Sergei Roy: “Americans and Russians, Person-to-Person, with a Sidelight on Ukraine”

Putin and Obama with U.S. and Russian Flags

Subject: Americans and Russians, Person-to-Person, with a Sidelight on Ukraine
Date: Sun, 1 Mar 2015
From: Sergei Roy <>

Attached is my latest piece on “Americans and Russians, Person-to-Person.” Incidentally, it is a real letter to a real American friend.

Americans and Russians, Person-to-Person, with a Sidelight on Ukraine
(A letter to an American friend)
By Sergei Roy
[Former Editor-in-Chief, Moscow News]
2015 02 01

There is a paradox about US-Russia relations that never ceases to challenge my intellectual powers, and not only mine, I am sure.

Recently a poll published by the Levada Center, an independent (for which read oppositionist) pollster, showed that 84 percent of Russia’s citizens have a negative attitude toward the West generally and the US especially. (This, by the way, is the exact opposite of what similar polls showed in the 90s, when Russians were practically in love with the ‘civilized world’ and particularly the US; NATO aggression against Serbia put a stop to that).

The paradox is this. I am absolutely sure that, in direct people to people, person to person, family to family contacts between Russians and Americans, the same 84 percent or more, far from demonstrating that negative attitude, would go out of their way to be friendly.

Let me recount a little story I heard some time ago to support my point.

A German delegation traveled somewhere deep inside Russia, you might say in the sticks, and their car broke down. While it was being repaired, they knocked on the door of an izba nearby and asked for a glass of water. The old crone there gave them a pitcher of milk instead. They wanted to pay her, but she mildly rebuked them: Chto vy, nemchiki “What’s that you’re saying, little Germans.” Kakie tam den’gi.Ved’ my zhe s vami voyevali “What money are you talking about. We have fought a war with you, haven’t we.”

I grant you there is a bit of female logic there, and anyway she could simply have waved the offer away, following the village code of hospitality. But at bottom what she said seems very significant to me. Human beings, even if their countries fought a war, remain, or should remain, human beings. Maybe they have to be even more human and understanding toward your former enemy than to others, for the war has left dead men and women on both sides, and that is an added bond. De mortuis aut bene, aut nihil. That old woman was hardly likely to know the Latin, but she had the right idea.

The case of Russia and America may seem to be different, for we have never fought a war – except the cold one, of course. Still, that little episode touches on such basic human instincts as hospitality, the natural impulse to help wayfarers in distress, reverence for the dead, and the like. I just do not believe that Russians and Americans differ in this respect; that I would be treated differently if I asked for a glass of water some place in America.

Apart from these abstract humanist considerations, I can speak about these simple human contacts from personal experience. I have known dozens of Americans – those who worked for me at Moscow Magazine and at Moscow News, as well as those with whom I rubbed shoulders in the Moscow media community over the years. Some I liked, others disliked, toward still others I felt neutral – and the attitude did not vary because they were Americans, but because of their personal and professional qualities. Say, if I hired or fired any given person, it was precisely for these qualities, and not because they were American, Russian, British, Canadian, or ay other.

On second thoughts, I am perhaps not quite truthful here. There was a category of people whom I disliked – apart from being intrigued by them – as a typically American product. Privately, I called them carpetbaggers. They were especially numerous in the early and mid-90s.

I still remember a certain Andrew B., a guy who couldn’t be more than twenty-two or twenty-three. He came into my office at Moscow Magazine, put his left ankle on his right knee and declared he wanted to join the staff of my magazine as a political observer or special correspondent, I forget which. Somewhat taken aback, I inquired mildly what his qualifications for that post might be (he had offered no CV). “I wrote compositions at school,” he said, and fell silent. That was obviously enough for the likes of me. When pressed, he merely repeated that curious statement. Can you believe it? No education to speak of, no experience at all in journalism, no Russian – and the guy claimed to be qualified to write for my magazine, presumably on Russian affairs. Of course, I suggested he start at the bottom as, say, a messenger boy. He flounced out of the office, and I thought that was that, but it only showed what a lot I knew about real carpetbaggers and what they could achieve. A week or so later I was shown his picture in another English-language publication, The Moscow Tribune, with the caption: Andrew B. , a business consultant with some company, I forget which. God save that company, was all I could say.

There was at the time a whole influx of such characters, both male and female, and I never missed a chance to interview them – just to study human nature.

Of course, these freaks were few and far between. I chose the bunch that worked for me carefully, so no wonder they were very satisfactory workers; among other things, they were mostly early risers, which is more than you could say about many Russians.

It wasn’t all strictly business, of course. We had nice, Russian-style get-togethers at the office after hours, birthday parties, and such. Some tried my patience – but I will name no names, and such experiences are soon forgotten. There were also guys to whom I felt closer than to others, just as it would have been with an all-Russian staff.

Just a couple I remember best. Guy A. wrote delightful, slightly mad humorous sketches that I always looked forward to, and we kept up contact after he left the paper and started a magazine of his own. Tom L., a husky guy, a former football player (I mean American football), wasn’t much professionally – restaurant critique was his only strong point – but I always had a weak spot for sportsmen, having achieved a few things in that field myself, in earlier days. We did some arm-wrestling, which was a joke – I merely counted the seconds it would take him to lay my arm flat. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a spy, was kicked out of the country, and there was even a piece in some paper about his spying activities. I still don’t believe it – Tom was an inveterate prankster, and he could have done something silly just for a practical joke.

I see that I am getting lost in my personal reminiscences, and I had better stop before I get carried into more intimate spheres. They are pleasant memories for this old goat, but they are strictly mine. I can only hope that what I have said here makes my main point clear: that most human beings are basically decent creatures, and should conduct themselves as such. I realize that the moral is pretty banal, and was better formulated by Ukrainian writer Kotsyubinsky more than a century ago: “All people are people, and he who is not human, let him be ashamed.”

And that is why one feels especially bitter to see that, out of ignorance and sloth, human beings permit themselves to become easy prey to evil machines for brainwashing, to the damn thing called soft power, to psyops, and all that stinking apparatus.

If only US politicos and mainstream media stopped demonizing Russia and spouting garbage about Russian tank columns invading Ukraine… If only US and EU journalists did some honest work and showed – without much comment, just showed – what we Russian viewers have been seeing on our TV screens every day. Pictures of whole families being killed in their homes by Ukrainian shelling, including with cassette bombs and ballistic missiles. Of eighty-year-old grannies being killed, maimed, or spending months, bedridden, in cold, airless cellars without much food or water. Of mere kids being killed or losing their limbs, like those six teenagers playing football in the school-grounds – two killed outright, four badly wounded. Or those three kids who hid in the bathroom because it had no windows and they thought they were safe, only the shell hit the roof, and when their mother returned from a hospital, she found all three dead. Just imagine – two hundred children killed, just to keep Ukraine a unitary state and forbid Russians to speak their native tongue [1].

This is all simply heart-rending. There was a scene the other day, where the father of a Ukrainian soldier taken prisoner by Donbass fighters took his son to a ward where wounded civilians lay and made him beg their forgiveness; one girl there, about seventeen, who had lost a leg in the shelling, started yelling at that young soldier – and what can one say about both of these poor kids?

Me, I can only damn to hell the cold-blooded proponents of US “exceptionalism” who spent $5 billion to foster Russophobia in Ukraine, who funded the Maidan ruckus in Kiev, using Nazi rabble, the descendants of Hitler’s collaborators, to carry out an armed coup d’etat and ignite a fratricidal war.

Like I say, if only. If only the great American public were to be shown what has really been going on in Donbass, they would react as ordinary human beings – they would be horrified, appalled; they would raise their voice in protest and demand that their government did something to stop the horror. But I have no hope at all of anything like that happening.

Take this recent, resounding scandal. A Ukrainian delegation gave Sen. Inhofe some pictures to prove Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, including a picture of a column of Russian tanks said to be invading Ukrainian territory. Unfortunately for the crooks, the Associated Press recognized it as their own picture taken back in 2008 at the time of the conflict in South Ossetia. Sen. Inhofe said he was “furious” about this crude chicanery – but did it affect his resolve to push through Congress a bill to force Obama to supply Kiev with lethal weapons? It did not.

He wants to give Kiev Javelin anti-tank systems, precision-guided weapons, the lot. Hasn’t he ever heard the word escalation? Or is it his cherished objective, to see a local conflict in Ukraine escalate into a big war in Europe? A war that would start on territory that has four big nuclear power stations – one of which had already blown up once. A war that would involve nuclear powers. These are facts that not even the hawks on Capitol Hill should be allowed to forget.

But they go on stoking the fires. Both Republicans and Democrats are prepared to throw fuel into the furnace of war – so touchingly convinced are they that it can never burn them, too. Another Latin proverb seems quite appropriate here: Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

A final touch on the subject of “Russian aggression” against Ukraine – a quote (hopefully apocryphal) from a high-ranking member of the General Staff (Russian equivalent of Joint Chiefs of Staff). In a private conversation, he is said to have remarked wistfully, with a touch of puzzlement: “They keep talking about the Russian Army fighting in Ukraine; it keeps fighting, and fighting, and fighting, month after month – and no one seems surprised that Ukraine is still there on the map… Either Ukraine is there, and there is no Russian Army out there. Or the Russian Army is there, then no Ukraine. They can’t have it both ways.”


[1]. That is a truly Nazi touch in a country where practically everyone speaks, reads, writes, and thinks Russian. I traveled there far and wide, and never came across anyone who did not speak Russian, not even in the westernmost Western Ukraine, where I went to ski in the Carpathians (see my “Hitting the Slopeski” under “Russian Vistas and Beyond” at ).

This is not to be wondered at, at all, for Ukrainian was a mode of speech, artificially put together out of local patois, that few educated persons spoke except as a fad or out of literary or political ambitions. It was given its official status only after the Bolshevik revolution, when Ukraine emerged, for the first time in the history of that territory, as a distinct quasi-state structure; when Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin incorporated in that structure purely Russian-speaking, industrial provinces for obvious ideological reasons: Ukrainians (or Little Russians, or just khokhly) were almost exclusively peasants and thus politically unreliable; according to Lenin, peasantry gave birth to capitalism and bourgeoisie “every day and every hour.” Hence the move to lump them together in a single entity with the industrial workers of Donbass, Odessa, Nikolaev, and various other provinces of Southern Russia.

These vast territories had little, if anything, in common with the provinces west of the Dnieper – but what of that? It ought to be remembered that Bolsheviks did even crazier, really revolutionary things in many other areas – like physically liquidating whole classes of citizens; crusading against religion in the same, very physical way; eliminating the institution of marriage and introducing commonality of all possessions and wives; professing free love, with the sex act to be as simple as having a drink of water, with anyone within reach and in any shape, manner or form, so that women refusing to offer themselves a retro were criticized at Party cells; and a great deal else.

True, fairly soon Stalin in turn liquidated free love, along with too many other things, and it was only reinvented in the West many decades later. If only he had ‘liquidated’ the results of his own exercises in state-building in the early 1920s, when he was Lenin’s Commissar for the Affairs of Nationalities… Yes, if only. We would not be having the current disaster in Donbass, that’s for sure. But he was a pig-headed megalomaniac, and would never admit that Stalin (the bastard all too often spoke of himself in the third person singular) could ever make any error at any time, any place, on any subject.

Sorry to have forgotten for a moment my own point about reverence for the dead. That was menschliches, allzu menschliches, to quote my favorite phrase of Nietzsche’s. Sorry.