RESIDING IN RUSSIA

I have not written a blog in well over two months. I accepted another writing project which occupied my attention for some of the time. A Russian Orthodox journal invited me to write an article about coming to Russia and to Russian Orthodoxy. Additionally, we have had some “events” which have kept me from the blog. I will discuss some of these events because they may answer some questions I have recently received.

RESIDENCY. First, I received my Temporary Residency (RVP) in late February. I applied for it back in the first part of September. Getting residency is important. Russia is not a country that holds to “open borders” or anything close to it. The laws on entering the country are clear and enforced. Of course, Russia is the largest territorial country in the world. They cannot guard every kilometer of their border, especially given the rough terrain in some spots, so there are illegals here. It is quite different here than in America, however. First, the illegals come here to work and expect nothing else. They get no benefits from the government. Further, if they have children here, the Russian government does not grant those children citizenship as is the case in America.

All Russian citizens have a “domestic passport.” It functions as a picture ID a bit like a drivers license in America. You must have it with you at all times. Foreigners are also required to have our passports with us. Picture identification is mandatory for citizens and non-citizens. Police can stop you and ask for your ID for any or no reason. I have never been stopped, but I still carry my ID with me.

I, like many others, came here on a 3 year multi-entry visa. As it was coming to the end of the 3 years I applied for my RVP. There are advantages to going through this complex and tedious process. First, I don’t have to leave and re-enter Russia every six months, as is required of anyone here on a visa as I have mentioned before.

Second, with the Temporary Residency one can officially work at any job. This is one of the confusing parts of being here on a visa. You are technically not allowed to work. Nevertheless, I have known many people who teach English here either privately or on-line, and I have never known anyone to have subsequent visa problems. I know other Westerners who do various kinds of work in Information Technology and also never have a problem. Sometimes in Russia the line between “allowed” and “not allowed” gets fuzzy in actual practice. Since I am retired and on Social Security it was not a big issue for me.

More importantly to me, the RVP is a necessary step to permanent residency. While it is good for 3 years (non-renewable), I can apply for permanent residency in 6 months. I intend on applying as soon as I am eligible. Permanent residency is good for five years and can be renewed. In addition to being able to work, the person with the PR is eligible to receive a pension. The pension amount would be small for me since I have not worked here, but it is something. Second, one is eligible for free health care. I have repeatedly stated how good and inexpensive health care is here in Russia. However, if I am a permanent resident, even if I have a serious problem which requires, say, major surgery or long term care, I am granted that for free. Permanent residency is also a step to citizenship, but I have no plans to apply for Russian citizenship.

Work visas are available, but they are not easy to get. The primary problem in a small town like Luga is that most employment opportunities are with small companies or schools. To obtain a work visa you have to be invited by an employer. The employer, in turn, is required to provide you with a job and benefits such as accommodations and health insurance. Most small companies or schools cannot afford that. So work visas are usually granted only by larger schools, universities and businesses.

VISITORS. We had visitors from America who stayed here in Luga for the first two weeks of April. It was an Orthodox couple with six children whom we had met in an on-line group of persons thinking of moving to Russia. They had read my blog and made contact. We got to know them well after several Skype conversations and other messages. They decided they wanted to investigate moving to Luga. They had been to Russia before but never to this area. Their reasons were basically the same as those of other folks I have mentioned. They no longer believe American culture is the best place to raise children with their traditional Orthodox Christian values. There were other cultural and social issues we discussed that I won’t go into, but their children were the main concern. They homeschool their children and sense that the stronger intrusive practices of the American government would continue to be a problem if they stayed in America.

The visit went extremely well. They liked the small town “feel” of Luga and commented frequently on how quiet the town is. They brought one daughter, 4 years old, with them. Since she is Marina’s age, we all thought it would be good. Rob (not his real name) and I were in the playground behind the church with our daughters, and he commented that even when children play here it seems somehow less noisy. The peaceful nature of this small town in Russia impressed them.

They visited our church for Liturgy and the Trapeza meal afterwards the two Sundays they were here. Everyone was very gracious towards them. They really enjoyed getting to know people at Trapeza. There is a homeschool group in the community which meets in our Sunday School room for “co-op,” and they asked Audrey to come and speak to them. She reported having a wonderful time. Both Oksana and I remember that when we first visited the church folks were so reluctant to speak with me since I was the first American many of them had seen. Now, however, they have grown comfortable with us and reached out to our visiting Americans. Several were trying to speak English with them as best they could.

We also spent a day in St. Petersburg. We visited Church on the Savior’s Blood and St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Our guests were obviously overwhelmed by the beauty of these classic Russian Orthodox Churches. They also got to walk along Nevsky Prospekt and got a “feel” for old Russia. Walking around the “Center” of Petersburg is much different than Moscow. They said St. Petersburg definitely made Russian history come alive for them.

We took them for walks around Luga several times which gave them opportunities to ask questions. We took them to Luga’s little mall, to the grocery stores, clothing shops, etc. They were impressed both by all that was available here and the prices. At the end of their time here they told us Luga had exceeded their expectations. They made the decision to sell their home, start really saving money and hopefully return to Luga to live in a year or so. They have since notified us their house has sold. They are now saving money to purchase land to build a house here. So it appears that one day I may not be the only American resident in Luga.

POLITICS. Obviously there has been political news since I last wrote a blog. And, of course, Russia is also mentioned in any political development. The Mueller Report was released, and no evidence was found of Trump or his campaign “colluding” with Russians or Vladimir Putin. When Mueller was selected to head the special investigation many thought something would be found on Trump since Mueller was no fan of Trump. The “circle” he included in his investigation were solidly predisposed against Trump, as the Peter Strzok e-mails revealed. Yet, as the investigation wore on it appeared less and less likely than any collusion was being discovered. Finally, just before the report was released only “true believers” like Rachel Maddow, John Brennan and their MSNBC and CNN comrades wrongly thought bad news was ahead for Trump.

After the anti-Trump grieving party subsided, it became clear nothing was really solved. The tirades against him and, by default, Russia continued. In my opinion America is increasingly being led by politicians who crave division and aggression. America has problems with an opiod crisis, rising suicide rates among veterans, deteriorating infrastructure, and other needs. Yet I seldom hear of what the political leaders are doing to solve any of these. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I have heard when Congress has actually solved anything.

The reactions I saw here were a mixture of confusion on the part of some and humor from others. They do not see why the anti-Russian feelings are so strong. Further, other than general broadsides by those who just assume Russia is evil, no facts ever emerged implicating Russia. Mueller’s report seem to assume Russia meddled, but he never offered proof. I’ve been following this story since the “Felix Dzerzhinsky” e-mail and nothing is convincing. Further, William Binney who certainly knows a lot about e-mails and intelligence, has written a very careful explanation of why it was not the Russians. No one has even responded to his points as far as I can tell. (See https://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2019/02/why-the-dnc-was-not-hacked-by-the-russians.html?fbclid=IwAR1e7YhrmJrSaByVa1i_xcjvLZOAcVmhcCCU5TtHcqLx_l0b0JbvtTZZdQg)

I live here. So far the nasty stuff being said about Russia in the U.S. has still not impacted my family or me. Russians in general do not hold individuals responsible for the behavior of their government. Yet some of us are concerned that the constant berating of Russia in the U.S. will eventually have some kind of ramifications.

Since I can get European news more easily here, I now hear more complaints from Western Europe about American interventionism. America continues its policy of “regime change” in countries that elect leaders it doesn’t like. Venezuela’s president is now on the hit list of Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. The justification is that there is a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and America must jump in and support a coup that would drive out President Maduro. Despite the fact that same method turned out horribly in Iraq and Libya, the American people are still being told we do this because we care about the people there. I am quite sure the Iraqis and Libyans disagree. The U.S. is responsible for the loss of many innocent lives in those countries. We tried it with Syria, but we were unsuccessful. Despite Trump’s expressed desire to get us out of Syria, it looks like the war hawks are determined that will not happen.

As I have mentioned before, I also swallowed the “we need to help these poor people out” pitches from our government years ago. I was absolutely convinced Assad in Syria was a terrible person who would periodically gas his own people. After hearing so many bad things about Russia that I knew were lies, however, I grew suspicious of reports about other countries. Are those also lies? Then I watched reports from those actually on the ground. I am not talking about main stream reporters who appeal to “unidentified sources.” Janice Kortkamp, Tom Duggan, Eva Bartlett and Pearson Sharp (One America News) showed me from their work in Syria that it was all a lie.

I have also mentioned that nagging question I had as to why are we not just as concerned about other regimes that are clearly more corrupt than Venezuela—and yet have little or no oil. The corrupt dictators of Chad, Burma, Sudan and a host of other countries have been around a LOT longer than Maduro. Their people have been suffering for years. Check out the number of “child soldiers” in Burma. Yet our humanitarian compassion just doesn’t spread to where huge reservoirs of oil are not present. And isn’t it possible that our sanctions and other actions against the economy of Venezuela over the last two years are what really ignited the “humanitarian crisis” there?

Further, Saudi Arabia was recently denounced by the U.N. for executing teenage boys over minor crimes. At least one 16 year old was photographed being beheaded because he had been caught using WhatsApp to talk with other teens outside his country. Women in Saudi Arabia who are convicted of adultery are still stoned. The evidence of the sins need not be overwhelming. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia purchases huge amounts of weaponry from the U.S. “military industrial complex,” perhaps more than any country in the world. It also uses the petrodollar which helps keep the American economy afloat.

During his campaign President Trump viciously attacked the Saudi regime. He called Saudi Arabia the “world’s biggest funder of international terrorism.” Worse, he said, they use our petrodollar to fund these terrorists activities. He even blamed them for blowing up the World Trade Center. (See https://internationalman.com/articles/the-secret-reason-trump-is-so-cozy-with-saudi-arabia/ .)

Yet Trump used his first veto to stop a resolution passed by both the House and Senate to stop supporting Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against tiny Yemen. The government he condemned he now praises. I think he knew in the presidential campaign how corrupt the Saudi government is. I think he also believed being President of the United States means you are perhaps the most powerful man in the world—at least the most powerful in Washington, D.C. He really did believe he could stop the Saudi bad behavior when he became president. He was wrong. I don’t think Trump was lying during the campaign. I think he learned, as did Bush II and Obama, he wasn’t in charge.

Further, Trump has been constantly berated over the “collusion” and any attempt to do real diplomacy has been met with intense criticism. This morning I watched Trump appear before reporters and talk of his recent conversation with Putin. The two leaders agreed both countries should try to help with getting food and supplies to the people of Venezuela. They further agreed to start negotiations for mutually reducing nuclear weapons and also increasing trade between the two countries. CNN’s Jake Tapper immediately called Trump a “spokesman for the Kremlin.” Such is the depth to which reporting has descended in America.

There are two main reasons I don’t believe Trump and Putin “colluded.” First, the lack of evidence which the Mueller report confirmed. Second, Putin has said publicly it really doesn’t matter who the President of the United States is. The President is not the one who makes the big decisions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xykvrGpCW6E. Trump said before he was elected he would work with Putin and, to some degree, Assad and work against Saudi Arabia. That is not what happened. Putin knew it wouldn’t work before Trump did.

I have used the phrase “blessings and battles” on a number of occasions to summarize life here in Russia. The battles with Russian bureaucracy that I mentioned are minor compared to the battles within my own mind over events in my home country. The political division rages on, and I can hardly fathom how vicious and dirty things will become as another election year (2020) approaches. Several folks we know in America wanting to come to Russia have already expressed their fears to us about 2020.

One battle for those of us already here—and this is far from being the first time I’ve mentioned it—is that we know many things being reported about Russia and other countries are lies. Yet, to express this fact is often taken by family and friends in America as either delusional or deceitful. The mystery remains for many of us: How do those who have never been here, never studied the language, history or political system in any depth seem to know so much? I have talked to other Americans who live here. We really regret it when family and friends sometimes cut off communication with us. But we can’t pretend to believe what we know is not factual.

For most of my life I was a true believer in America as a country committed to truth and justice. Yet the talk our Secretary of State recently gave at Texas A&M University expressed clearly why I have long since stopped believing that. It was not just that Pompeo said that at the CIA “we lie, we cheat, we steal.” As Ron Paul said, it was the glee and even silly laughter with which he proclaimed lying, cheating, and stealing as “the glory of the American experiment.” Dr. Paul says you have to watch his comments, which are obviously mocking the military cadet’s vow “not to lie, not to cheat, not to steal.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RmEsPE7iq0.

The blessings include that fact that Russia is a good place to raise a family, and it is a far more peaceful culture. Oh, I know there are many good things about America and bad things about Russia. Still, no one here is questioning my right to raise my children as I believe to be right. No one is telling me I have to expose them to “alternative lifestyles” before they reach maturity.

This time of year has been the high point of the year for Orthodox believers. Last Sunday was Orthodox Pascha (Easter). Unfortunately my family and I got hit with a “rotovirus,” and only Gabriel was able to attend the midnight service. (Since I wasn’t there he got to do the Gospel reading in English for everyone.) Fortunately, I was not so sick I couldn’t watch TV. We turned on the TV to the Orthodox channel Saturday morning. We watched live the service the Patriarch was conducting in Moscow. The hosts frequently explained for the viewers the significance of each part of the service. When there was a break one commentator joyfully exclaimed how wonderful it is now in Russia that “We Orthodox Christians can live out our faith, we can express our beliefs, share the faith in this land which prohibited anything to do with Christianity for so long.” He was exuberant. Even the lead story on the secular news channel I turned to was Orthodox Pascha.

Russia went through horrible years wherein for over three generations the government tried to obliterate from the land any vestiges of Christianity or any religion. It has now emerged as a place in which people like us can raise and feed our families without interference or exclusion. Politicians and peasants alike can speak of their faith without thinking they will “offend” others who choose to disagree. I fear that many of the “powers-that-be” in America have different plans for the land of my birth.