I have never seen events in my native country like the ones that have transpired since my last blog. I recall things getting bad back in the late 60s. We had protests that sometimes turned violent. Most people in my age group can remember the Democratic Party convention of 1968 or when the National Guard opened fire on students at Kent State University, killing 4 of them in 1970. Yet these never reached the sustained level of violence of the recent riots in America, and never did we see law enforcement prevented from responding. Further, the protest back then were rarely, if ever, intended to destroy small businesses or private property. They were mainly to oppose the war in Vietnam and promote peace among nations. And no one recommended defunding the police or National Guard when some of their members responded in inexcusable ways.
The recent violence in America was triggered by the death of George Floyd and the protests were ostensibly against systemic racism. Yet quite a number of the police members who were killed or injured by the protesters were black. Small businesses were looted and destroyed, and many of the owners were black. Protesters were seen gleefully running out of stores with new sneakers, and grief or anguish over the death of George Floyd seemed to have nothing to do with anything. Thus, it appeared to many of us that racism—or George Floyd’s death—may not have been the real motive.
In many cities the police adopted a submissive attitude, symbolized by them taking a knee in front of the rioters, kissing black people’s boots or washing their feet. Many of us saw videos of police cars driving past scenes where violence was in progress or heard tapes of emergency calls wherein the 911 operators told the people in danger the police could not respond.
My own belief is that these were not spontaneous riots that got out of hand because of grief or anger over George Floyd. But this blog is not about life in America. I focus on life here in Russia and how my “two worlds” of Russia and the U.S. are connected—or disconnected. So I’ll deal with the way the subject of Russia has been brought into the events and then offer some reflections on life here.
THE RUSSIA CARD. It wasn’t long before Russia was connected to the events in America. The first person I heard make the connection was Susan Rice, former National Security Adviser to President Obama. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN she did not blame Russia for provoking the riots. She said Russia “hijacked” the protests and turned them into something very different. It was Russian interference that caused the worst of the violence. She said this was, “right out of the Russian playbook.”
Blitzer did not raise the issue that I did in my last blog. He did not question the disparity between what Rice had said in TV interviews about Russian interference in the 2016 election and what she said under oath to the House Intelligence Committee. For example in an interview on “ABC News this Week” Rice contradicted Vladimir Putin’s denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. She said, “Frankly, he (Putin) is lying…The reality is all our intelligence sources have come together to affirm with high confidence, the Russian government at the highest levels, was behind the very unprecedented effort to meddle in our 2016 presidential election.” (For the full article summary in Newsweek see https://www.newsweek.com/putin-lying-russia-election-national-security-adviser-susan-rice-620699) That was in 2017, and she continued to maintain that claim publicly until the release of the Mueller report. Nevertheless, when she was put under oath privately and asked whether or not she had had seen actual evidence that confirmed Russian interference she responded, “I don’t recall intelligence that I would consider evidence.” And she claimed Putin was lying?
In the recent interview on Russia “hijacking” the protests she offered no evidence at all. Her appeal to “the Russian playbook,” which unfortunately neither she nor any of us have actually seen, was a safe distraction from having to say she knew of no evidence. Of course, Blitzer did not confront her with either her past contradictory statements on Russian meddling or with her lack of evidence now. The spineless journalist responded, “You’re absolutely right,” and then he brought up the actions of the USSR as “evidence” that this is the way Russia does things.
It was not just Democrats, however, who blamed the Russians for intensifying the riots. Nikki Haley, former Ambassador to the UN and governor of my home state of South Carolina, tweeted on June 20, 2020, “(Russian Intelligence Agencies) have encouraged and spread hateful rhetoric by extremist groups, and played up allegations of police abuse in America.” She provided a link to the New York Times article (March 10) that claimed Russia was linked with almost every extremist group in America. Again, there was no actual evidence of the accusations against Russia in either her tweet or the Times article.
I also offer one caveat on another tweet two days later by Haley on an event unrelated to Russia but which demonstrates her attitude to evidence. Bubba Wallace, a black NASCAR race driver, claimed someone left a hangman’s noose in his garage as an attempt to terrorize him apparently over the fact that NASCAR had supported Black Lives Matter. The FBI sent 15 agents to investigate this act of “terror.” In an obvious attempt to endear herself to BLM, Haley tweeted, “We all should stand w/ @Bubba Wallace today against the cowards who secretly put a noose in his garage stall.” Then she threatened, “Watch your backs you cowards. Bubba has a bigger army than you do.”
The FBI investigation concluded that it was not a noose at all. It was a rope with a loop used to pull down the garage door. It had been there since the previous October. Again, the point is Haley, Rice and others simply do not wait for or care about evidence. It’s the rhetorical and political impact, not the facts, that matter.
Fortunately, it appeared neither the accusations by Rice nor Haley seemed to gain much traction with the American people. Russia did not seem terribly bothered by them. Russia U.N. Deputy Ambassador tweeted in response to Haley, “thank you for showing the U.S. is innocent of any of its troubles or wrongdoings.”
Before I could breath a sigh of relief that accusations against Russia were ineffective, however, the New York Times published an article on June 26 stating that American intelligence officials had concluded Russian military intelligence units had paid bounty money to members of the Taliban to kill Americans. The article stated Trump had been briefed on this report last March but had done nothing except “deliberate” as to what should be done. Immediately the story was picked up by CNN and MSNBC and then other networks and news outlets. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/us/politics/russia-afghanistan-bounties.html
Russia immediately denied this ever happened and ridiculed it as evidence of lack of intelligence by reporters. The Taliban also denied the report and seemed offended that anyone would assert they had to be paid to kill Americans: “We have done target killings for years with our own resources.” Both the present and former Directors of National Security emphatically asserted Trump was never briefed contrary to what the Times had indicated. Upon further study intelligence officials said there was no evidence of the testimonies which were in the Times report, but as I write this blog the debate is still going on.
The report did not pass the “smell test” as far as I’m concerned. First, the Taliban makes a lot of money from the sell of heroin. It is not financially strapped. Further, the Taliban, as they themselves claim, having been killing Americans for nearly 20 years. All of the sudden they want money to do it? Russia has never had a good relationship with Taliban. Further, the information was said to come from, at least in part, captured Afghan militants and criminals—hardly sources anyone would consider reliable without further verification. As we all know, prisoners of war sometimes say things to get themselves “off the hook.” (We actually had a class on how to lie like this in captivity when I was in infantry training in the USMC.)
More problematic was the fact the Times had relied on “unnamed sources.” I followed the Russia meddling story (hoax) very carefully from the beginning. As I documented in my last blog we now know that the accusations had no basis in fact. That phrase, “unnamed sources” is a flag. It means no one can be questioned further or be held accountable. We must trust the Times‘ reporters. Back on May 5 of this year the Russian embassy ridiculed the Pulitzer awards for 3 articles in the New York Times that were found to be “Russophobic fabrications” for which the paper received Pulitzer prizes. https://tass.com/world/1153055 The New York Times has a history of fabricating stories about Russia.
It now appears certain Trump was never informed of the “bounty” information. In fact, there is no evidence the information was ever taken seriously by anyone in American intelligence. I will not go into the details any further, but more information can be found in articles by men who have an abundance of actual experience in Eastern European intelligence. See Scott Ritter https://www.rt.com/op-ed/493174-nyt-report-russia-afghanistan/ and Ray McGovern https://consortiumnews.com/2020/06/29/ray-mcgovern-russiagates-last-gasp/
The New York Times made up the story and many naive “sheeple” will read it or hear reports on it on CNN and do no further research. Thus, for the Times, it’s “mission accomplished.” Their purpose is not to convey factual information. It is to mold the way people think. It’s called propaganda. Russians know a lot about that. The difference is people in the USSR never really believed all the propaganda in Pravda.
The Embassy Flag Controversy. On June 25 the U.S. Embassy in Moscow announced it was displaying the LGBTI Pride flag. (See photo below.) I get the embassy Facebook posts. In addition to displaying the flag I saw two posts by U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan on that same day. In the first post he essentially “lectured” the Russian public about how important it is to recognize “Pride month.” In the second post he “celebrated” the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating the recognition of same sex marriages.
It seemed to some of us more than a coincidence that this happened toward the end of “Pride month.” Why was it not at the beginning of June? My hunch is that it was because Russia was getting ready to vote on its revised constitution. The constitution affirms marriage “as a union of one man and one woman.” Further, Russian law already prohibits recognition of same sex marriages. Open displays of “gay propaganda” are not allowed where children may be present. Since children may be present at most public sites, this law severely restricts any public displays. As I have said before in earlier blogs, homosexual and lesbian relations are not prohibited in Russia, but same-sex marriages are not recognized and generally speaking public displays of same-sex affection are not permitted.
In response to the display of the rainbow flag on the US embassy building, some Russian artists beamed a light show using the embassy building as the “screen.” The message said “1993 – your constitution; 2020 – our constitution.” The point was that in 1993 when the constitution was written, America was heavily involved in shaping the new Russian Constitution. Boris Yeltsin pretty much let the Americans take control at points. The day after the Embassy unveiled the flag someone placed a small LBGTI flag on the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Embassy. Videos were made of Russians passing by making a point of stepping on the flag and wiping their feet.
The Fallout. Clearly my two “worlds” or countries remain in a tenuous and stressed relationship. America seems congenitally incapable of not blaming Russia for its problems. Many powerful people did not want Donald Trump elected, and they blamed Russia—and made up evidence as they went along. This went on for three years. Now, after all their supposed evidence proved non-existent, they blame Russia for America’s domestic riots and social unrest. They seriously claim the deep divisions between Americans are because of Russian manipulation of social media. America invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, and now almost 19 years later the most well known paper in the U.S. suddenly claims Russia paid money to members of the Taliban to kill Americans. And many news outlets follow their lead despite the fact no evidence was presented and no names of the accusers were given.
I realize a part of the attacks on Russia are because from even before he was sworn in as President, Donald Trump was linked by his opponents with Russia. I think that is unfair. Trump has actually leveled more sanctions on Russia than Obama did. His Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, clearly understands little about Russia and has neither the desire nor the intellect to do normal diplomacy. His recent comments on Nord Stream 2 illustrate this unfortunate truth all too well. So this idea that Russians love Trump and Pompeo because Putin controls them is ridiculous. Somehow, however, Trump’s opponents have succeeded in portraying him as Putin’s puppet. So now if Trump talks to Putin on the phone it is an international scandal.
Life in Russia. On a brighter note, we are more convinced than ever that Russia is where we should be. Several people have asked me how the situation here is. One friend asked me if the riots are as bad here as they are in America. I responded that we aren’t having riots in Russia. I guess people see they have spread to Canada, Great Britain, and other western countries and assume we have them as well. We have noticed that when something happens in America, we see FB posts talking as if the whole world is going through the same thing. It isn’t. Things are quite peaceful here, especially compared to America. Russia has political and social differences, but rarely do people get violent over their differences.
The rate of COVID 19 is decreasing. Russia still has closed borders, but there is talk of opening up before the end of summer. As a part of my morning ritual, every day I read the stats, e.g., new cases, recoveries, etc., from the previous day. The rate on new cases has been going down steadily for well over a month. And today on my walk things looked normal. It is the first time I noticed that the restaurants are open. I’ve even heard from a couple of friends in Moscow that things are getting much closer to normal there.
I have received a lot of e-mails and messages from friends and acquaintances in America who read my blog or keep up with our lives here in Russia. They are so upset and, frankly, scared. Some are in areas away from danger, but others are not. They are afraid to go out. Here our 12 year old son goes bike riding with his friends all over town unattended, as do many kids here. As I’ve mentioned we live not far from several lakes so they sometimes ride to the lake and go swimming. They all have phones and we keep up with them, but we don’t live in fear of them getting out of our sight like in America. Five year old Marina Grace plays out in the yard with neighbor friends who come over or she goes to one of their homes. We know the parents, and it is great that our daughters can enjoy little girl games together. As I’ve said many times, the cost of living here is quite low compared to America so even on my Social Security income we were able to have a small basketball court and playground set built in our yard recently.
Two weeks ago on Sunday morning we watched a three hour Liturgy on TV here. The Liturgy was on the military channel because it was the dedication of the new Military Cathedral. It was built to commemorate the victory over the Nazis 75 years ago. The Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, said historically all the major cathedrals that had been built in Russia had been built in memorial to great victories in battle to give praise to God. For example, most people who have visited Russia or have just seen pictures of Red Square have seen St. Basil’s Cathedral. It was built in honor of the defeat of the Mongols and the end of their long control over Russia. Since the Nazis were defeated during the Communist era in Russia obviously no Cathedral was built to honor or thank God for it. Shoigu and others believed one should be built now that Russia has returned to Orthodox Christianity.
The dedication service and the Cathedral itself were absolutely beautiful. I suspect that some of my American friends will be upset about the fusing together of “Church and State.” I understand. Government money (along with donations from the faithful) was used in the building of the great Cathedral. The Cathedral is clearly and specifically for Christian worship. The service had extensive references that we would call a “God and country” theme. During the televised service someone was quietly explaining the Liturgy and what the priest was doing.
As I watched, my mind wandered back to my childhood in the southern United States a couple of generations ago. Religion, particularly Protestant (usually Baptist) religion, was a part of the fabric of that world. It wasn’t that everyone was a Christian, but even most of the “happy pagans” thought religion had a good impact on culture and respected it. Russia (or USSR—they were interchangeable to us at that time) was godless. We were told how worship was despised and the religious values we cherished were denigrated here.
As I watched the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation bow his head and slowly and reverently make the sign of the Cross over his chest at the end of the service, I remembered the images of rioting and hate I had watched on the American news the night before. The language was filthy; the attacks on the innocent were revolting. The old statues were crushed. Political leaders, however, made sure they did not offend the protesters. The contrast with what I was seeing on the Russian military channel was stark.
Life is a “crazy ol’ dog” as the old folks used to say. I’m scared for my native land. Whenever all the smoke clears from COVID and riots and so-called race wars, I don’t think things will go back to “normal.” The police have bowed the knee; political leaders have encouraged riots while stating worship is non-essential and prohibited. I fear life in America will be permanently reordered and the shared cultural values will be different altogether. I admit I could be wrong. Maybe I have misread the situation. I passionately hope I am wrong.
I want my Russian readers to know the majority of Americans are not like the ones they see on the news. I think race relations are terribly misrepresented in all this rioting. Of course, there is racism. Systemic racism? I lived through that time in the Jim Crow south. Despite the emphasis on Evangelical Christianity, blacks and whites went to different schools, different churches, and even different grocery stores. We drank from different water fountains and had to go to different public bathrooms. I remember as a child in my Southern town seeing “White Only” in windows of restaurants. People of my generation—black and white—don’t need young white liberals to explain racism to us.
I lived through the change. And things really did change. Black people and white people work together, go to school together; they regularly worship together, play sports together, and share each others burdens. I see these riots and I want to scream, “This is NOT what it is like for the majority of Americans!” What the so-called leaders want to do now is create and exploit divisions for their own interests and twist anything that is said into something racist. And the American media helps them avoid accountability by putting all the blame on Russia. Instead of starting with trying to solve remaining racism, they first want to shift the blame or divert the focus.
I don’t have the right to tell Americans how to live. The Americans who live there must choose their own way. They are the ones to decide what is honored and what is forbidden. Those Americans are the ones to determine how to define family, how to govern relationships and property and such.
But Russians have the right to do so here as well. I say to American political and media leaders, leave Russia alone. It’s not your decision how Russians define family, promote religious and cultural values, or who they elect for president. And quit blaming America’s problems on Russia and accept responsibility for what you have made life like for the people of America. No, Russia is not perfect or ideal or crime free. But life here is not crazy and immoral and devoid of reason. The main point being missed, and one which I believe from my many experiences in Russia, is that Russians—including Vladimir Putin—do not want war or any conflict with the U.S. The idea that Russia is stirring up chaos, meddling in the affairs of America, and wants war comes from people there with another agenda. These people do not understand Russia, nor do they care to. They are projecting their own agenda and methods onto Russia.
So on this Independence Day I feel more alienated from my country than ever. But many of my American friends living there have said to me that they feel the same way I do. Some have told me that they have trouble celebrating freedom when they have been locked down, locked out and basically told by local politicians what constitutional freedoms they may or may not exercise. My hope is that there will be a new uprising in America. Instead of allowing the powers-that-be to divert attention by blaming Russia for all the problems, a new level of accountability would be enforced.
I saw an interview done in Russia a few years ago wherein Putin was asked who he wanted the new U.S. president to be. He has since been asked that many times, and he has essentially expanded on what he said back then. This was an old interview back when Obama was in his last term, and as I recall a leading candidate had not yet emerged. Putin said it didn’t matter to him. He explained that he did not believe that it is the president who has the real power in America. The interview was in Russian and I can’t remember his exact words, but essentially he said, “America is run by the people in black suits behind the curtain.” I hope Americans will rise up and pull back the curtain.