This Ukraine/Russia confrontation remains complicated. There is no way to discuss all related issues and how those issues are being interpreted. So I’ve decided to take one or two aspects of it at a time. I wanted to leave room for some personal updates since a few have asked how my family and I are doing.
In my last blog I stated the reasons I trust the main sources I use for information on how the fighting in Ukraine is progressing. The three military men I most frequently watch or read, Scott Ritter, Douglas Macgregor and Richard Black, have proved their patriotism in battle. They also have nothing to gain from their analyses of the events in Ukraine from contracts from weapons manufacturers or MSM outlets.
I ended the blog just briefly raising some questions as to how the news about Ukraine as it appears in the Western MSM leaves one with questions. So I want to explore that issue more broadly in this blog before moving on to the personal update. What I am addressing are claims that seem to be mutually exclusive. That is, if one report is true, then there are certain other claims that cannot also be true–at least without some meaningful explanations.
BACKGROUND. I will first go back to before the Ukrainian crisis to the election of Donald Trump in 2016 as an example of what I mean. Many people recall John McCain saying, “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country.” President Barack Obama, in his last press conference as President, said Russia could not “change or significantly weaken the U.S.” He said compared to the U.S., “Russia is a smaller and weaker country.” He continued that Russia doesn’t produce anything anyone wants except gas, oil, and arms. (https://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/16/obama-says-russians-cant-change-us-or-weaken-us.html) These kinds of statements were what one typically heard about Russia in those days. Russia’s economy was said to be no bigger than that of the state of Texas, and its GDP was miniscule.
Yet, after Donald Trump was elected President, we were told, “Russia did it.” It was as if Putin directed the election of the president of the United States from his Kremlin office. How does a man whom they had said runs a small, weak, “gas station” kind of country control the results of the election of someone to the highest office in the country that claims to be the most powerful on earth? Now, the Mueller Report indicated there was no proof that Russia interfered, but my point is that we had been hearing how weak, small, and economically insignificant Russia was, and then almost all of the mainstream press quickly turned and joined the politicians who said Russia had covertly changed the course of American history. If one holds to both those understandings of Russia some explanation is definitely needed. Otherwise, this is cognitive dissonance on a national level.
REPORTS ON THE FIGHTING IN UKRAINE. I have noticed this same tendency in reports about the war in Ukraine. From the very beginning of the “invasion” of Ukraine, the majority of Western news outlets have said that Ukraine is winning. It doesn’t even seem close. Russia is struggling with very low resources in terms of ammo, tanks and even personnel. I have read reports that Putin has cancer, and that the Russian people are on the verge of throwing him out of office if he doesn’t hurry up and die. Volodymir Zelensky, who some have compared to Churchill, is the master leader. Ukraine is the model of integrity and courage, and Russia is corrupt and in danger of falling apart. The 8 years Ukraine shelled and killed people in the Donbass got “whited out” even by some scholars and authors I trusted. That the U.S. was moving missiles to Russia’s border did not imply any evil intent. Russia overreacted. The invasion was “unprovoked.”
On the other hand, if claims Ukraine has been and is still winning are true, then why is it that we see Mr. Zelensky constantly pleading for more money and weapons? On October 13 C-SPAN, showed a video of Zelensky saying he needs: 1)$38 billion to cover next year’s budget; 2)$17 billion to rebuild critical infrastructure; 3)$2 billion to rebuild electrical infrastructure; 4)”not less than” $5 billion for gas and coal purchases. This $55 billion is in addition to the billions which supposedly have already been sent.
At the same time, the German publication, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, stated that Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmigal told the EU that Ukraine needs the 9 billion euros ($8.8 billion), which was approved in May. Ukraine needs that money right now. Shmigal said they needed the money not only for weapons, but to pay wages and pensions. He stated, “The most important thing for us is that it comes as soon as possible. We need it so our financial system can survive.” So while Zelensky is telling the U.S. that they need billions more, the Ukrainian Prime Minister is going to the EU appealing for billions as well. Yet we are supposed to believe Ukraine is winning and Russia is almost out of ammo and only has outdated tanks left. Usually the side that is dominating is not the one desperately in need of money to replenish its stock of destroyed weapons or fund infrastructure that has been destroyed. Russia’s ANNUAL defense budget is $51.3 billion, and they aren’t begging anyone for help. How are they doing that with the tiny economy they supposedly have?
I am not saying there is no explanation for this seemingly contradictory information. It could be that all the money the U.S. supposedly is sending to Ukraine is not getting there. Also, some real journalists, not in the MSM, suggest that a significant amount of those billions could be going to weapons manufacturers for weapons that will not be ready for quite some time. That would explain the $16.95 billion explosion in profits at Raytheon alone.
Or, reporters could check on Scott Ritter’s claim that he has seen a large number of these weapons available on the black market. Then again it is possible that some of that money is making its way back to those politicians who keep voting to support authorizing the funds. Connections with defense contractors could explain how, according to Col. Macgregor, Liz Cheney went from being worth $7 million to $40 million after 3 of her two year terms in office. But neither the political leaders nor the mainstream press seem interested in resolving or explaining anything. Ukraine is winning and still needs massive amounts of weapons and dollars. Accept that as the facts.
On the Russian side of things, I have previously mentioned my own personal experience here. I don’t see any great rise in prices; stores are well-stocked, and I hear and see the weapons at the artillery base here; I see the soldiers (many more than usual) in town when I go for my walks, and they seem in good spirits. Living here does not lead one to believe this is a country about to collapse under the weight of military defeat.
As far as the attitude of the people here toward Putin, I keep up with the polls of how Russians think about him. I primarily use Levada as the poll I follow. I have two reasons: First, they are not pro-Putin so no one can say it is one of Putin’s polls. Sometimes I read their commentary on the results and sense that they really do not like what they are reporting when it is good news for Putin. Second, in the last two elections which I have checked, the results turned out to be within about 2% of what the Levada polls had predicted.
At the end of September Putin’s approval rating was down to 77% from 82% in the previous poll. So he still has almost twice the approval rating Biden has in the U.S. Further, the dissatisfaction I have heard about Putin here is primarily about him not being aggressive enough in attacking Ukraine. I don’t know anyone who wanted this war with Ukraine. Nevertheless, they know the leaders in the U.S. have made it clear this war is not about helping Ukraine; this war is about the Americans wanting to tear down Russia.
The Russian people are not just trusting Putin more. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishushtin’s approval ratings are also up from their usual mid-50s before the invasion to ranging from 66% to 72% since February. The Government of Russia before the invasion had a 50% approval rating. Now it is between 68-71%. Rather than bringing Putin and his government down in the eyes of the Russian people, as Joe Biden promised, America’s actions have given greater stability to Putin’s support.
The last I’ll say on Ukraine for now concerns the reason I believe the U.S. is involved. It surely is not to save Ukrainian lives or to protect their borders. Russia and China stand in the way of the unipolar power that the U.S. craves. The Rand Corp. is a research think tank that frequently offers analyses to the U.S. Department of Defense. Several of Rand’s reports indicate there MUST be regime change in Russia to achieve the desired global supremacy. Putin must go. And many have been suggesting for some time that a proxy war in Ukraine is the best way to accomplish his removal.
PERSONAL SITUATION. My two kids here are doing well overall. Gabriel had a skin problem that finally cleared up. My little girl had bronchitis which kept her out of school for two weeks. Next week is fall break, and hopefully everyone will be full speed after that. Emotionally they seem to be doing fine. They mention their mom from time to time but it is always in a positive and cheerful way. They have fond memories of her.
My experience has been more complicated, as you might expect. It has now been over 14 months since Oksana passed away. I am getting back into life as I mentioned before. I remember from my days as a psychology major in my university studies reading Elizabeth Kubler Ross on the 5 stages of grief. Acceptance was the last one. From a very different perspective the Protestant missionary Elizabeth Elliot wrote a book on her husband’s murder. She, too, said acceptance is the goal toward which the grieving person must strive. To be honest, despite my undergraduate degree being in psychology and having a couple of theology degrees, I still had no clue what it meant to accept Oksana’s death.
In my opinion, there is so much about grief that one does not understand until you experience it. Only now do I believe I am accepting her death. I don’t keep saying or thinking, “if only Oksana were here.” I realize I’m on my own. I mentioned in my initial blog on my grief that one of the main problems I have had is with guilt. I said then I don’t mean I had cheated on her or did bad things to her. None of that! It was the guilt of wishing I had treasured her more. I wish I had gotten up and gone with her when she went to the market or shopping. There were so many things I could have done better. Acceptance, in my opinion, means you internalize the fact that this is the way life is. I had to accept my imperfections as a husband before I could accept her death. Then I changed the focus to the times, events and joys we did share together.
I have also been better with realizing sadness is not sacred. There is no value in feeling sad. It sounds weird, but it is like I felt obligated to continue being sad. To laugh again would be disrespectful. As an Orthodox Christian, I do not believe Oksana is sad. So I have tried to focus on things that do give me joy. My children are my main source of joy. As I’ve said, my son is a teenager. I don’t get many hugs from him. When I was 14 years old my dad didn’t get hugs from me! We do have good chats, however. On the other hand, my little girl loves giving me hugs and telling me she loves me. I focus on that. I know that sounds syrupy, but it is the truth.
The passing of time has also allowed me to get my mind back into the things I enjoy. I had lost my powers of concentration, but that’s better now. I mentioned I’m studying Russian with my priest’ daughter. She’s a great teacher, and I feel very comfortable admitting the things I just do not understand or can’t remember. I put the Russian lessons away for so long after Oksana died. Finally, some things are coming back. Furthermore, my tutor’s boyfriend is a Lieutenant in the Russian army and is in Ukraine, so we share our worries and our prayers with each other.
Also, I’m back to reading things I enjoy. I’m reading my favorite author G.K. Chesterton again. And I started reading the “children’s books” by C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia. Wow, I must have the mind of a child because those books are so enjoyable and relaxing.
I also get support from people at my church. Most of them don’t say that much because they know my Russian is not that great. But they let me know they are glad to see me and are praying for me. There are two older Russian gentlemen who come to me every Sunday I am there and give me a big Orthodox hug. They start talking to me, and even though I do miss some words, I can appreciate they are letting me know of their prayers and best wishes. Their genuine smiles do a lot for me.
In my blog, “A Grief Experienced,” I used C.S. Lewis’ book, A Grief Observed to talk about his and my grief. That book was immensely helpful to me. So many things he said I knew exactly what he meant and how he felt. There was one thing that he said, however, I did not understand at all. He said he didn’t want to forget his wife. How could you forget her??? Oksana was always on my mind! No way I could forget her. But I read the book again, and I realized he had more time between her death and writing that book than I had had.
For so long after Oksana died, I would walk by places that would bring back such memories of our shared joy that would just devastate me as I walked without her. There was a little playground outside an apartment complex that we would walk by when we first moved to Russia. Gabriel was 8 and Marina was barely 2. They would both go to that playground, and we would watch them laugh and play for a few minutes. After she died, I would walk by and fight that memory. The kids are older, and Oksana is gone. I couldn’t keep the memory away, and it was so painful.
With the passing of time, I can keep the memories away. That is a part of acceptance in my opinion. You can control your thoughts. But as I was walking and reflecting on that, I realized what Lewis meant. The memories are painful, so you push them away. But you don’t want to push all the memories away. How do you push away the pain and not push her from your memory? You don’t want to forget her. Just realizing that has helped me to cope with it thankfully.
Nevertheless, even though I am making progress, it is still lonely being a single parent in a foreign country. I constantly second guess myself. One friend told me to just go get me another Russian wife. I laughed and told him that apparently the Russian ladies are underwhelmed by me: there is no line of prospective Russian brides outside my door! It is good to laugh. On a serious note, however, I wonder how I will do living life here in Russia as my kids get older. For a number of reasons, I feel so detached from my American homeland. I can’t wait till we can visit again, but I don’t see how I could live there–after all I’ve seen from living on the outside.
I can’t solve that dilemma now. Again, I keep reminding myself that I am a person of faith. What I have to do now is something else Elizabeth Elliot said that I believe I have mentioned before. She said, “Just do the next thing.” When the worries of the future start stabbing my mind, I change my thoughts: what time do I have to wake the kids up tomorrow? Do I have my grocery list ready? Sounds trivial I know, but sometimes the deep things in life are beyond our capacity to bear.