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May 31, 2017
Observations and Impressions from Russia
By Rick Sterling
For over two weeks this May, a delegation of 30 Americans visited seven regions and ten cities across Russia. Organized by Sharon Tennison of Center for Citizen Initiatives, the entire group began in Moscow with several days of meetings and visits, then broke into smaller groups going to cities including Volgograd, Kazan (Tatarstan), Krasnodar (near Black Sea), Novosibirsk (Siberia), Yekaterinburg and the Crimean cities Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol. After these regional visits, delegates regrouped in St Petersburg to share their experiences. Following is an informal review with conclusions based on my observations in Kazan and what I heard from others.
Traditional travel to Russia in the past has been to enjoy the classical arts, museums and palaces. During the 1980s a second form began, that of citizen diplomacy travel, which CCI has carried out over the past three decades.
As 2017 approached, a different type of travel to Russia seemed critical––that of “investigative” travel to a number of cities simultaneously to collect information. Why?
The Cold War II has become hot, NATO troops are amassed on Russia’s western border, and Ukraine and Crimea to the southeast are becoming vehemently contested. Misinformation and stereotypes abound between the U.S. and Russia. The potential for a full-scale nuclear war is emerging.
Over the past fifteen years very few Americans have traveled to Russia. Most who did were on cruise ships who met tour operators and a few local people where they docked. Hence there has been little real information about what is actually occurring throughout Russia as the world’s largest country continued to evolve from the bleak Soviet and Yeltsin years which ended in 2000 when Vladimir Putin came to power.
CCI, the largest citizen diplomacy organization between the two nations, determined this year to carry out a first-ever “information-gathering” delegation of American citizen investigators who simultaneously would travel to ten major Russian cities to learn what is happening across Russia––since any type of allegation can be made in U.S.mainstream media and none will know whether it is truth or misinformation.
An invitation was released in January 2017 for “up-to-100 mainstream Americans” to self select for this purpose. Some 80 persons applied and by the end 30 citizen investigators made it through the process to travel. They understood there would be no scheduled museum or palace tours––only intense meetings with Russian peoples and experts of all persuasions in areas as far out as mid-Siberia. These cities included Moscow, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Krasnodar, Kazan, Volgograd, Simferopol, Sevastopol, Yalta and St.Petersburg.
In Moscow travelers would have only formal meetings with Russian experts such as President Mikhail Gorbachev, ballistic weapons specialist Vladimir Kozin, Russia’s all-time TV Icon Vladimir Pozner, national journalists, and several specialists in business, private health care and international finance. Delegates submitted their questions for each expert a month in advance of these meetings. CCI summarized the queries and sent the final list to each of the experts. For instance President Gorbachev was given 19 questions, Pozner 29 questions, the others varying numbers of inquiries. This was likely a rather unexpected procedure, but we didn’t wish to sit through stock presentations––we wanted specific information from each specialist.
The expert meetings were two hours each. Most of the speakers arrived with their lists of questions in hand to keep themselves on target. Presentations were to the point. After two hours, the speakers and Americans weren’t ready to part; excitement filled the conference rooms as both sides clamored to get the last bits of information asked or answered before parting. Some experts stayed on for lunches or dinners where additional informal give-and-take was possible.
Videographer Eric Thiermann, producer of “The Last Epidemic,” (the successful 1980s video about nuclear war) traveled with the 2017 delegation. He videoed all Moscow presenters, then the investigative activities in the Crimean cities, Krasnodar and St.Petersburg, where entrepreneurs, educators, classes of students, street scenes and home visits were filmed. The thirty hours of footage is being used for Youtubes to be released in the immediate future.
Articles were written by travelers during the trip and released immediately. They follow below. Other accounts will continue to be posted as we at CCI and other travelers sum up the trip’s information and impact.
A wealth of unexpected information was uncovered about modern day Russia, much of which is quite different from the picture of Russia given in U.S. mainstream media. It’s good that we still live in a country where different points of view can be expressed and tolerated.
A second such trip may be offered later in 2017.
Click here for David Swanson’s trip articles. Please scroll down on David Swanson’s website to view more articles from the trip.
IF you wish to apply for future travel of this type, you may send in an application to firstname.lastname@example.org.