How Russians See the West and Russia

The U.S. mainstream media’s recent depictions of Russia amount to little more than crass propaganda, including the inside-out insistence that it is the Russian people who are the ones brainwashed by their government’s propaganda. Author Natylie Baldwin found a different reality in a tour of Russian cities.

By Natylie Baldwin

After a year and a half of conducting research on Russia, the world’s largest country, mostly for a book I co-authored on the history of post-Soviet U.S.-Russia relations and its context for the Ukraine conflict, it was time for me to finally go see this beautiful, fascinating and complex nation in person and to meet its people on their own terms and territory.

On this maiden voyage to Russia, I visited six cities in two weeks:  Moscow, Simferopol, Yalta, Sevastopol, Krasnodar and St. Petersburg. In each city, I talked to a cross-section of people, from cab drivers and bus riders to civil society workers, professionals, and entrepreneurs of small- to medium-sized businesses.

Russian President Vladimir Putin taking the presidential oath at his third inauguration ceremony on May 7, 2012. (Russian government photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin taking the presidential oath at his third inauguration ceremony on May 7, 2012. (Russian government photo)

I even had an opportunity to hear what teenagers had to say in two of those cities as my travel mate and I participated in a Q&A session with students of a private high school in St. Petersburg and teens who were part of various youth clubs in Krasnodar. Their questions reflected a thoughtful engagement with the world as they led to discussions on environmental sustainability, socially responsible economics and how to promote initiative, goodwill and peaceful conflict resolution.

Many of the adults were no less thoughtful during the formal interviews and informal conversations I had with them. Admittedly, I wondered how I would be received as an American during one of the most acrimonious periods of U.S.-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War.

It helped that my travel mate has been going in and out of Russia since the 1980s, lives part-time in St. Petersburg, and has developed good relations with many Russians across the country. Once most Russians realized that I came in goodwill and did not approach them or their country with a superiority complex, they usually responded with some combination of curiosity, honesty and hospitality.

Below is a summary of what Russians that I spoke to thought about a range of issues, from their leader to their economy to the Ukraine war, Western media’s portrayal of them and what they wanted to say to Americans.

What Russians Think About Putin 

In every place I visited in Russia, there was a consistent attitude among the people on a number of significant issues. First of all, there was consensus that the Yeltsin era in the 1990s was an unmitigated disaster for Russia, resulting in massive poverty, an explosion in crime, the theft of the Soviet Union’s resources and assets by a small number of well-connected Russians who went on to become the oligarchs, and the worst mortality crisis since World War II.

As Victor Kramarenko, an engineer and foreign trade relations specialist during the Soviet period and, more recently, a years-long executive with a major American corporation in Moscow, explained the Yeltsin era: “The Russian economy was devastated. We went from being an industrial power that defeated the Nazis, showed resilience, rebuilt quickly, and had great achievements in aviation and space to a place where morale collapsed and a lack of trust and a pirate mentality emerged.”

One of many buildings being renovated in Moscow. (Photo by Natylie Baldwin)

One of many buildings being renovated in Moscow. (Photo by Natylie Baldwin)

I learned from my interviews that Russians credit Vladimir Putin with taking the helm of a nation that was on the verge of collapse in 2000 and restoring order, increasing living standards five-fold, investing in infrastructure, and taking the first steps toward reigning in the oligarchy. Many stated that they wished Putin would do more to decrease corruption.

A couple of people I spoke to said they believed that Putin would like to do more on this front but has to work within certain limitations at the top. However, according to a recent report by Russian news magazine, Expert, Putin may be initiating a serious anti-corruption drive using a secret Russian police unit that is outsmarting corrupt officials who are used to evading investigation and accountability. Time will tell how successful and far-reaching this turns out to be.

Russians also think Putin has been a good role model in certain respects. As Natasha Ivanova told me over lunch at an Uzbek restaurant in Krasnodar, “He’s fit and doesn’t drink alcohol or smoke. Now you see young people more interested in sports and fitness and not smoking and drinking.”

After the mortality crisis of the 1990s when millions of Russians died premature deaths from heart problems and complications from alcoholism, this development is celebrated. Natasha Ivanova’s friend, Anna, chimed in, “Putin’s also orderly and has common sense.”

Natasha Shidlovskaia, an ethnic Russian who grew up in western Ukraine and now lives in St. Petersburg, admires Putin’s sharp mind: “He’s very smart. His speech is very structured and organized. When a person speaks, you know how he thinks.”

Jacek Popiel, a writer and consultant with first-hand experience in Russia and the former Soviet Union, has commented on the Russian historical experience of constant invasions and periodic famines and how it has shaped their view of government and leadership: “Russians will readily accept an authoritarian government because such is needed when national survival is at stake — which, in Russia’s history, has been a recurring situation.”

But Russian acceptance of powerful central authority also includes a check on it. This is the concept of Pravda. The literal translation of this word is “truth,” but it has a deeper and wider significance — something like “justice” or “the right order of things.” This means that while accepting authority and its demands, Russians nevertheless require that such authority be guided by moral principle. If authority fails to demonstrate this they will, in time, rise against it or remove it.

A group of professionals in Krasnodar echoed this when they insisted during a discussion one evening that a strong leader was needed to get things done, but the leader needed to be responsible to the people and their needs. Most believed that Putin successfully met this criteria as is confirmed by his nearly 90 percent approval rating. Moreover, when the subject of freedom and its definition was raised, one participant asked, “Does freedom presuppose a framework of rules and order? Or does it just mean that everyone does whatever they want?”

One criticism I heard from two women in Krasnodar was disappointment that Putin had divorced, particularly in the same time frame as when he’d declared “The Year of the Family.”

Another four women, who were involved in civil society work, were upset that some authentic Russian non-governmental organizations (or NGO’s) were getting caught in the dragnet of the foreign agents law — legislation they understood was motivated by a desire to crack down on provocateurs associated with the National Endowment for Democracy.

But, due to the effects it was having on genuine NGO’s in the country, they believe the law is ultimately a mistake. Three of the four were prepared to continue their work, including reform of the law’s implementation, while the fourth was considering leaving Russia.

Economic Conditions

Russians acknowledge that they are in a recession and attribute it to a combination of sanctions, low oil prices and lack of economic diversity and access to credit. But they generally do not blame Putin and did not express despair, or resentment that money was being invested in Crimea. Instead, they are putting their heads down, adapting and getting through it.

As the participants at the Krasnodar meeting of professionals explained, Russian entrepreneurs were becoming more creative by forming cooperatives to get new ventures off the ground; for example, finding one person in their network who has access to raw materials and another who has needed skills.

Despite what some commentators in the western corporate media have said, Russians are not going hungry. I saw plenty of food in the markets and some Russians told me that there were pretty much the same everyday products on store shelves as before, they just noticed higher prices due to inflation, which has started to come down. That downward trend is expected to continue into 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund.

We ate out frequently during our stay and most restaurants were doing decent business while some were very busy, including during non-rush hours. I did not notice any significant number of vacant or shuttered buildings, although many were under renovation. Russians in every city I visited were as well dressed as people in American cities and suburbs and looked as healthy (although, I noted fewer overweight people in Russia).

And, alas, the smart phone was nearly as ubiquitous among Russian youth as American.

Ukraine, Crimea and Foreign Policy

Almost everyone I spoke with strongly supported what they view as Putin’s calm but decisive policies of standing up to major provocations from the West, including attempts to exploit historical ethnic and political divisions in Ukraine, resulting in the illegitimate removal of a democratically elected leader.

Kramarenko explained a sentiment I’ve often heard from Russians about the high hopes they had after the end of the Cold War and how Russians have subsequently become disillusioned over the years with the actions of Washington policymakers. It also helps one to understand the more negative attitudes toward the West that the independent polling agency, Levada Center, has reported in recent months:

“’Back to the civilized world.’ That was the motto. Russians were fairly open about wanting to cooperate and integrate [with the West]. But they have gotten three wake-up calls over the years. The first was the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. It was painful and wrong but we figured ‘let bygones be bygones.’ The second wake-up call was the Sochi Olympics. I worked with a sponsor and there was a flood of anti-Russian sentiment, Russia was always in the wrong. Russians asked why do they characterize us so black when it doesn’t correspond to reality? Ukraine was the third wake-up call. We were under no illusions about Yanukovyich’s corruption, but the turning point came when the [Maidan] protests became violent and the police were attacked. There was a split among Russian intellectuals at that point, but the general people turned against it.”

Volodya Shestakov, a lifelong resident of St. Petersburg, agrees:

“Yanukovich was extremely corrupt and ripe for a revolt. The original Maidan protesters wanted to get rid of oligarchy, but they didn’t get less oligarchy. The Ukrainian economy is in very bad shape. Western corporations like Monsanto planned to go in. There are also shale gas deposits. It will be an environmental nightmare. [Current President Petro] Poroshenko is a puppet of Washington.”

Russian naval base in Sevastopol in Crimea. (Photo by Natylie Baldwin)

Russian naval base in Sevastopol in Crimea. (Photo by Natylie Baldwin)

The conclusion that Kiev’s current leadership consists of Washington lackeys came up often in conversations with both continental Russians and Crimeans. Tatyana, a professional tour guide from Yalta, a resort city in Crimea, told me:

“No one asked us if we wanted to go along with Maidan. There are Russians as well as people who are a mix of Russian and Ukrainian here. We are not against Ukraine as many of us have relatives there, but Maidan was not simply a spontaneous protest. We are aware of the phone call with Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, we saw the photos of her with Yatsenyuk, Tiagnibok [leader of Svoboda, the neo-fascist group that was condemned by the EU in 2012], and Klitschko on television. We saw the images of her handing out cookies to the protesters.”

Crimeans saw the violence that erupted on the Maidan as well as the slogans being chanted by a segment of the protesters [“Ukraine for Ukrainians”] and became very concerned. The citizens of Sevastopol, a port city in Crimea and longtime home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, had meetings on what they should do if events in Kiev spiraled further out of control, possibly creating dangerous consequences for the majority ethnic Russian population there.

They believe that those dangerous consequences were prevented when Putin intervened and agreed to requests from Crimeans to be reunited with Russia. Crimeans and continental Russians believe that this intervention protected Crimea from those extremist elements that had hijacked the Maidan protests and risen to power in Kiev, threatening Crimeans’ safety and interests.

Moreover, Crimeans that I interviewed who participated in or were witness to events that led up to what is variously referred to as the “Crimean Spring” or the “Third Defense of Sevastopol,” did not expect the Russian government to step in and assist them or to accept their requests for reunification. This was due to the numerous times since the 1990s when Crimeans voted, either directly or through their parliament, for reunification, which Russia had always ignored.

According to Anatoliy Anatolievich Mareta, leader (ataman) of the Black Sea Hundred Cossacks, a turning point came after the Feb. 21, 2014 agreement (in which Yanukovych agreed to reduced powers and early elections) was rejected by armed ultra-nationalists on the Maidan and the Europeans subsequently abandoned their role as guarantors:

“A one-day meeting of anti-Maidan supporters was held in Sevastopol. Thirty thousand Crimeans gathered in the center of the port city to resist and declare that they didn’t recognize the coup government in Kiev and would not pay taxes to it. They then decided to defend Sevastopol and the Crimean isthmus with arms. They chose a people’s mayor, Aleksai Chaly, and checkpoints were set up. After extremist Tatars and Ukrainian ultra-nationalists showed up in Simferopol, throwing bottles, teargas, and beating busloads of ethnic Russians with flag poles, our help was requested.”

As the situation deteriorated further, with a standoff between local residents and local police officials who were beholden to and taking orders from Kiev underway, Mareta admitted that the Cossacks realized that theirs was a revolt that amounted to a suicide mission if Kiev gave the order to put it down with full force. “Their hearts were in it, but their minds knew they might lose,” Mareta said.

This was confirmed by Savitskiy Viktor Vasilievich, a retired Russian naval officer and resident of Crimea who served as an election monitor during the Crimean referendum in Sevastopol.  “The Russian military was very cautious and waited for the order to intervene,” he said. “It was an unexpected gift.”

From Feb. 28-29, 2014, Cossacks from parts of continental Russia, including Kuban and Don, began to arrive to reinforce the isthmus after Ukrainian planes were blocked from landing at the local airport as Russian soldiers, stationed legally in Crimea under contract, manned the gates.

Crimeans told me that it was understood at the time that the “little green men” who appeared on the streets in the coming days were Russian soldiers under lease at the naval base who had donned unmarked green uniforms. The people viewed them as protectors who allowed them to peacefully conduct their referendum without interference from Kiev, not invaders.

The population expressed gratitude to the Russian president for protecting them. I saw billboards throughout Crimea with Putin’s image on them, which read: “Crimea. Russia. Forever.” I asked several residents if this represented the general sentiment among the population. They confirmed enthusiastically that it did.

While in country, I attempted to get an interview with a representative of the Crimean Tatars, an ethnic minority population in which there is reportedly division in terms of support for the reunification with Russia, but was unsuccessful.

But the overall support for reunification with Russia should not come as a surprise to those familiar with Crimea’s history. The Russian naval fleet has been based at Sevastopol since Catherine the Great’s reign in the Eighteen Century. During the Soviet era, Premier Nikita Khrushchev — who was Ukrainian — decided to move Crimea from Russian administration and give it as a gift to Ukraine.

Since both Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union at the time, the possible future consequences of such a decision were not considered. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Crimea remained in Ukraine as an autonomous region while Russia kept its naval base there as part of a legal agreement (lease) with the Ukrainian government.

Not only is Sevastopol Russia’s only warm water port, it is the place where the Soviet army blocked the Nazi advance for eight months during World War II. By the time, the siege was over, around 90 percent of the city had been devastated.

Kramarenko summed up continental Russians’ view of the reunification: “Most people, both Crimean and Russian, think Crimea is Russian. The referendum, along with the lack of violence, gives it legitimacy.”

Surveys of Crimean and Russian opinion by Pew, Gallup and GfK within a year of the referendum show consistent support for Crimea’s reunification with Russia and the legitimacy of the referendum itself. See herehere and here.

Western Media

When I asked Russians if they had access to Western media, they all said they did, through both satellite and the Internet. But they did not find the Western media to be accurate or thorough in their coverage of Russia in general and the Ukraine crisis in particular.

Volodya Shestakov told me, “The Western media narrative of Russia is distorted. The corporate media distorts news in its own interests … and to suit politics. Americans are the first target of corporate propaganda.”

Nikolay Viknyanschuk, originally from eastern Ukraine and also a resident of St. Petersburg explained further: “There are certain patterns used [within the Western media] and they prefer to stay within those patterns. What they cannot explain, they cut off or ignore. If Russia is an aggressor, why didn’t it take Kiev?”

He also lamented Western media’s over-reliance on a short news cycle, sound bites and talking heads who lead the audience in what to think, “Commentators and so-called journalists’ interpretations are relied upon instead of presenting primary source material.”

Lack of context was another complaint about the Western media’s presentation of the Ukraine issue. I can personally attest to this as the conversations I had with educated Americans about the Ukraine crisis reflected little to no historical understanding of the country as having been under the control of different political and cultural entities, creating divisions that, combined with poverty and deep corruption, made it vulnerable to instability.

As Shestakov explained: “Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia [Belarus] are ethnically and culturally the same. There are only mild differences. Russia started in Kiev [Kiev Rus] but expanded and the capital moved to Moscow. When Ukraine got independence in 1991, a fictitious narrative was pushed in school textbooks of an independent people who were repressed by Russia. The Ukrainians have been manipulated. Russians don’t hate Ukrainians. There is no hostility on our part. We regret what has happened.”

Vasilievich reiterated these historical points: “There was resentment that Ukraine was always viewed as the ‘little brother’ in the relationship after Russia united to become its own independent nation. Parts of Ukraine were always under the rule of Russia [in the east], Poland or the Austro-Hungarians [in the west]. Ukraine is a vast area with rural villages and there is an ideology of small rural areas with Polish influence in the western most regions. The Americans knew what divisions they were manipulating.”

Women involved in non-governmental organizations in Krasnodar, Russia. (Photo by Natylie Baldwin)

Women involved in non-governmental organizations in Krasnodar, Russia. (Photo by Natylie Baldwin)

According to the extensive research of Walter Uhler, president of the Russian-American International Studies Association, there was no historical reference to even a clearly defined, much less independent, territory called Ukraine until the Sixteenth Century when the term was used by Polish sources, but “with the demise of Polish rule, the name Ukraine fell into disuse as a term for a specific territory, and was not revived until the early Nineteenth Century.”

Tatyana confirmed that Western media is freely available online in Crimea as well for those who understand English, but it is often seen as distorted.

Additionally, most Russians find the demonization of their president by Western media and politicians to be childish and a reflection of the observation that Washington policymakers seem to have assigned Russia the role of enemy long ago for their own reasons, regardless of what Russia actually is or does in reality.

As Valery Ivanov, a 25-year old college graduate who earns a living as an emcee and a translator in Krasnodar, said, “The Western media and government portrays Russia as an aggressor because Russia is a strong country and a potential competitor.”

What to Say to Americans

One thing that stood out in my discussions with Russians was how they almost always made a point of differentiating between the American people and the government in Washington. They like and admire the American people for their openness and achievements, but they find Washington policymakers’  penchant for interfering in other parts of the world in which they don’t understand the consequences of their actions to be profoundly misguided and dangerous.

At the end of my interview with each person, I asked them if there was one thing they could say to the American people, what would it be. It was interesting how, even though they all worded it differently, the essence of their answers was identical: we are all the same; we may have minor differences in language, culture and geography that influence us but we all want the same things — peace and a stable, prosperous future for our children and grandchildren.

Several Russians underscored the point that if Russians and Americans got together and related to each other as regular people, there would be no real conflict. Valery Ivanov said, “If we were to meet in a bar for a drink, over American whiskey or Russian vodka, we would become good friends.”

Nikolay Viknyanschuk added, “Let’s be friends on a personal and family level. We should strengthen friendship between San Francisco and St. Petersburg. You are people and we are people. We all have five fingers on each hand.”

Volodya Shestakov offered this insight about his own transformation in how he saw Americans during the Cold War versus how he saw them afterward, when he was able to travel and to meet them: “When I looked at U.S. people, I saw them as alien, like from another planet. When I met American people, I no longer saw them that way. The liquid in our bodies is all from the same ocean.”

They also would like more Americans to come visit Russia and open themselves up to what Russia has to offer. Marina and Irina, two of the civil society activists in Krasnodar emphasized, “Let’s cooperate. Let’s share experience and meet each other. We have a rich history and culture to share and we want to invite Americans to come and meet us.”

Natylie Baldwin is co-author of Ukraine: Zbig’s Grand Chessboard & How the West Was Checkmated, available from Tayen Lane Publishing. In October 2015, she traveled to six cities in the Russian Federation. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various publications including Sun Monthly, Dissident Voice, Energy Bulletin, Newtopia Magazine, The Common Line, New York Journal of Books, OpEd News and The Lakeshore. She blogs at

34 comments for “How Russians See the West and Russia

  1. Yuriy
    November 21, 2015 at 21:21

    Donbass Madonna. It was July 27, 2014 in Donbas in Gorlovka. The girl’s name was Kristina, her daughter is 7 months – Kira. Why the West such terrible shots no one shows? The girl on the shirt inscription Paris. It is doing Ukrainian Artillery.

    The cynical killer of its citizens Poroshenko it expresses its condolences to France.

  2. Yves Sohy
    November 20, 2015 at 19:45

    You made reference in your article that Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev was Ukrainian and insinuated that that was the reason that he put the Crimean peninsula under the Ukrainian jurisdiction. Can you please give the source of your facts? What I was able to find out was that he was born In Kalinovka which is now situated in Russia but I have found no references that it was ever considered to be a part of Ukraine or that he was Ukrainian or ever considered himself to be Ukrainian. I do recognize that he was involved/assigned to the administration of Ukraine By Stalin before he served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Unless you can prove that he was Ukrainian I think that it is doing a disservice to the Ukrainian people to infer that because of his nationality somehow he gave Crimea as a “gift” to Ukraine.

    • Oleg
      November 21, 2015 at 00:23

      I will try to answer this. Basically, your question just demonstrates the total silliness of the whole Ukrainian question. Khrushchev was an ethnic Russian born in then Kursk guberniya (province) of the Russian empire. There were no major difference in the Russian empire between regions that ended up in the present-day Russia or eastern Ukraine, as there is little difference even now. The US states probably differ in more ways then Russian provinces at that time. In 1908, still during the Russian empire’s time, his family moved to the Donbass region, which is now of course the breakaway part of present-day Ukraine, where he continued his communist party and work career, first in the Russian empire and then in the Soviet Union. Since Soviet Union did pay lots of attention to national origins for ideological reasons, a Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine was formed, which incorporated portions of Russian-speaking and Ukrainian-speaking territories of the former Russian Empire. Khrushchev was among the leaders of the Ukrainian SSR for many years before rising to the post of the leader of the whole USSR. He did not consider himself ethnic Ukrainian, and neither did about quarter of the population of Ukraine at that time, but his whole life and carrier since he was 14 was related to Ukraine, so he helped his home region by transferring Crimea to Ukraine. By the way, this act was introduced to the people as a gift to Ukraine to commemorate the 300th anniversary of reunification of Ukraine and Russia (which happened in 1654). I am not sure if these facts could be perceived as doing a service or disservice to the Ukrainian people, or, to be more precise, the citizens of then Ukrainian SSR (again, many of them were ethnic Russians and people of many other origins). They had no say in this decision and thus cannot be held responsible for this in any way. At the same time, in the hindsight, Crimea as an anniversary gift surely carries some eery flavor of things to come. As some in Russia say, if the marriage is over, the gift should be returned.

      • Yves Sohy
        November 21, 2015 at 17:52

        Thank you Oleg for your explanation. I have family ties that go back to both the Ukraine and Russia so it pains me to see the division of a “marriage” where one side decides to take back a gift as you call it when one side (or both sides in this case) decides that the relationship is over. Also there is the matter of the Budapest agreement which was signed by the various parties that was broken, which puts in question the strength and commitment of the signatories to respect territorial boundaries that were negotiated and accepted at that time. That in itself puts the trust in any negotiated treaty into question and also puts at risk any other territorial agreements previously established i.e. Kaliningrad. It seems that the idea that “might makes right” leads to a disastrous period as we have witnessed in the past on the European continent and elsewhere. This has only led to an arms race in the past as countries built up there defensive capabilities to protect their borders at the expense of improving the standard of living for their citizens. “O, that the whole human family could all get along what a world that could be”.

        • Oleg
          November 24, 2015 at 19:18

          Hello Yves,

          Thank you for your comment. I do not really wish to go into this any further, it could last forever and would not probably change either your or my opinion. I wish to note though that, regarding the non-honoured agreements, there is one that started it all, and it is Kosovo, of course. Next, it is not might makes right as you said. it is the matter of self-determination. Crimean people had a referendum, and their secession from Ukraine was a clear will of the people of Crimea. They had right to decide their own destiny, as Americans did in 1776.

    • Natylie Baldwin
      November 21, 2015 at 21:19

      Hi Yves,

      You’re right. Khrushchev was not an ethnic Ukrainian, although he built his political career in Ukraine. I probably should have worded that in a more precise way.


  3. Joe L.
    November 20, 2015 at 18:20

    I have to say that I wish that all media outlets did stories like this which demonstrate more our similarities then using pointless propaganda to spread hate. The author pointed out many of my same feelings that if I was to sit down with a Russian person, outside of all of the politics, we would get along splendidly I am sure of it. At 41 years of age, I refuse to let my government or media tell me whom to hate anymore or let them influence my view of the world. As a Canadian, I don’t hate the Russians or the Iranians or the North Koreans or anyone else for that matter. I believe that our government’s, and media’s, will is to dehumanize people (our enemies) or to sell some sort of exceptionalism because it makes it so much easier to go to war or to spend erroneously on the military industrial complex at a time when many people are on food stamps. I wish more people would see the people of the world just as that “people” and realize that all life is precious regardless of what country we have fortunately or unfortunately been born in. As this article points out “people” just want a peaceful life, a stable life, where they can provide for their family and live as happily as possible – don’t we all have that in common? Kudos to the author of this article to show us the “humanity” of the people that are often portrayed as our “enemy”.

  4. bobzz
    November 20, 2015 at 16:36

    Oleg, to your point: “The written laws have much less importance for Russians. Should a written law contradict the natural law, it would be perceived to be totally acceptable for a Russian to disobey the written law”, is an interesting one.

    American jurisprudence abandoned moral law after the Civil War. One or our leading legal lights, Oliver Wendell Holmes, entered the war as a Christian and left it an atheist due to the carnage. It was his influence that set American jurisprudence on course for guidance by precedent rather than moral, or as you call it, natural law.

  5. John
    November 20, 2015 at 11:08

    Now the puzzle becomes how to make the mainstream media conscious of fair and refreshing perspectives like this one.

    • Natylie Baldwin
      November 20, 2015 at 12:47

      Amen, John. It is not easy for me to place my articles.

  6. Patricia Ormsby
    November 20, 2015 at 10:04

    I am an American living in Japan. I used to lead ecotours to Siberia, but have not been able to return to Russia for over a decade due to other commitments. I wish I could, though. Natylie’s experience there was similar to mine. I have a very favorable impression of Vladimir Putin because he helped his country’s citizens, who had been suffering tremendously under Yeltsin. The NGOs we were collaborating with for the ecotours have fared poorly, but even they were telling me Putin was having a good influence. Corruption persists–you cannot get rid of it overnight–and the NGOs who were facing that all along were still facing it, while at the same time, coming under suspicion for their ties with overseas groups, and the oligarchs exploiting that to attack an enemy. I hope something can be done to sort out the political trouble-makers from genuine altruists trying to stop exploitation from overseas. Even with this sad state of affairs, I think 95% of what has happened under Putin has been very good–and not just for Russia. International lawlessness and corruption is now under pressure.

  7. Naresh
    November 20, 2015 at 08:09

    A very balanced and truthful portrait of today’s Russia.

  8. Oleg
    November 20, 2015 at 06:04

    I second Dmitri, I am a Russian too, most of the things were indeed observed correctly. Thank you for great and, honestly, a quite unusual insight. You may also like to know that the Russian word Pravda literally means justice too. One of the first medieval Russian codes of laws was named Russkaya Pravda. This usage is now obsolete, but it has the same roots as the related Russian word, pravo, which is the modern form for justice. The relation to truth and justice is also one of the most important differences between Russians and Americans. The written laws have much less importance for Russians. Should a written law contradict the natural law, it would be perceived to be totally acceptable for a Russian to disobey the written law. This is counter-balanced, on the other hand, by the very strong power of the natural law, the ubiquitous Pravda, as you noted yourself. This makes understanding of the Russian way of life a bit difficult for outsiders. Like the issue of corruption, which is more or less tolerated if it does not exceed certain limits. We do share a strong view of right and wrong. It is very important for us to see ourselves as being in the right, to uphold certain principles. We do not like to undermine those principles for any short-term gains, which looks to be too often the case for the American policy. This is one of the main problems in relations with the US, which are often seen by Russians as being highly immoral in pursuing their goals. Like, again, Assad must go. We would not understand and accept it. The higher principle of democracy is that anyone, including Syrians, should be able to select their leaders themselves without foreign meddling. We do not insist on banning Senator Rubio from elections in the US because we do not like him, and we think that this should apply to Assad and Syrians too. The US do not understand this position and look for some secret deals between Putin and Assad, military bases, etc. It is odd for the US that someone takes a stance to uphold a principle. This is basically a great pity. The US used to be a country like that too – long ago, unfortunately.

  9. November 20, 2015 at 05:29

    There is no free press in the West. This is an open letter I wrote to the editors of major UK newspapers, who in the week following the Metrojet plane crash, published 3 scurrilous articles by a notorious anti-Russian propagandist financed by the US arms lobby. I’ve had no reply to my email. I take that as an agreement.


    The free press is dead in the West. All that is left in its place is a ruthless propaganda machine, bought and paid for by the arms manufacturers, which pushes for war, war, war, and more war. Consider:

    Monday 3 November 2015

    Mr. Edward Lucas, who writes for the Economist, is given space in the Daily Mail where he all but blames Mr. Putin for downing the Russian Metrojet plane in Egypt. Russia’s operations against head-cutting terrorists in Syria is dismissed by Mr. Lucas as a “soap opera”, Mr. Putin is blamed for “antagonising most of the Arab world”, and the Russian operation against head-cutting terrorists is dismissed as “a useful distraction”. Lucas lambasts Russia for being “in the front line against Islamist terrorism” (would Mr. Lucas like Russia better if it didn’t join in the war against terrorism?). Worse, Mr. Lucas implicitly blames Putin for blowing up the Russian passenger airplane: “Yet many are sceptical of the Russian official versions of these horrific events”…“In that vein, those who see the Putin regime as the epitome of devilry might even wonder if this tragedy in Egypt is in some perverse way a stunt to justify Russia’s military ambitions in Syria.” (So Mr. Putin did it, Mr. Lucas, he brought the Russian plane down for his own propaganda purposes, the death of 240 Russian civilians is just a “stunt”?)

    Friday 6 November 2015

    Three days later, Edward Lucas, obviously an impartial observer of all things Russian, is given space to write in the London Times. Apparently, “it’s difficult to counter lies when your opponent doesn’t care about the truth, but satire could be one potent answer”. “Western countries are beginning to wake up to the mistakes they made when capitalism trounced communism in 1991. One was to assume that money doesn’t smell. The other big one was to believe that a free press would always triumph”. Those evil Russians again! Does Lucas propaganda represent the “free press”?

    Saturday 7 November 2015

    One day later, for the 3rd time in a week, Edward Lucas is given a platform to write a truly despicable column in the Daily Telegraph. This time, Lucas alleges that Russia’s attacks on head-cutting terrorists in Syria is just a “foreign policy soap opera”, “set against the exotic backdrop of the Syrian civil war.” Lucas blasts Russia for being “now firmly (and probably irrevocably) positioned as an enemy of conservative and radical Sunni Muslims” (so being the enemy of head-chopping terrorists in Syria is the wrong thing to do, is it?). Lucas blasts Russia for being “an ardent supporter of the Sisi regime in Egypt, which jails, tortures and executes members of the Muslim Brotherhood” (any word about Mr. David Cameron, who the same week Lucas was lambasting Mr. Putin for supporting Mr. Sisi, received Mr. Sisi with full state honours?). This (opposing the terrorists) “represents a radical and dangerous shift from the Kremlin’s past policy” (does Edward Lucas oppose opposing terrorists?). “Mr Putin’s spectacular involvement in Syria… was brilliant showmanship – but it has left Russia without a strategy”. “The enmity it has aroused will be long lasting, while the gains are evanescent” (right, so opposing terrorism is wong, is it?).

    Now it gets really interesting. Mr Lucas claims “Russia is now a pariah in the civilised world” (never mind that China and India, the two most populous countries in the world, have excellent relations with Russia). “Even the most deluded and naive outsiders – such as foreign policy experts in the United States and Europe – now admit that the Kremlin is a threat” (deluded – is Mr Lucas speaking for himself?). “The frontline states of Europe – notably those around the Baltic Sea – are raising their military spending”. For once, Mr. Lucas is speaking the truth.

    For those here who don’t know, Edward Lucas is a senior VP for the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), a US think tank funded by Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Bell Helicopter, Textron Systems, Sikorsky Aircraft, other US weapons manufacturers, and the US department of “defence”. Obviously, these weapons manufacturers have a vested interest in pushing confrontation with Russia (which Mr. Lucas is extremely good at pushing, and which is good for their sales, as Mr. Lucas backhandedly admits).

    Question: why does a notorious anti-Russian propagandist like Edward Lucas get a platform to write three anti-Russian articles in three prestigious mainstream publications in the same week? Answer: there is no free press left in the West. The Western press is just the propaganda mouthpiece of the military industrial complex. Are we really to believe that the Daily Mail, the Times, and the Daily Telegraph, all saw fit to publish Edward Lucas bile against Russia and Mr. Putin in the same week, all by coincidence? Or have they been ordered by powers higher-up to provide a platform for the propaganda?

    Mr. Lucas finishes off his nasty piece of anti-Russian propaganda in the Telegraph by claiming that “Instead the Kremlin propaganda machine will spin the tragedy over Sinai as vindication for its tough line in Syria. That it is deploying air-defence missiles there against an adversary with no aircraft is beside the point: on television the pictures matter so much more than the plot.” ISIS may not have any aircraft, Mr. Lucas, but the United States certainly does. By deploying anti-missile systems in Syria, Mr. Putin has prevented the USA from setting up a so-called no-fly zone to make it easier for the head-cutting terrorists to overthrow Syria’s secular government and set up a radical Islamist regime. But of course Mr. Lucas will always seek to portray whatever Russia does as silly, scary, incomprehensible, dangerous, or downright evil.

    To repeat my question: is it a pure coincidence that the Daily Mail, The Times, and the Daily Telegraph, all in the space of one week, gave a propaganda platform to Edward Lucas? Or have they been ordered by the military-industrial complex or intelligence services to do so? Does Mr. Lucas feel any sense of shame or remorse in shamelessly using the death of 240 innocent Russians as fodder for his anti-Russian propaganda? Does Edward Lucas have any sense of decency? Do newspaper editors have any sense of decency? Is there any honourable newspaper editor who will to tell me why an anti-Russian propagandist paid for by the US arms lobby gets to spew his hatred of Russia in 3 prestigious publications in the same week?

    If anyone among you is honourable, I would like to hear from you.


    • Ted Tripp
      November 23, 2015 at 15:59

      The answer lies in the unpardonable mistake Putin made by, well, being Putin. As far as I understand, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Americans enabled the fire sale of Soviet state assets that created the oligarchy. Years later, Mr Putin strikes back and restores the Russian state, one that pursues policies independent of Washington. So, he must be destroyed.

  10. Dmitri
    November 20, 2015 at 02:52

    This is a great essay. I am a Russian, and although I’ve been living in the US for the last 15 years, I still have many relatives and friends in Russia, I communicate with them regularly. And I can tell: I don’t see any significant point in this article, in which I would disagree with the author. Thank you, Natylie. I wish more Americans would read this, and your book, too.

  11. Paul Grenier
    November 20, 2015 at 00:04

    Nicely done! This presents a well balanced picture of Russia as it really is today. I hope your essay inspires many more Americans to go there.

    • Natylie Baldwin
      November 20, 2015 at 01:59

      Thank you, Paul. I’ve really enjoyed some of your pieces, especially the one about Russian philosophers that Putin reportedly admires. Before I left on my trip I’d just finished reading “Russian Thought After Communism” edited by James Scanlan, which was cited in your piece. Very fascinating.

  12. Zachary Smith
    November 19, 2015 at 23:21

    Many thanks to the author.

    This was a fascinating read.

    • Natylie Baldwin
      November 20, 2015 at 01:56

      You’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  13. bobzz
    November 19, 2015 at 21:57

    Hi, Natylie: enjoyed your book, too.

    • Natylie Baldwin
      November 20, 2015 at 00:03

      Thank you.

  14. Drew Hunkins
    November 19, 2015 at 14:56

    This is a tremendously insightful and illuminating piece!

    There is more truth and accuracy in this article, and the reader will gain more knowledge and clarity in this single essay, than watching or listening to 500 hours of CNN, PBS News Hour, NPR, ABC, CBS or NBC.

  15. Abe
    November 19, 2015 at 14:40

    Washington continues making an international fool of herself by her inability to effectively counter the impression around the world that Russia, spending less than 10% of the Pentagon annually on defense, has managed to do more against ISIS in Syria in six weeks than the mighty US Air Force bombing campaign has done in almost a year and half. One aspect that bears attention is the demonstration by the Russian military of new technologies that belie the widely-held Western notion that Russia is little more than a backward oil and raw material commodity exporter.

    Recent reorganization of the Russian state military industrial complex as well as reorganization of the Soviet-era armed forces under Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s term are visible in the success so far of Russia’s ISIS and other terror strikes across Syria. Clearly Russian military capabilities have undergone a sea-change since the Soviet Cold War era.

    In war there are never winners. Yet Russia has been in an unwanted war with Washington de facto since the George W. Bush Administration announced its lunatic plan to place what they euphemistically term “Ballistic Missile Defense” missiles and advanced radar in Poland, Czech Republic, Romania and Turkey after 2007. Without going into detail, BMD technologies are the opposite of defensive. They instead make a pre-emptive war highly likely. Of course the radioactive ash heap in such an exchange would be first and foremost the EU countries foolish enough to invite US BMD to their soil.

    Then came the highly provocative US-instigated coup d’etat in Ukraine in February 2014, installing a cabal of gangsters, neo-nazis and criminals who launched a civil war against its own citizens in east Ukraine, an ill-conceived attempt to bring Russia into a ground war across her border. It followed two UN Security Council vetoes by Russia and China of US proposals for No Fly zones over Syria as was done to destroy Qaddafi’s Libya. Now Russia has surprised the West by accepting the request of Syrian President Bashar al Assad to help eliminate the terrorism that has ravaged the once-peaceful country for over four years.

    What the Russian General Staff has managed, since the precision air campaign began September 30, has stunned western defense planners with Russian technological feats not expected.

    Do We Really Want a New World War With Russia?
    By F. William Engdahl

  16. peter little
    November 19, 2015 at 14:32

    What happened around Sochi, if we are talking about Russian homophobic politicians is a very big deal. If a wake up call it should be about Russian values. This one issue has cost Russia and CIS perhaps millions of supporters abroad. Homophobia in the west is associated with the US’ worst right wing political actors.

    • Natylie Baldwin
      November 19, 2015 at 15:54

      Hi Peter,

      The intensity of the antipathy toward Russia during the Sochi Olympics for its alleged homophobia was problematic for a couple of reasons. First, Russia is a culturally conservative country. This is not surprising when considering the fact that it was a closed off totalitarian society for 70 years under the Soviet Union. Most Soviet citizens could not travel outside of the country and it was a challenge even traveling within the country. At the same time, information from the outside world was tightly controlled. They are only about one generation out from under that. The degree of “homophobia” is also exaggerated. In major cities, there are gay bars and clubs and gay people even live together. Most Russians don’t care much as long as they don’t feel that it is being rubbed in their face, so to speak. They are not ready for public displays of affection or gay pride parades. They are probably about where we were at as a society about this issue, maybe 40 years ago.

      Secondly, the very same politicians who were foaming at the mouth about Russia’s homophobia relating to Sochi were falling over themselves later to sing the praises of the Saudi king when he died. This was a king who presided over the routine public beheading of homosexuals in Saudi Arabia. This demonstrates the disingenuous nature of the condemnations of Russia over its treatment of homosexuals which is not even in the same league at all with our close Saudi ally.

      • John
        November 20, 2015 at 11:21

        I want to say something similar – I’ve spoken with someone who’s from another country which isn’t Russia, but which has similar attitudes about gays as Russia. She worked for a TV studio, where a number of her co-workers were gay. She said that yes, the public generally hated gays, but what they really hated was when people flaunted their “gayness.” She says that people who didn’t make a big deal about it rarely saw any problems as a result. This flies in the face of US thinking, where the freedom of expression is the key, but apparently it’s something people prefer and are comfortable with over there.

    • Threadzilla
      November 19, 2015 at 16:08

      That was a disgusting example of Western press savaging Russia’s effort to host the Olympics at Sochi. It was petty and mean-spirited. Imagine if guests in your home had viciously criticized everything you tried to provide.

      As far as the pink-bashing against Russia, it was hypocritical. Russia allowed gays to serve openly in the military since 2003. The US came late to the party in 2011 and now we wield it like a club. Dispicable.

    • David Hart
      November 20, 2015 at 06:50

      I love how Americans (and I am one, and gay) are suddenly the paragons of truth and the beacon for all gay-related issues in the world now. It was barely 5-6 years ago that most Americans still opposed gay marriage (and many still do today–polls indicate some 40-45% of adult Americans oppose gay marriage), and many Americans (particularly in the South) are opposed to gay rights, still claiming that gays can be “cured” and they are a group seeking “special rights.” For all our enlightenment, there are still many who would love for gays to simply go “back into the closet”–probably similar to what many Russian people think about gay people in their country. Yet we are unwilling to give other countries the same chance to evolve on this issue, when it took the US 235 years to finally admit their gay citizens as equals. We have close relations with countries who are not as advanced as we are in gay rights, as well as countries that are far ahead of us. What gives us the authority to tell Russia how to deal with this situation? It is for their people to come to terms with how they deal with gays in their country. I don’t see many people blasting Saudi Arabia or Jordan for their stance on gays. In South Korea, openly gay people are barely visible (although a lesbian was elected Student Body President this week at the prestigious Seoul National University). I am sure not everyone in Russia is homophobic–give them some time to come to terms with the realities of gay life in Russia, and I am sure they will end their persecution. It took a long time in the US. How soon we forget what it was like.

      • Todd Christiansen
        November 20, 2015 at 18:40

        This issue was troubling to me for the simple reason that the MSM tends to be VERY selective when it comes to the issue of relativism. For some reason, a country must be very impoverished, and its ethnicity must not be anything that resembles “whiteness” in order for it to be granted the “none of our business” moral relativism.
        This all seemed like one of the many recent attempts at demonizing a country that acts far more responsibly abroad than our own.

      • Oleg
        November 21, 2015 at 16:58

        Completely agree. One should also remember a large muslim population of Russia (including Chechnia) for whom the subject is tabu. In general, Russians are quite conservative but not aggressive. Here is an example of gay pride in Saint Petersburg,

        I must say the Anti-Sochi propaganda was the turning point for me. I had not experienced so much bias and outright lies in mass media before. It was an eye opener.

    • Joe L.
      November 20, 2015 at 18:38

      peter little… While I do disagree with Russia’s anti-gay policies, I have to say that it was really used for propaganda before/during the Sochi Olympics – amongst other things such as Pussy Riot, dogs in the streets, bathrooms etc. It almost felt like the demonization or even the “superior” attitude towards Russia was leading up to something. What I did find ironic while our politicians and media were thumping their chests, meanwhile forgetting our own homophobic histories, was an article that Perez Hilton wrote entitled “These 10 States Have Anti-Gay Laws That Are Almost Identical To Russia’s Horrible Policies!”:

      Even before the coup in Ukraine occurred, I could just feel like the media was gearing up for something. I thought that it was really sad that we could not highlight more the accomplishments of Russia, a country that has risen from ashes of their collapse in 1991, instead of resorting to childish “pot-shots”. Though I do hope that the anti-gay law changes in Russia but that is going to take the LGBT community to fight for it as they have in many western countries.

    • Lana
      November 26, 2015 at 02:59

      Hi Peter,
      Looks like you ars one of them. There is no homophobia in Russia, they are against public display of this. Why don’t you keep your private sexual life to yourself? As individuals either gays or lesbians have the same rights as well as responsibilities.

  17. Joe Tedesky
    November 19, 2015 at 12:09

    I am posting a link to a essay written by a Russian, who talks about his disappointment with the current goings on, between Russia and America. It is a worth while read;

    Studs Terkel, wrote a book called, Hard Times; an oral history of the Great Depression

    Terkel’s book is a collection of comments. Some of the comments are only one or two paragraphs long, but told by the many different people’s experiences and perspectives, who lived through that era. Hard Times has nothing to do with Russia, but sort of what our author did with her Russian piece by her interviewing various people….just thought I would mention it.

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