By David and Jan Hartsough
We have recently returned from a two week citizen’s diplomacy peace delegation to six cities in Russia under the auspices of the Center for Citizen Initiatives.
Our trip included visits with journalists, political leaders, teachers and students, doctors and medical clinics, veterans of past wars, representatives of small businesses and nongovernmental organizations, youth camps, and home visits.
Since David’s earlier visits to Russia over the past fifty-five years, much has changed. He was struck by how much new building and construction has taken place, and the “westernization” of clothing, styles, advertising, automobiles and traffic, as well as global corporations and private companies and stores.
Some of our reflections include:
- Danger of US and NATO military exercises on Russian border, like a game of nuclear chicken. This could very easily escalate into nuclear war. We must wake up the American people about the danger and encourage our government to move away from this dangerous posturing.
- We need to put ourselves in the Russians’ shoes. What if Russia had military troops, tanks and bomber planes and missiles on the US border in Canada and Mexico. Wouldn’t we feel threatened?
- Russian people don’t want war and want to live in peace. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people in World War II because they were not prepared militarily. They will not let that happen again. If attacked, they will fight for their Motherland. Most families lost family members in WWII, so war is very immediate and personal. In the siege of Leningrad between two and three million people perished.
- US and NATO must take the initiative and show a commitment to living in peace with the Russians and treat them with respect.
- The Russian people are a very friendly, open, generous and beautiful people. They are not a threat They are proud to be Russians, and want to be seen as an important part of a multi-polar world.
- Most people that we met were very supportive of Putin. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, they experienced the shock therapy of the neo-liberal model of privatizing everything. In the 1990’s there was tremendous poverty and suffering of the large majority of the people while the oligarchs stole the previously state-owned resources from the country. Putin has given leadership to pull the country together and help improve the lives and well-being of the people. He is standing up to the bullies – the US and NATO – demanding respect from the rest of the world , and not allowing Russia to be pushed around and intimidated by the US.
- Many Russians we talked with believe that the US is looking for enemies and creating wars in order to get more billions for the war profiteers.
- The US must stop playing world policeman. It gets us in too much trouble and is not working. We need to give up our Pax Americana policies, acting like we are the most important country, the superpower which can tell the rest of the world how they can live and act.
- My good Russian friend Voldya says “Don’t believe the propaganda of the political leaders and the corporate media.” The vilifying of Russia and Putin is what makes war possible. If we no longer see the Russians as people and human beings just like us, but make them the enemy, we can then support going to war with them.
- The US and the European Union should stop the economic sanctions against Russia. They are hurting the Russian people and are counter-productive.
- The people of Crimea, who are 70-80% Russian in nationality and language, voted in a referendum to become part of Russia as they had been for most of the past two hundred years. One Ukrainian nationality man living in Crimea, who opposed the referendum to join Russia, felt that at least 70% of the people in Crimea voted to join Russia. The people of Kosovo voted to secede from Serbia and the West supported them. The majority of people in Great Britain voted to leave the European Union; Scotland may vote to leave Great Britain. People of every region or country have the right to determine their own future without interference of the rest of the world.
- The US needs to stop meddling in other nation’s affairs and supporting the overthrow of their governments (regime change) – like Ukraine, Iraq, Libya and Syria. We are creating ever more enemies around the world, and getting ourselves involved in more and more wars. This is not creating security for Americans or anyone else.
- We need to work for the common security of all peoples, not just one nation at the expense of other nations. National security does not work any more and current US policies cannot even create security in America.
- Back in 1991 US Secretary of State Baker committed to Gorbachev that NATO would not move one foot eastward towards Russia’s borders in return for the Soviet Union allowing the reunification of Germany. The US and NATO have not kept that agreement and are now have battalions of military troops, tanks, military planes and missiles on Russia’s borders. Ukraine and Georgia may also join NATO, which gets Russia ever more worried about western intentions. When the Warsaw pact was disbanded, the NATO pact should have been disbanded as well.
- The American people must organize to stop the US and NATO operations on Russia’s borders and stop meddling in Ukraine and Georgia. The future of these countries should be decided by the people of these countries, not by the US. We must resolve our conflicts by negotiations and peaceful means. The future of billions of people on our beloved planet depends on what we do. Thank you for thinking, speaking out and acting to stop this madness. And please share these reflections widely.
David Hartsough is the author of WAGING PEACE: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist, Director of Peaceworkers, and is a co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce and World Beyond War. David and Jan were part of a twenty person team of citizen diplomats who visited Russia for two weeks in June of 2016. See ccisf.org for reports from the delegation. Contact David if you would like to do an interview.