As I write these words, I am trying to reconcile two divergent Russian realities.
The first is the overwhelmingly positive collection of impressions, experiences, and interviews Mikhail Mordasov and I gathered over the course of our month-long Spine of Russia trip (spineofrussia.org) in October and November. We were received well (with one notable exception), the travel facilities were beyond commendable, the food superb, and the people and places we profiled endlessly fascinating. In short, it reinforced all the feelings of affection for Russia I have accumulated over the 30 years I have been following and writing about this country.
The second reality is the collection of overwhelmingly negative impressions of Russia that for the past two years have been lingering front and center in the news and on the world stage: sanctions and counter-sanctions following the Crimea annexation and war in Ukraine; Russia’s antagonism with many nations along its western borders (Georgia, Ukraine, Turkey, Estonia); the crashing ruble; the evaporation of a free, independent media; the use of courts as political weapons; the division of society into “patriots” and “traitors”; the relentless accumulation of Russia’s wealth into the hands of a connected few.
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