The troubled current relationship between the US and Russia resonates its in own way with many Americans of my generation, known as “Generation X.” We are the ones born from 1964 until about 1980. Our grandparents fought in World War II; and our parents were raised with the Cold War.
It saddens us. We had experienced for a few years something that was radically different: what we had thought was “reconciliation”:
Many Russians in our age group experienced much the same – but from of course their own perspectives. If you are interested, you should read Anastasia Edel’s February 2018, New York Review of Books article. It’s a fascinating recounting of where we were then and how we are here now.
In the 1990s, back in New York, I knew several “Anastasias.” For a time, post-1991, it was an almost surreal US-Russia relationship. Russians (and other former Soviets), America’s former Cold War adversaries/ enemy, people most of us had never met in person and had been “demons” for our entire lives, were now newly free to travel post-communism, and even free to attend university in the US.
The Cold War, we were all told, was over and it was now “the future.” We were unsurprisingly intrigued by these Russians now among us, and they appeared just as keen to know us. Eventually, I came to know several, men and women, fairly well for a time. That’s where I got “Lena”:
Around 1995, eating lunch at the university, a Russian woman had flat out told me this. I never forgot it:
They were now our friends. We thought knowing them would eventually be much as we had long-known British and French and other Europeans:
But, as Ms. Edel notes in her article, “Things change.”
Britain has its own serious issues with this Russian government, as we know. As for those of my own country, the United States, I see many on social media now asking: “But why have so many Republicans and conservatives [although bear in mind they are not necessarily synonymous] become so cozy with this Russian strongman Putin?” I’m not one to state this lightly, but based on all I’ve been seeing in recent years one point fundamentally seems to sum that up: Russians are, well, “white.”
The arrest days ago in the US by the FBI of the twenty-nine year old Russian, Maria Butina, who is charged with being an unregistered foreign agent, is making that now even clearer. Ms. Butina was merely some foreign graduate student, yet she was evidently relatively easily able to leverage her supposedly conservative beliefs in opposing the likes of “big government” and in “preserving the Second Amendment,” and – let’s be honest – HER YOUTH AND LOOKS, into ingratiating herself with 50-something, high-level and influential, supposedly “conservative,” men in powerful “conservative” and “right-wing” US groups – insofar as we know, all white men. She flattered them and told them what they wanted to hear. We are seeing her in photo after photo after photo alongside them, and she may have been “involved” not only with an unidentified 56 year old political activist she termed “her boyfriend” (there are no fools like fifty-something-men fools), but with several others as well.
The conclusion one may draw from that is they are first and foremost racialists; that they believe because Russians are (mostly) white, that fact means they may be default partners in… whatever. Once we understand that essential position, everything else that has been happening makes much more sense. Those men aren’t interested in the slightest in the fates of other Russians opposed to Mr. Putin’s view of the world and in his authoritarian undermining of their nascent democracy in the last decade before it was able to take firm hold post-communism. In fact, those Americans profess even to admire him.
We’ve seen this sort of thing before time and again in US history. One small example. During WWII (1941-1945) black American servicemen in still mostly segregated southern US states noticed that white German prisoners of war being transported within the US were allowed to eat inside restaurants in plain view alongside white American soldier captors, but they, black American soldiers, had to eat in the kitchen or outside.
Interestingly, at that same time the (now former) Soviet Union, of which Russians formed a majority of the population, was also America’s formal ally – desperately fighting as they were those same Nazi Germans. However, it was never a close alliance similar to that which the US experienced with Britain and France; under Stalin’s communist despotism, “ordinary” Americans and “ordinary” Russians were rarely in close proximity because Stalin’s regime was relentlessly insular and deeply suspicious of outsiders, including allies. We both fought the Nazis, yes, but mostly separately and for our own distinct reasons.
Americans encountered Russians in person really in only a few places, such as around the northern Russian port of Murmansk. There US-shipped “Lend Lease” war supplies were off-loaded after convoys had completed their dangerous journeys. I read a story years ago told in the 1990s by a (by then elderly) Russian woman of how she had somehow managed to meet an American merchant sailor during his couple of months at Murmansk and had a relationship with him secretly. She said she realized she was pregnant only after he had sailed for home and recalled the abuse she endured for having become pregnant by a foreigner. In the end she had an abortion, and never saw or heard from him again.
Maybe we can eventually recover it. But that seems unlikely in the short term, at least. Sadly, it appears that “the future” we had hoped for two decades ago, is over.