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Building Civil Society in Russia – An Example from Krasnodar

(Pedestrian thoroughfare in downtown Krasnodar, Russia; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin)

Krasnodar, meaning “beautiful gift”, is located in the Black Sea region of southern Russia.  After suffering a devastating level of damage during the Second World War, Krasnodar showed its independence and resourcefulness when it eschewed financial assistance from Moscow and embarked on its own rebuilding efforts.

Formerly a provincial town in a largely agricultural region, Krasnodar has recently evolved into a cosmopolitan city that is the 8th largest in the country.  It saw a such a high rate of civic construction in 2014 that it surpassed even Moscow.  As a consequence of the challenges presented by this rapid development, Krasnodar is showing its spirit of resourcefulness once again with the rise of the Public Council as an independent citizen initiative to make the city government’s process more responsive to the needs and desires of the people living there.

 Continue reading here

How Crimeans See Ukraine Crisis

A map showing Crimea (in beige) and its proximity to both the Ukrainian mainland and Russia.

(A map showing Crimea (in beige) and its proximity to both the Ukrainian mainland and Russia.)

We had boarded the bus that would transport us from the gates of Moscow’s Vnukovo airport to the plane waiting on the tarmac to fly us to Simferopol, Crimea, when a friendly blonde in her late 30’s asked us in accented English if we were from “The States”?

When we answered that we were, she told us she currently lived in Texas but was going to visit relatives in Crimea. As we chatted more and my travel mate and I explained our reason for going there – to see Crimea for ourselves and find out from the people living there what they thought about the Ukraine war and the peninsula’s reunification with Russia – it became apparent that this lady had a few things she wanted to get off her chest.

“You cannot separate Ukraine from Russia, there is too much culture and history together,” she said.  Choking up on her words, she continued, “American people are good people – I have many friends in the U.S. – but their government leaders are not because they interfere too much in other places. I worry about Hillary [Clinton], you know. When [Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi was killed, she said ‘We came, we saw, he died. Ha ha.’ What kind of leader is that? Is she going to be the next president?”

She felt that, due to the violence on the Maidan and Washington’s interference in the form of Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland’s manipulations, Putin’s intervention in Crimea was correct:  “Putin did the right thing for Crimea, he is a good leader.”

When we landed in Simferopol, it was clear that the small airport had been recently renovated as everything was clean and freshly painted. After haggling down the price to something reasonable with the proprietor of a taxi service, we loaded ourselves into a cab in which stale cigarette smoke hung thick in the air.

My travel mate, who spoke functional Russian, asked the driver what he thought about Crimea’s reunification with Russia. He replied in broken English, “Historically and ethnically we are Russian, so it is better to be with Russia than Ukraine.” He acknowledged, however, that there were still many problems to be addressed and it would take time, but with Russia they now had hope.

His sentiments would be echoed throughout our stay in Crimea. Tatyana, a professional tour guide from Yalta, told us the next day that, in terms of road repair and airport renovation, there had been more infrastructure investment in one year under Russian governance than there had been in all the 23 years with post-Soviet Ukraine.

Looking around Simferopol, more such investment would obviously be needed. The roads and buildings had not been sufficiently maintained and it gave the place an air of being run down. Alongside that, however, were parks and trees, roads filled with people in cars and packed mini-buses during commute hours, and parents walking on sidewalks clutching the hands of their small children. Everyone was dressed in the typical Western attire one would see in the U.S. and most young people fingered smart phones.

On the bus ride from Simferopol to Yalta, there were many small houses in various stages of disrepair and frozen construction. My travel mate, who had been going in and out of Russia since the 1980s, remarked that it looked like the Soviet era.

As we approached the Yalta coastline, however, the lush trees and sparkling blue water that reflected a sunlit sky, emerged from the mountainous journey, dissipating the gloom. We toured Livadia Palace, the seasonal home of the czars from Alexander II to Nicholas II. It was also the location of the famous Yalta Conference of 1945 where Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin met as WWII was winding down.

Afterwards, we walked down a lane littered with lovely and well-cared for “stray” cats that now took up residence on the grounds of the palace. Then we came to a small two-story restaurant where we had lunch with Tatyana, who articulated the feelings of many Crimeans about the Maidan protests that rocked Kiev in early 2014:

“No one asked us if we wanted to go along with Maidan. There are Russians as well as people who are a mix of Russian and Ukrainian here. We are not against Ukraine as many of us have relatives there, but Maidan was not simply a spontaneous protest. We are aware of the phone call with Victoria Nuland and [U.S. Ambassador] Geoffrey Pyatt, we saw the photos of her with [opposition leaders] Yatsenyuk, Tiagnibok [leader of Svoboda, the neo-fascist group that was condemned by the EU in 2012], and Klitschko on television. We saw the images of her handing out cookies to the protesters.”

We returned to Simferopol that evening and talked to a group of local small business entrepreneurs. They spoke of the many disruptions that the political upheaval with Ukraine and the subsequent reunification had caused. Kiev stopped paying salaries and pensions and even cut off electricity, which prompted Russia to provide generators to hospitals and other establishments where there were significant numbers of people in need.

In fact, Crimea had been dependent upon Ukraine for 70 percent of its power since reunification. Consequently, Russia is in the process of laying a power cable beneath the Kerch Strait from the Krasnodar region, which is now partially operational and will be fully operational by summer of 2016.

In the meantime, Russia had been paying Ukraine $211 million to supply Crimea with energy through the end of 2015. In what is perceived by many to be retaliation for seceding, Ukraine had seriously cut energy supplies to Crimea without notice numerous times throughout 2014 andraised prices by 15 percent. Similar issues with water supply have also been reported.

“Kiev claims they want us back, but then they alienate us even more with these kinds of actions,” said one of the entrepreneurs, shaking his head.

Continue reading here

 

Vladimir Putin: Neither a Monster Nor a Messiah

Russian President Vladimir Putin taking the presidential oath at his third inauguration ceremony on May 7, 2012. (Russian government photo)

(Vladimir Putin takes presidential oath of office, May 7, 2012; Russian government photo)

Many westerners are understandably disillusioned with Western policies and culture (largely led by the US), both of which have degenerated. The former into unabashed imperialism, militarism (both at home and abroad), and oligarchy and the latter into crass consumerism, sexual exhibitionism and social alienation. Consequently, many of these people are looking for something.

Enter into this picture, Russian president Vladimir Putin — pointing out the tragic folly of western policies (again, largely led by Washington) on the world stage in public forums, countering said folly with a combination of diplomacy and limited military actions in reaction to western provocations and general mess-making.  Simultaneously, in the search for social glue, Putin has encouraged a re-discovery of Russia’s pre-Soviet cultural heritage, with the Orthodox Church playing a significant role and Russians’ social conservatism acknowledged.  All this reflects the concept of boundaries, rootedness and order where the west seems to have long-forgotten each in the arrogant belief it doesn’t need them.

There is also a strong sense of duty and loyalty that Putin personally values — sometimes to an extreme.  These qualities make him attractive to western conservatives, despite the fact that in many ways he is a statist.

In previous writings, I have debunked a number of myths propagated by the western mainstream media that portray Putin as some archetypal monster-villain, Hitler-Stalin-Al Capone-and KGB assassin all rolled into one slipper.

But in my perusal of a wide range of alternative media sites and their comments sections, I have observed another trend, with a segment of people who are viewing Putin as some kind of Messiah figure. Whether right, left or libertarian, these people are justifiably fed up with American empire, propaganda, and the resulting detritus.  However, just like the demonizers, some of these people lack nuance and complexity in their analyses and often have little understanding of Russian culture, political history, and the current complex dynamics in the Kremlin which all factor into who Putin is and his decision-making.

I hate to break it to these people, but Putin is not looking to save the world.

Putin is, first and foremost, a Russian patriot and pragmatist who’s top priorities are the security and stability of Russia as well as improving Russians’ living standards.  Anyone who has an understanding of Russian geography and history immediately comprehends these priorities and why they resonate with the Russian people, who overwhelmingly believe that Putin is a good leader, whatever his flaws admittedly may be.

Putin wants to stop Washington’s regime change madness in Ukraine and the Middle East because it is seriously destabilizing an area that is in Russia’s backyard and, if left unchecked, has the potential to destabilize Russia directly in the future.  To the extent that Putin’s policies countering the Washington empire may lead to a more peaceful and stable world in the future, it is an ancillary benefit and not necessarily Putin’s primary goal.

Putin believes that a multi-polar world with more equitable development and decision-making will provide the conditions in which his three priorities for Russia have the best chance of being fulfilled.

Putin has a history of trying to achieve his real goals using diplomacy and accommodation with the west that is meant to be reciprocal of each party’s interests.  For example, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin was the first world leader to call president Bush to offer his condolences and support.  His reasoning was 2-fold: one, he saw the U.S. and Russia as having a mutual interest in fighting Islamist terrorism; second, he knew that he had a tall order in successfully addressing the many profound problems facing Russia at the time, which included a cratered economy, massive crime and corruption, and the worst mortality crisis since WWII.  He would need to put as much time, energy and resources as he could muster into the project of rehabilitating his country — which meant not wasting precious time, energy and resources in unnecessary conflict with the world’s lone superpower.  Going against the advice of most of his security team, he provided logistical and intelligence support as well as access to temporary military bases on behalf of the U.S. operation in Afghanistan.

In return for this assistance, Putin received the equivalent of a swift kick in the shins from the Neocon Bush administration in the form of a unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to pursue a “missile defense shield” in 2002 and the accession of 7 more nations of Eastern Europe into NATO in 2004.

Seemingly undeterred, in 2008, Putin ordered the Russian Foreign Ministry to draft a proposal that Dmitry Medvedev took to Brussels, outlining a security plan that would cover all of the Euro-atlantic community and Russia, obviating the need for NATO’s continued existence, much less its expansion.

The preamble states that:

…the use of force or the threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other way inconsistent with the goals and principles of the Charter of the United Nations is inadmissible in their mutual relations, as well as international relations in general.

It also reiterates the intent to cooperatively address any security concerns that may arise among members:

Intending to build effective cooperation mechanisms that could be promptly activated with a view to solving issues or differences that might arise, addressing concerns and adequately responding to challenges and threats in the security sphere.

The body of the document contains mechanisms for how dealing with security concerns or breaches of security could be handled.  This proposal was sent to the leaders of relevant nations as well as the heads of EU, NATO and OSCE, emphasizing that Russia was open to suggestions and negotiation on the plan.

Putin’s pursuit of these kinds of policies is less an example of him donning some hippie beads while singing songs from Jesus Christ Superstar, and more a pragmatic realization that, if successfully implemented, they would better enable him to protect and develop his country in a way that is consistent with its particular geography, history and culture.

Of course, Putin and Medvedev heard crickets in response to their proposal.

Not long afterward, Mikheil Saakashvili, egged on by elements in Washington, staged a military incursion into South Ossetia, killing Russian peacekeepers and prompting a military smackdown by Russia.  Five years later, the EU recklessly tried to pressure Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to sign an Association Agreement that contained terms and consequences that would be unwise (to say the least) for the leader of an already poor and divided nation on Russia’s border to agree to.  Again, elements from Washington egged on violent and provocative actions; then, subsequently, pissed and moaned about the more forceful and predictable reaction from Russia, conveniently forgetting the diplomatic gestures for cooperation that had been offered that could potentially prevent and/or resolve these problems in everyone’s interests.

With much of western leadership so irrational and drunk on power, westerners cannot be blamed for admiring an intelligent and pragmatic leader who does not eschew the art of diplomacy on behalf of his country’s interests.

Rob Kall: Is NATO Member Turkey Aiding and Abetting ISIS/DAESH?

 

Photo: Screenshot/Anadolu Agency

Turkey seems to be one of the biggest factors in the abetting, empowering, even training and funding ISIS. Why is the MSM ignoring this? Why are members of congress ignoring this. At Least Joe Biden has talked about it.

It is looking more and more like Turkey, a member of NATO, is massively abetting ISIS, with the United States and NATO looking the other way.

After Turkey shot down a Russian jet, the NY Times reports that Vladimir Putin “called the downing of the Russian fighter a “stab in the back” by those who “abet” terrorism, and he accused Turkey of aiding the Islamic State by helping it sell its oil.”

 

Continue reading here

 

How Russians See the West and Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin taking the presidential oath at his third inauguration ceremony on May 7, 2012. (Russian government photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin taking the presidential oath at his third inauguration ceremony on May 7, 2012. (Russian government photo)

 

After a year and a half of conducting research on Russia, the world’s largest country, mostly for a book I co-authored on the history of post-Soviet U.S.-Russia relations and its context for the Ukraine conflict, it was time for me to finally go see this beautiful, fascinating and complex nation in person and to meet its people on their own terms and territory.

On this maiden voyage to Russia, I visited six cities in two weeks:  Moscow, Simferopol, Yalta, Sevastopol, Krasnodar and St. Petersburg. In each city, I talked to a cross-section of people, from cab drivers and bus riders to civil society workers, professionals, and entrepreneurs of small- to medium-sized businesses.

I even had an opportunity to hear what teenagers had to say in two of those cities as my travel mate and I participated in a Q&A session with students of a private high school in St. Petersburg and teens who were part of various youth clubs in Krasnodar. Their questions reflected a thoughtful engagement with the world as they led to discussions on environmental sustainability, socially responsible economics and how to promote initiative, goodwill and peaceful conflict resolution.

Many of the adults were no less thoughtful during the formal interviews and informal conversations I had with them. Admittedly, I wondered how I would be received as an American during one of the most acrimonious periods of U.S.-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War.

It helped that my travel mate has been going in and out of Russia since the 1980s, lives part-time in St. Petersburg, and has developed good relations with many Russians across the country. Once most Russians realized that I came in goodwill and did not approach them or their country with a superiority complex, they usually responded with some combination of curiosity, honesty and hospitality.

Below is a summary of what Russians that I spoke to thought about a range of issues, from their leader to their economy to the Ukraine war, Western media’s portrayal of them and what they wanted to say to Americans.

Continue reading here

Russia Photos

 

 

 

Entrance to Red Square Moscow

Entrance to Red Square, Moscow

GUM Shopping Complex Red Square Moscow

GUM Shopping Complex, Red Square, Moscow

Kremlin Wall Red Square Moscow

Kremlin Wall, Red Square, Moscow

Red Square Moscow 2

Red Square, Moscow

St Basil's Cathedral Red Square Moscow.Edited

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

Church Rebuilt in 1990s Outside Red Square Moscow

Church destroyed under Stalin’s orders, rebuilt with original blueprints in early 1990’s, outside Red Square, Moscow

Child Breaching Barricades on Red Square Moscow

Child breaches the barricades at Red Square, Moscow

Red Square Squat Building is Lenin's Tomb

Squat building in center is Lenin’s Tomb, Red Square, Moscow

Outside Red Square Moscow

Outside Red Square, Moscow

Bolshoi Theater Moscow.Edited

Bolshoi Theater, Moscow

Moscow Street Life

Moscow Street Life

Lake Park Moscow

Park in Moscow

Mural in downtown Moscow

One of many murals in Moscow

Monument to Soviet Workers Moscow.Edited

Monument to Soviet Worker, Moscow

Gagarin Monument Moscow

Gagarin Monument, Moscow

Monument to DeGaulle Cosmos Moscow

Monument to Charles DeGaulle in front of Cosmos Hotel in Moscow

American Embassy Moscow

The American Embassy in Moscow

Meeting of Public Council in Krasnodar

Meeting of Public Council in Krasnodar, Russia

Thoroughfare for pedestrians in downtown Krasnodar

Thoroughfare for pedestrians in downtown Krasnodar

NGO Ladies in Krasnodar II

Civil society workers in Krasnodar

Bus Station in Simferopol Olga

Bus station in Simferopol, Crimea

Father and son bus station simferopol

Father and son wait at bus station in Simferopol, Crimea

Botanical Park in Simferopol Crimea

Botanical park in Simferopol, Crimea

Me at Botanical Park in Simferopol Crimea

Me at botanical park in Simferopol, Crimea

Commemoration of 70th Anniversary of Victory Day Libadia Palace Yalta

Commemoration of 70th Anniversary of Victory Day, WWII, at Livadia Palace, Yalta, Crimea

Courtyard where famous photo of FDR Stalin Churchill was shot Libadia Palace

Courtyard where famous photo of FDR, Churchill and Stalin was shot at Yalta Conference in 1945, Livadia Palace

Room where final documents signed at Yalta Conference Libadia Palace

Room where final documents of the Yalta Conference were signed, Livadia Palace

Room with Paintings of Czar & Czarina at Libadia Palace

Room at Livadia Palace with full portraits of Czar and Czarina

View of Yalta Coastline from Balcony of Libadia Palace

View of Yalta Coastline from balcony at Livadia Palace

Wax Figures of Yalta Conference Libadia Palace

Wax figures of Yalta Conference at Livadia Palace

Bust of Nicholas II at Libadia Palace

Bust of Nicholas II at Livadia Palace

Dock at Naval Base Sevastopol 2

Dock at naval base, Sevastopol, Crimea

Tower Naval Base Sevastopol

Naval base, Sevastopol, Crimea

Walking Bridge at Naval Base Sevastopol

Walking bridge at naval base, Sevastopol, Crimea

Starducks Coffe Naval Base Sevastopol

Starducks Coffee at naval base, Sevastopol, Crimea

Leader of Black Sea Cossacks Sevastopol

Leader of the Black Sea Cossacks, Sevastopol, Crimea

Retired Naval Officer Sevastopol

Retired naval officer, election monitor during Crimean referendum, Sevastopol

Nicolai with flag in Sevastopol

Nicolai, who was a driver during the “Crimean Spring” aka “Third Defense of Sevastopol” in Sevastopol, Crimea

Billboard of Putin.Russia.Crimea.Forever.Edited

Popular billboard seen throughout Crimea with Putin’s image, it reads “Crimea. Russia. Forever.” 

Church on Spilt Blood St Petersburg NB

Church on Spilt Blood, built on site of Alexander II’s assassination in 1881, St. Petersburg

Astoria Hotel St Petersburg.Edited

Astoria Hotel where Hitler planned to celebrate the taking of Leningrad, St. Petersburg

Peter the Great Monument 2

Peter the Great Monument, St. Petersburg

Palace Square St Petersburg.Edited

Palace Square, where desperate peasants and workers pleaded for justice and were massacred by Nicholas II’s forces in 1905, St. Petersburg

Alexander's Monument in St Petersburg

Alexander’s Column, Palace Square, St. Petersburg

Palace in St Petersburg

Palace in St. Petersburg

Building where Rasputin was Murdered St Petersburg

Building where Rasputin was murdered, St. Petersburg

Russian Art Museum in St Petersburg

Russian Art Museum, Palace Square, St. Petersburg

The Hermitage in St Petersburg

The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

St Petersburg at Night.Edited

One of the palaces in St. Petersburg at night

St Isaac's Cathedral St Petersburg.Edited

St. Isaac’s Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in the world, St. Petersburg

Singer Sewing Building in St Petersburg

The Singer Sewing Machine Building in St. Petersburg

All photos by Natylie S. Baldwin, 2015

 

 

 

Postcard from Krasnodar

Thoroughfare for pedestrians in downtown Krasnodar

Thoroughfare for pedestrians in downtown Krasnodar

I have to say that Krasnodar really blew me away since there was such a gap between my expectations and what I actually encountered there. I expected a sleepy agricultural town in the Black Sea region; however, what I saw was a vibrant city with some very civic-minded people taking the initiative to resolve problems in their communities and get local government to be responsive to the needs and desires of the residents.

 

To continue reading, go here

Yalta, Then and Now

From commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Churchill_and_Roosevelt_Yalta.jpg: File:Churchill and Roosevelt Yalta.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
File:Churchill and Roosevelt Yalta.jpg – Wikimedia Commons
(image by commons.wikimedia.org) License DMCA

The small airport at Simferopol had already been renovated as everything was clean and freshly painted. We made our way out into the night, which wasn’t the plan. Our original flight had been cancelled so we had to wait for another flight and got in five hours later than expected.

The overpowering stench of old cigarette smoke nearly suffocated me when we got into the taxi — a major contrast to Moscow where, as a result of the government’s anti-smoking campaign of the last few years, there weren’t that many smokers and those who were around had to do the deed outside.

As I rolled down the window for some relief, Sharon exchanged pleasantries with our driver — where we were from, etc. I asked her to ask him in Russian what he thought of Crimea’s reunification with Russia. He summed up, in broken English, what many people I talked to over the next couple of days would say: “Historically and ethnically, we are Russian, so it’s better to be with Russia than Ukraine.” But he also acknowledged that there were still plenty of problems that needed to be addressed and that it would take time; but under the leadership of Russia, they now had hope.

Continue reading here

Postcard from Moscow

St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow
St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
My travel mate, who has been going in and out of Russia since the Soviet days in 1983 and lives part-time in St. Petersburg, commented how the taxi lane outside of the main airport in Moscow had in previous years been madness, with a glut of unofficial taxi drivers mixed in with the official ones.  Competition over potential customers would sometimes result in fistfights.
However, there was no sign of such anarchy when we rolled our luggage out into a surprisingly bright sunny day after spending approximately 15 hours crammed onto three airplanes.  Only official taxi drivers were seen dotting the lane as regulation of the business has now kicked in.  Our driver deftly wheeled us around the city to our hotel — and I say deftly because it looked like driving in Moscow would be pretty stressful.
A good stretch of highway near the airport had road signs in English beneath the Russian.  We made our way past a combination of new, colorful high-rise apartment buildings, dreary square apartments from the late Soviet era, and modern Russian commercial outlets.  One couldn’t go far without seeing a good number of western and Japanese companies as well:  BMW, Mercedes, Toyota, McDonald’s, Levi’s, Michelin, and TGIFridays.
Parks and greenbelts could be seen throughout the city.  At one point, we passed a lovely blue pedestrian bridge.  I began to notice the mix of old blue and white buses that ran with cables attached and those that looked very much like modern buses one would see in the San Francisco Bay Area; only the image of the distinctive onion dome cathedrals painted on the side would remind you that you are in Russia.  Most of the vehicles on the road were German or Japanese with a smattering of Lada’s here and there.  As a first-time visitor, I was struck by the fact that, in many ways, this large bustling city looked like any major American metropolis.
One amusing distinction was the street-sweeping trucks that mingled with the regular traffic, spraying blasts of water onto the roads as they went.  Other motorists could get a free partial car wash during their commute.
The streets are clean but the smell of gasoline was pungent in the air.  Evidence of ongoing road and building improvements was visible everywhere in the form of workers, their affiliated machinery and scaffolds.
On our second day, we toured Red Square and saw the onion-domed cathedrals in their glory of gold and pastel colors.  The enchanting hues of St. Basil’s Cathedral evoked the surreal feeling that I had been deposited into the middle of a children’s story book.
We also passed by the squat building below the Kremlin Wall that contains Lenin’s Tomb where people can view the Bolshevik leader’s embalmed remains — a preservation process that was so sophisticated it is said that he appears to simply be sleeping.  It wasn’t open on the day we were there, however.
On the other side of the square is the world-famous GUM shopping complex.  We stopped at an outdoor restaurant and had coffee before meeting up with a Russian executive who works for a major American corporation in Moscow.  (I’ll be writing more about that later).
GUM Shopping Complex, Red Square, Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
GUM Shopping Complex, Red Square, Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
Getting to Red Square and back from our hotel prompted us to take the Metro, which puts the BART system in the San Francisco Bay Area to shame in terms of interior design.  I was inside three stations and all were designed somewhat differently, but all of them had features of classical beauty, such as Roman arches, chandelier lighting, and lovely tiling on the walls.
Across the street from our hotel is the Soviet Exhibition of Economic Achievements, a major Stalin-era project that consists of elements of beauty, kitsch and creepiness all at once.  There are large ponderous buildings in what some describe as a Neo-Babylonian style, replicas of rockets and airplanes, and a carnival ferris wheel that is brilliantly lit up and turns at night.  Next to that is the Gagarin Monument, honoring the first Russian cosmonaut in space, Yuri Gagarin.  Further down in the opposite direction is the monument honoring the Soviet workers — a man and woman side by side, reaching up and out in triumph.  And in front of the hotel is a statue of Charles DeGaul, the independent French leader who eschewed NATO membership and called for a Europe stretching from Lisbon to Vladivistok (in Eastern Russia).
Monument to the Soviet Worker, Moscow, Russia;  photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
Monument to the Soviet Worker, Moscow, Russia; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
I was sad to leave Moscow but looked forward to the next stops on our itinerary:  Simferopol and Yalta in Crimea.

 

Citizen to Citizen Diplomacy in Russia: Americans Interview Andrei Kortunov

Moscow July, 2011 - Wikipedia
Moscow July, 2011 – Wikipedia
Note: As part of the citizen-to-citizen diplomacy group, consisting of 20 Americans and led by CCI’s Sharon Tennison, that traveled to Russia in June of this year, a discussion was conducted with Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and President of the New Eurasia Foundation (FNE). Below, Sharon provides an introduction to the interview, which can be viewed at the link that follows.
-Natylie

On June 2, 2015 we 20 American travelers split into groups of four and traveled by metros or taxis with student guides to different parts of Moscow. Our videographer Mel Van Dusen, Merlin Miller, organizer of a new political party from Tennessee, Charles Heberle, retired military who worked at the Pentagon and NATO and I went to see an old acquaintance with whom I’d kept up for over 30 years.

Back in 1984 a group of us got an appointment to Moscow’s U.S.-Canada Institute, a quite prestigious ‘think tank’ that was considered the most liberal in the Soviet Union. To our surprise a quite young, blonde-haired young man introduced himself as Andrei Kortunov. He was decades younger than others in this prestigious institute. Obviously bright and comfortable in his position, he seemed warmly predisposed to all things American unlike others we had met. Andrei was interested in getting to discuss issues off and on with citizen diplomats from the U.S. During the Gorbachev and Yeltsin years I watched his career take him to positions of responsibility wherein he remained the same logical, open, helpful personality he exhibited from the beginning.

Today Andrei is the Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and the President of the New Eurasia Foundation (FNE). He is still as down to earth, modest and as hesitant-to-be-sharp as was the fair-haired young man we met at around age 20. One thing noted this time, he seems weary now from dealing with the heavy issues of his position—-yet is as always the consummate gentleman. Mel pushed him with questions that finally brought out his feelings on a number of issues related to the US-Russia relationship.

Come along with us and meet Andrei. Opening scenes include the recently built pedestrian walkway over structures in downtown Moscow. We finally arrived at the new building that houses RIAC. Upon entering we passed through a gallery of magnificent paintings of 19th century Russian leaders. The environment was quite classical. Further into the building we navigated rooms of books, publications, researchers and on into Andrei’s office. This video segment was over an hour and was edited down to 13 minutes.

We hope this brief clip gives you insight into the thinking of most Russians in Andrei’s age group today. He is now somewhere around 50 years old.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAItu-Lpf3Qa