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.