Sep/Oct 2018 Current Moscow Time: 02:04:02
20 September 2018

  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.


Author: Paul E. Richardson

Nov/Dec 2017
Page 4   ( 1 pages)

Summary: How much worse can US-Russian relations get? Don't ask.


I hesitate to put down my thoughts. Because every time I express the idea that US-Russian relations could not get any worse, they do.

The escalating rounds of diplomat expulsions this summer ensured not only that tensions between the US and Russia would increase, but also that we would have fewer mediators to deal with those tensions as they arise. Smart.

Of course, the tensions we read about in the press have little effect on what one meets on the ground when visiting Russia, as I witnessed during our extensive travels in August for our Children of 1917 project. We were received with fantastic hospitality and only the warmest of feelings. Average Russians, like their American (or British or German, etc.) counterparts, are able to separate the people from their leaders, the policy from the polity.

And yet, what one meets on the ground is not always the whole story. What is going on in people’s lives is not the first thing they share. Russians, as anyone, will put a better face on things, particularly for foreign visitors.

The reality is that things are very difficult in Russia right now. The increased tensions and the US and EU economic sanctions are making things difficult and uncomfortable for average folk, particularly those on fixed incomes. Yes, Russians are better than most at insulating themselves from such things, with their vast and interlocking family and social safety nets. But they are squeezed by the other part of reality on the ground: on top of the sanctions and the Russian Recession (spurred by sinking oil prices), people are also victimized by the voracious, ever-thickening tentacles of corruption and bribery. A Levada poll this summer found that one third of all Russians feel that corruption has “fully permeated the country’s government from top to bottom.” And 42 percent of Russians feel that President Putin is in large part responsible for this. Whether this will have an impact on next year’s presidential election is hard to say. But it will surely continue to sustain the general mood of helplessness and lack of control.

A not too dissimilar mood gripped Russia exactly a century ago, and indecisiveness and incompetence on the part of Russia’s political leadership cleared a path for the Bolshevik Revolution – perhaps the single most important historical event of the twentieth century. It was such because it not only devastated one of the world’s great powers via civil war, collectivization, and totalitarianism, but also set up the chess pieces for World War II, and set us on the path toward the Cold War, which had ripple effects around the globe, from Cuba to Vietnam, from China to the Middle East.

In this issue we finish our year-long series in the Calendar section, in which the history of 1917 is being retold through contemporaneous diaries and reports. And, in light of what I have written above, I was struck by the words in this issue of Vladimir Vernadsky: “You can’t help but think of the future. You want to find a solution that does not depend on chance circumstances.”

A hundred years and nothing changes.

Enjoy the issue.

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