From Russia With… Love?


Aside from completing my civic duty and voting in the 2012 Presidential Election as a newly initiated U.S. citizen, the last time I distinctly remember being even the slightest bit politically involved was in the fall of 2005, as a socially awkward 8th grader. As part of some assignment or other in Social Studies, I had written official letters to the senators and representatives of the glorious state of Massachusetts about driving age policies and restrictions. Of course, I couldn’t even drive back then, so I’m not sure how my arguments played out exactly, but I do remember receiving official, polite responses (no doubt, drafted by the office secretaries) to my letters, formal stamps and signatures, included. Yay, the system works!

Now, considering the current Russia-Ukraine conflict afflicting the public’s attention, I think it is time I involve myself in politics once more, if only briefly. It is (hopefully) common knowledge that Ukraine was once part of the Soviet Union, gaining its independence as a nation-state merely 23 years ago in 1991. It is, understandable then, that the people of Ukraine and the people of the Russian Federation had close ties throughout history, lingering into present day. I myself have Ukrainian ties — my father’s side of the family is from Ukraine and presently resides there. And if I dig far enough into old family albums, I can show you photos of a 3 year old me in an obsolete Ukrainian prairie, clad in a surprisingly ugly sundress, with one of the neighbor’s kids (and I’ve definitely Instagrammed this exact photo as a #tbt before). But I also have Russian ties — my mother’s side of the family, with whom I am closest, is from Russia and currently resides both in the capital of Moscow and in a little-known town by the name of Yelets, in the Lipetsk Oblast (region).

So, when people ask me what I identify as, American or Russian, having grown up here I normally say I consider myself an American but with Russian — well, Soviet — roots if you will. My family is not religious by any means, but we keep up with the Russian traditions like Noviy God (New Year’s), Maslenitsa (basically an excuse to stuff ourselves with blini, the Russian equivalent of crepes), etc. I’ve gone back to the Motherland to visit several times since immigrating to America, and I’ve enjoyed every moment of my trips. When I’m in Russia, I’m one of them. I blend seamlessly with the crowds. As a person holding dual citizenship, I enter the country with (one of) my Russian passports, not my American one. There are many reasons I love visiting: the food, the family, the city landscape and architecture eerily echoes a future I could have had if I had stayed. But notice, I always say ‘visiting,’ because, as good as my visits are, after a week or two, I ache to go home, and home is back in the U.S. If anyone ever asks if I would move back to Russia permanently, I am quick to respond with a half-humored ‘no,’ as if such an idea is too silly for me to even seriously consider.

And why is that?

The reason is simple: the severity of the brainwashing by and corruption of the Russian political body. I say political body because the Russian people are good and kind-hearted as a whole, yet they are brainwashed and encircled by so much corruption, they fail to see its existence. I have read several books on the subject, but a particular favorite of mine is Putin’s Russia, by Anna Politkovskaya. One of the most resounding quotes states,

“We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it’s total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial—whatever our special services, Putin’s guard dogs, see fit.”

It is a common headline in Russia that someone opposing the current regime was found dead under mysterious circumstances. The death goes almost unnoticed and no punishment is sought. Politkovskaya herself was a victim to such a mysterious crime in 2006, when she was shot and killed in the elevator of her own apartment complex. Of course, no one was charged in relation to the murder.

It is difficult for an American to understand the extent of the situation in Russia, because freedom of speech is such a basic right in this country, protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. In Russia, there is no such luxury. Perhaps this is why a lot of outsiders do not understand the gravity or the full extent of the situation. The largest nation in the world is under the power of a very tight-knit group of powerful politicians, under Putin, of course, who have most likely earned their post illegitimately, either through connections or through bribery. It is because of this complex, corrupt web that most leaders of European countries, along with the United States, do not dare to open fire, literally or figuratively on Putin’s Russia.

With all that in mind, I urge those who are not in the middle of the conflict currently unfolding in Ukraine, to realize two things: one, that the Russian people as a whole do not support Putin’s actions and have even protested against them (though the public press will never hear about this) and two, the Russian press is heavily controlled by the state and publishes not the cold hard truth, like our U.S. press often does, but what it is told to publish by the guys in charge. Thus, equating the Russian people to the Russian politicians is simply crass. The Russian people do not support the actions of the Russian politicians, but the rest of the world will rarely distinguish that important fact when browsing through the latest Internet headlines, all with titles like ‘Russia Threatens Western Assets.’ It is a mistake to group the citizens of a nation that has so much potential, were it not in the hands of a small group of amoral individuals.

Russia is a great nation, dirtied by the last century’s worth of regimes and policies. It is perhaps one of my greatest hopes that it is saved and restored to its highest potential during my lifetime, even if I’m an old babushka and half-deaf by then.