Random Observations from Russia Trip

From: Bruce Gagnon's Blog

October 17-29 2018

Beautiful Balaklawa, Crimea was one of the places I was taken to during my recent trip to Russia.  It was the site of secret Russian nuclear submarines during the Cold War period.  Today it is a bristling tourist community.

Moscow (Oct 17-21)
  • Workers were cleaning practically every square inch of new airport terminal in Moscow.

  • Virtually no trash anywhere in subway or on streets and amazingly hardly any trash cans around.

  • Russia has gone capitalist big time. Many corporate brands from clothes, cosmetics, magazines (GQ & Esquire) and fast food chains (McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King) are all over the place.

  • Not everyone is happy with Putin. They tend to support his foreign policies but not so much his domestic policies.

  • Some told me they miss the striving for the common good during the days of the Soviet Union but like most people around the world they appreciate the increased material comforts.

  • Outside of Moscow and St Petersburg there is much poverty in the rural areas.

  • The education system in Russia, like in the US, is in decline. One person I met (a successful filmmaker who has had several of his films on national TV) can’t get his new critical film about education on TV. He and his partner (who also have a rock band together) interviewed me my first night in Moscow for their regular YouTube program.

  • While staying at the Hotel Cosmos in Moscow I witnessed hundreds of Chinese tourists at this historic hotel every day.

  • The subways are quite artistic and the trains run very frequently.

  • The Moscow airport is undergoing major expansion as is most of the city where loads of giant apartment and office buildings are under construction. Moscow is the largest city in Europe.

  • Virtually everyone here has a cell phone. I was probably one of the few in Moscow without one. At the Hotel Cosmos I could not get WIFI unless I had the ability to register online via a phone. I was frustrated until I found a nice young man who got me online using his phone.

  • I noticed that in the airport shops, restaurants, museums and other places there were ample workers unlike in corporate America where one person does the jobs of 2-4 others.

  • Almost all men have very short hair, only saw a few with longer hair. People tend to generally dress conservatively.

  • What little I saw of Moscow at night was impressive – they really know how to use colorful lights to brighten up the city.

  • Traffic in Moscow was usually very congested.

  • Much like in Maine pedestrians appear to be given the right-of-way.

  • People don’t acknowledge you when you pass them by – they keep a straight face. Once they warm up to you in social settings they are very friendly.

  • Generally, it appears that Russians are not fond of Americans.  Considering how the US installed Yeltsin after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and then brought in the ‘Harvard economic boys’ to privatize their economy it is understandable.  Add to that the US sponsored coup d’état in 2014 in Ukraine and expansion of NATO up to Russia’s borders it is easy to see whey they are not eager to embrace Americans. (Don't forget the US and EU sanctions as well.)

  • I saw auto dealers on TV selling Range Rovers.

  • Under pressure the government has changed their pension reform proposal from age 65 to age 63.Russians presently retire at 55.

  • According to SIPRI the US spends 35% of the global total of military – add NATO members spending and the figure is well over 50%. Russia spends 3.8% and has cut their military budget the last two years. The numbers don’t lie – it is impossible for Russia to ‘recreate the Soviet empire’ as many in the west claim.

  • It seems that generally people don’t appear to use seat belts in Russia.

  • Tea (Chi) is very popular in Russia.

  • Going thru security at Russian airports is a breeze. I didn’t have to take off my shoes or take out my laptop. And Russia is hyper-security conscious.

  • The US has recently dangerously orchestrated a split in the Orthodox Church between Ukraine and Russia. See more at http://thesaker.is/the-empire-splits-the-orthodox-world-possible-consequences/

  • Breakfast buffets in the three different hotels I stayed in come with the price of the room and offer a wide variety of food.

  • I saw several debates on Russian TV about the situation in Ukraine. I recognized some of the commentators from videos I’ve watched since the US directed coup in Kiev in 2014.

  • Russian people appear to be quite proud of their military – especially since it saved them from Hitler’s Nazi invasion that took the lives of 27 million people in the former Soviet Union. Today they see their military as defensive as they watch Nazis gain ascendancy in Ukraine and beyond.

  • Russian passengers on planes applaud when they safely land.

  • Russia is very conservative in many ways – proud of their long history. They wish to maintain their positive traditional values and national sovereignty. They don’t like people from other nations telling them how they should live.  Who would like that?

  • Out of my hotel window in Moscow I saw eight people raking leaves the old-fashioned way – not with gas driven and loud leaf blowers like here in the US.

  • While in Moscow I learned that an Islamist terror cell had been apprehended in the city. This is a key reason why Russia is so strict about their Visa entry process.

Crimea trip (Oct 21-25)
  • After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 the majority of Crimean’s voted to withdraw from Ukraine. Their vote was ignored. It was not until after the 2014 coup in Kiev when they voted again (about 96% in favor of leaving Ukraine) that their wish to return to the Russian Federation bore fruit.

  • I spoke to two English classes at a public school in Yalta, Crimea. The students were very sharp and I had fun. I recognized many students from films by Regis Tremblay. See his Russia film with the students at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbMArXkJhkQ

  • We ate lunch in the student cafeteria – very healthy fare. No fried food or soda.

  • While in Yalta I visited the Livadia palace of Czar Nicolas II and the site of the post WW II summit with Stalin, FDR and Churchill.

  • My hotel in Yalta was located on Roosevelt St and there was a statue of FDR just across the street.

  • Russian women tend to dress smartly and fashionably. When my guide Tanya in Crimea saw my small roll on suitcase she joked that is was the same size as her cosmetics bag. Once you get to know them Russians have a great sense of humor.

  • On my first day in Simferopol, Crimea Tanya took me to a café where we were met by four women (journalists and activists) who began brainstorming the best activities when our Global Network study tour group comes to Crimea in the spring of 2019.

  • Well-fed cats in Crimea are everywhere as the Communist-era ethic of sharing works for the felines even under capitalism.

  • The first signs of military presence I saw in Russia was in Sevastopol, Crimea primarily because it is the long-time city of Russian Navy and Air Force bases located on the Black Sea.

  • Olga, my Livadia palace guide, in Yalta loves Nicholas II and wants Putin to be a czar. With a big smile she jokes that she wants Russia to take over Great Britain because she loves the Queen – but only Great Britain – no other nation.

  • Olga and our driver to Sevastopol had a long debate during the trip about two Russian members of the national soccer team that were caught beating up some person. The driver wants the footballers sent to Siberia to cut trees and Olga thinks the media made too much of the incident.

  • During 1941-44 Nazi Germany occupied Crimea. This region had the most partisan resistance to the German Army of all the Soviet Union.  Crimean’s take seriously the growing Nazification of Ukraine that is today backed by US-NATO.  They are happy they voted to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia.

  • At Sevastopol I attended a 100th anniversary celebration inside a lovely theatre of the Young Communist League – Komsomol. There was much singing, amazing Russian dances and awards. During the time of the Soviet Union almost all children were members of Komsomol. Today about 10% of the youth are members. It was a fascinating experience.

  • I noticed a massive building all lit up in the night in Yalta and asked Tanya what it was. She said Ukraine wanted it to be apartments for NATO soldiers but now since Crimea voted to return to Russia it is apartments for the public. Wow, I said, that would have been a disaster if NATO had got ahold of Crimea. It wouldn’t have happened Tanya said, we’d have had a civil war.

  • I turned the TV on in Yalta and saw the Russian equivalent of Judge Judy.

  • Yalta is full of trees – a virtual forest in the city.

  • I asked Tanya why the US demonizes Russia so much. ‘They want our resources’ she replied. Russia has the largest border with the Arctic Ocean and as the ice melts drilling for oil and natural gas becomes possible there.  Note that just a couple weeks ago US-NATO held massive war games in northern Norway aimed at Russia.

  • One building in Sevastopol has a large picture of Putin painted on it. A local man told us that the house was built without all the required permits.Now it is likely that no one will say anything because of the Putin portrait.

Back to Moscow (Oct 25-29)
  • While in Moscow, before I left for Crimea, I was invited to attend a weekend conference of The Union of Political Emigrants & Political Prisoners from Ukraine.  So, I extended my trip by several days so I could attend the event after I returned from the Crimea.

  • The Union of Migrant Workers reports that 70,000 people from the former Soviet Union (particularly from Central Asia) are now working inside Russia. The economic situation in these former republics is quite difficult. Russia is 2nd to the US in the number of labor migrants. Some of these workers get exploited by Russian employers. Most do menial work.

  • Younger Russians don’t have a feeling of comradeship with those from former Soviet republics as their parents and grandparents do.

  • One conference participant reported that repression in Lithuania is growing as that nation, under US direction, becomes more right-wing. A Nazi collaborator in Lithuania during WW II (now dead) is being made into a national hero. He took part in extermination of Jews. When a member of one city council spoke out against this he was arrested for ‘Crimes against the state’ and remains in jail. Many other such cases abound in the Baltics and in Ukraine. Many thousands have fled the growing Nazi brutality in Ukraine by going to Europe or Russia.

  • One Communist leader said that unless the current capitalist system in Russia is changed then the nation will face a collapse like in 1991 when the former Soviet Union came apart.

  • Near the conference hotel was a 'Red Bar' whose interior was all Soviet era stuff.  Books, TV's, tape recorder, flags, photos, medals, and even a bust of Lenin. The food was good and the Russian beer enjoyable.

  • An editor of a well-known political journal told conference attendees that he disagrees with Putin’s government because it follows too closely the western model. Instead the country should pursue the Chinese economic model of heavy participation of the state and long-range planning.  He stated that ‘We are in a very risky position that could lead to war due to Trump’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty [and previously the ABM Treaty during the George W. Bush administration].  One of the sources of Putin’s weakness is that he refuses to respond to repeated blows by the US.’

  • Three representatives from Brazil reported that the recently elected far-right (fascist) President Balsonaro is being groomed by the US to make Brazil a subordinate agent in the global campaign against Russia and China. An international movement is needed to show solidarity with Brazil’s movement opposing fascism in their country.

  • Steve Bannon (who helped Trump get elected) was engaged to help organize the Balsonaro campaign in Brazil.  He used high-tech methods to identify politically alienated people.  Balsonaro is supported by right-wing Army officers and traditional rich elites.

  • Several remarked during the conference that US corporate oligarchies don’t want to allow any truly independent nations. They are trying to implement global slavery.  I agree with their analysis.

  • People in Donbass (eastern Ukraine) blame the US-NATO for the ongoing conflict there that has taken the lives of well over 10,000 people.

  • Ukraine is becoming a training base for terrorism to attack Russia and other nations.  Radical Islamist fighters are in Ukraine and will be used to attack Russia via the Caucuses, Central Asia and Ukraine.  They are given Ukrainian passports and can easily enter EU nations Visa free.

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