasses many different cultures and religions. It has a varied history as well, with Tsars, and their faith deeply rooted in Orthodox Christianity, to 70 years of Communism and “official” atheism. Somehow all this diversity has not pulled Russia apart. My friends who are former members of “the Party” and my friends who are devout Orthodox Christians seem to get along pretty well. Most Russians I know like Vladimir Putin and hope he runs again, while others are tired of him and hope this is his last term as president. Yet, there is nothing like the animosity I hear from Biden-backers and Trump supporters.

My “other” country of America has a comparatively short history and the continental United States (“the lower 48”) only borders Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. Oceans lie to the east and west. Ironically, however, there is far more division and animosity among Americans. There is a saying from Holy Scripture, “Pride goes before the fall.” Nevertheless, America has described itself “exceptional” for quite some time, and even now I still frequently hear Americans proclaiming, “We are the greatest country in the world!” American politicians seem to think they have a divine right to “spread democracy” even if that strangely means inciting violence in order to overthrow democratically elected leaders. International laws are for other nations; America reserves for itself the right to enter a country uninvited to do “regime change.”

I will write more about how the change in presidential administrations in America may or may not affect relations with Russia in my next blog. For now, I simply state my hope that my native country will stop blaming other nations—particularly Russia—for problems it has created on its own. No one made this happen to America. There are other places in Scripture which speak positively of the future of a people or a nation that “humbles itself.” It remains to be seen whether corporate humility and introspection are even within the realm of possibility for America.