MOSCOW/SEVASTOPOL – Meditations from lay Zen Buddhist and travel writer Eric Arnow about the historical and ideological differences between Russia and the West, written after NATO’s push into Ukraine and Putin’s repatriation of the Crimean peninsula. This is Part 2 of the series. Part 1 is entitled ‘A Traveler’s Impressions from Western-sanctioned Russia‘.
by Eric Arnow
Another example was a recent US story by some American who said that the Nazis and Russians planned to divide up Europe in a treaty called the Molotov Ribbentrop treaty.
I had to point out to the person who told me about that, that Stalin wanted to build communism within Russia, and defeated Trotsky, who wanted communism to expand. Hitler’s Mein Kampf made it clear that he wanted to expand to the East, that he regarded Slavic people with contempt. So that treaty was similar to Chamberlain’s “peace in our time’ treaty, where Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to give England time to prepare for a war they knew was coming.
Likewise, people often criticize Russia’s decent into totalitarianism, with its horrors. but few know that England, the US, France and Italy and Japan attacked after the Bolshevik revolution.
“Workers of the world, unite!”
Not if the capitalists can stop it. If Russian had not been threatened, things may have turned out differently. See below for more on that. Someone once said “You’re paranoid” “True, but even paranoids have enemies!”
Anyway, what I saw was that Russia today is attempting to integrate its past, under the Tsars, who had their own problems, the Communists, and the Russian Church. Some people have become religious, some not. Young people have mixed feelings about the Communist era, many are glad to be free, that is free to struggle in a much more competitive environment, dominated by money. When the USSR fell, Russians traded lack of free speech for a dog eat dog economy. Which is pretty much what I see in every country I have been in. Lots of young Russians are scraping by on low wages and high expenses. Sound familiar?
Next, I went to Crimea. Crimea is famous to us for the Crimean War. Crimea reminds me of Sonoma County, where the climate seems to be similar (except none of Sonoma’s coastal fog). There is also a strong influence of classical Greece. Probably why for centuries, various countries have fought over it.
I visited a city on the Black Sea coast, called Sevastopol, from which the name Sebastopol (near the Sonoma County city of Santa Rosa) comes.
The Nazis attacked and eventually captured Sevastopol early in the war, but after Stalingrad fell, the Russians battled back and recaptured it. One resort town, Yalta, was the site of the famous conference between Roosevelt Churchill and Stalin.
My Hostel manager, who also was my guide for two days, gave a lot of interesting background, which I remember only in part.
Churchill was deeply impressed with Stalin as an extremely erudite figure, who had studied all sorts of subjects from history, culture, science, politics, and so on.
Roosevelt got along with Stalin much better than Churchill, though. Many streets are named after Russians, but only Roosevelt has a street named after him, the only foreigner to be honored.
I pointed out to her, that Harry Truman was installed in a coup at the Democratic National Convention in 1944. Had Henry Wallace replaced Roosevelt, as the Democratic party base wanted, there would probably have been no Cold War. But the oligarchs in the US were in charge way back then, too.
Outside of Sevastopol was a secret submarine base, now a museum, that was designed not only to house Russia’s submarines, but also do nuclear weapons work. It was designed to survive for three months after a nuclear blast.
I asked, how did Russia get ‘the Bomb’, so soon after the war, having been totally devastated.
Her answer, ‘Espionage. The first Russian bomb was a replica of the bomb that hit Hiroshima. Many scientists in the Manhattan project were refugees from fascism. They did not want one country, the USA to threaten Russia.
After the war ended, Churchill had the idea to reconstitute the German military and invade Russia., using 100,000 Wehrmacht troops whom the US, Britain and mainly the USSR had just defeated! You probably think, “oh Eric that is just unthinkable; and you are right! It was called Operation Unthinkable. What a lovely man Churchill was….
Turning to the recent past, we have heard that Russia invaded Ukraine, and annexed Crimea. Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of State, said that the Russians essentially terrorized the Crimeans to vote to be swallowed up by Russia.
So I asked as many people as I could about this. One young waiter in a restaurant was reticent about discussing anything.
But everyone else I talked with was relieved to be back with Russia.
Two encounters in particular stand out.
I wandered into an art gallery, and met a nice lady attendant. Her daughter speaks English and acted as translator and hostess.
She had been in the Ukrainian military, Her grandmother during WWII had fought the Nazis, which gave Masha, the daughter, great pride. In September 2013, her military base was attacked—by a neo Nazi paramiltary group, who wanted to capture her base’s weapons. So that means that a civil war was brewing well before the fall of the Ukrainian government in February, 2014.
When the coup occurred, —and it was a coup—planned by Victoria Nuland, John McCain and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Masha, knew immediately what had happened. She deserted and went back to Sevastopol, where her mother (the art gallery attendant) works.
If you are not familiar with the coup, then you are victim of the “Vietnamese attacked our ship in the Tonkin gulf”, or the “Saddam has WMD’s and can use them in 45 minutes” or Colin Powell’s “Saddam’s mobile weapons labs (which turned out to be milk trucks or hydrogen gas generators for weather balloons.)”, or any number of blatant lies we have been told throughout the years, to railroad us into the constant wars.
Russia, if it wanted to could have easily, in 2008, rolled into Georgia, and ousted the government. It could easily do the same to Kiev, but it has not. Rather, NATO which was supposed to be disbanded after the USSR ended, has instead expanded. Even after the Warsaw Pact did disband.
My observation, is that when any of these types of historical fact are presented to most people in the USA, people simply don’t believe them. It is too disturbing to look in the mirror and see who is the source of the problem.
Another encounter is also important to note. A young couple with their little boy were staying at the hostel in Sevastopol.
They are from Donetsk, which is the area hotly contested in eastern Ukraine. Their home was destroyed in a bomb attack, They are lucky to be alive. Many of their friends have been killed. The wife’s mother’s home was also destroyed.
The husband, Victor, has PTSD, as does the wife. The hostel manager found him under a bed when he heard airplanes flying overhead. If you were bombed for weeks on end and finally your home got blown up, you probably would hide under a bed, too.
These are what the Ukraine government calls terrorists. Unarmed civilians, whose native language is Russian, which is now illegal to use in Ukraine.
While in Sevastopol, the seaport on the Black Sea, I visited the Leo Tolstoy Museum. When I went in, and people saw that I am American and speak English, the librarian, who also speaks English showed me three English language books. One I forget, one was a book with photos of Crimea, and its rich history (including the deep influence of Greek Civilization). But the one I like the best was a chronicle of the great Russian composer, Tchaikovsky 25 days in America.
In that book they cited the deep FRIENDSHIP, that he had for Americans, and also it cited Mark Twain’s experience with Russia when he went there.
Mark Twain wrote:
“America owes much to Russia, is indebted to her in many ways, chiefly for her unwavering friendship in the seasons of our greatest need. That that friendship may still be hers in time to come we confidently pray; that she is and will be grateful to Russia and to her sovereign for it, we know full well.that she will ever forfeit it by any premeditated, unjust act, or unfair course, it were treasonous to believe”. (Mark Twain’s notebook, Harper and Row, 1935, P 79.)
In the Tchaikovsky museum in Moscow is a souvenir replica of the Statue of Liberty.
“The statue also reminded him[Tchaikovsky], a socially minded intellectual, of something else:America’s friendliness to Russia and her gratitude for Russia’s vast moral and political support at the most trying time in American history–the Civil War. Out to enfeeble the United States,……Britain and France, unlike Russia, supported the Confederacy….”
The Russian scientist, Menedeleyeff said, “You can mix with Americans freely, with no use for ceremony…never see the arrogance…of too many Europeans…. ” “He went on to compare America’s representative democracy to the Russian Autocratic monarchy…America has precious experience for us to consider as we work on our political and social structures…”
After Russian ships arrived in New York, they were greeted (during the Civil War), by “a steamerload of ladies and gentlemen…all shouted “Hurray” and showed ‘a sympathy out of the ordinary’ for the Russian officers and the ‘hearty enthusiasm of not only the cream of American society, but of people from all walks of life…”
When the sailors returned to Russia, the US ambassador gave a dinner and the following toast:
“Since the time of Catherine the Great, since the day the American nation was born, we have always been friends…No dark reminiscences cloud our friendship. It will go on provided we observe one strict rule: to never interfere in each other’s internal affairs…The benefits of such relations can serve as political examples for the governments of the whole world. Then, gentlemen, vast expenditures on hostile navies and on supplying numerous armies will stop of themselves. They will be replaced by flourishing peaceful industries, global fraternity, and genuine civilization.”
How have things gone so off track?
One hundred and twenty years later, having been invaded by Napoleon in 1812, by the Germans in 1914, by the British in 1919, who used poison gas–” A staggering 50,000 M Devices were shipped to Russia: British aerial attacks using them began on 27 August 1919, targeting the village of Emtsa, 120 miles south of Archangel. Bolshevik soldiers were seen fleeing in panic as the green chemical gas drifted towards them. Those caught in the cloud vomited blood, then collapsed unconscious.”
It is possible to understand why Russia is concerned when Nato has missiles right on the border with Russia? Why it is concerned when, in violation of agreement after the USSR ended, when Nato promised not to move ‘one inch to the East’, that it has taken in many of the former republics of the USSR. And [when the West] directly interferes in Russian internal affairs by use of NGO’s that are indirectly funded by the CIA, isn’t it reasonable for Russia to act?
Or when George Bush walked out of the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty, and both administrations have proceeded to surround Russia with weapons that make a US nuclear first strike possible? As historian and critic William Blum has noted, the US has overthrown or subverted 60 countries or assassinated or attempted to assassinate many leaders of foreign countries who would not bend to US demands? Just since WWII.
But [from the view of the West], the East-West antagonism is all Putin’s fault. Why? Because, after the US made use of predatory capitalism and US and Russian oligarchs, to asset strip Russia in the 1990’s, just like the Wall Street gang has done in numerous countries. Finally, Putin said “Nyet”. No more. That’s why.
Everything that was expressed in Tchaikovsky’s book has been violated—by the US.
Most Russian understand this, and some Ukrainians and other former USSR republics also understand it, but many buy into the narrative of ‘freedom and democracy’ as their economies get stripped, their pensions get stolen, their health care costs rise, and the costs of war in terms of wasted dollars and broken bodies pile up. All based on lies piled on lies.
William Blum once quoted US Government spokesman during a news conference during the Vietnam War. Having studied the lies we have been told all our lives to justify our massively bloated military budget and bullying tactics, I thought it would be a good idea to go see for myself, what is it like in Russia? Is Crimea held by Russian aggression, or did the Crimeans vote freely to disassociate themselves from a neofascist regime installed in just another of the many American concocted coups, starting with the overthrow of Iran’s democracy in 1953 and Guatemala’s in 1954. It’s all documented.
I really wish that more Americans would turn off NPR, cancel their subscription to the NY Times, smash their television sets, get on a plane and go visit other countries, and just LISTEN to what the people of the world have to say, such as the woman I met in a Thai monastery who said succinctly, “Your government is run by gangsters”.
Well, enough of this rant. I will close by mentioning some pictures that I took.
- The iconic Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square.
- Stained Glass window in the Moscow Metro (subway)
- Ceiling mosaic in the Moscow Metro
- A Famous Church inside the Kremlin
- A poster with Putin winking and the symbol of Russia (like the American Eagle), winking. Caption I think says, I am a friend of Putin. Maybe similar to the Campaign slogan for Eisenhower, “I like Ike’
- Poster, 70 year anniversary of Victory
- Greek ruins near Sevastopol
- A group of little girls on parade on Youth day, a National holiday, May 19th, where kids of all ages do a parade with their clubs like Tai Kwan Do, Science club, dance groups and so on.
- Two newly weds with the bridesmaid, on their honey moon is scenic Sevastopol
- Garden of a palace of the Tsar, near Yalta
- Youth on parade. the black and orange ribbon is a symbol of St. George the patron saint of Russia. Now it is often shown with the Hammer and Sickle, together, which I interpret as the psychological integration of the Monarchy and the Revolution.
- The doors to the underground, blast resistant submarine base
There are lots more but that is probably enough for now.
A final word. Russians are humans, just like you and me. Maybe more so.
(Posted with permission by the author. Eric Arnow can be reached at https://bumblebuddhist.wordpress.com/)
©2015 Eric Arnow