Kathy Kelly: Why Go to Russia?

Since 1983, Sharon Tennison has worked to develop ordinary citizens’ capacities to avert international crises, focusing on relations between the U.S. and Russia. Now, amid a rising crisis in relations between the US and Russia, she has organized a delegation which assembled in Moscow yesterday for a two week visit. I joined the group yesterday, and happened to finish reading Sharon Tennison’s book, The Power of Impossible Ideas, when I landed in Moscow.

An entry in her book, dated November 9, 1989, describes the excitement over the Berlin Wall coming down and notes that “Prior to the Wall’s removal, President George H.W. Bush assured Secretary General Gorbachev that if he would support bringing down the Wall separating East and West Berlin, NATO would not move ‘a finger’s width’ closer to Russia than East Germany’s border. With this assurance Gorbachev gladly signed on.

Little could he or the world have guessed that this promise would soon be broken during the next administration – and that the redeveloping distrust between the countries would threaten to become a second cold War, due to NATO’s expansion up to Russia’s borders.”

Today, NATO and US troops will conclude 10 days of military exercises, Anakonda, on Russia’s western border, involving 31,000 troops. The operation was named after a snake that kills by crushing its prey. Ongoing deployment of 4,000 additional NATO troops has been announced. US and South Korean military exercises just completed at the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea were dubbed “Decapitation” and mobilized 320,000 troops.

Conn Hallinan, in “Bear Baiting Russia,” notes that “Russia has two bases in the Middle East and a handful in Central Asia. The US has 662 bases in foreign countries around the world and Special Forces (SOF) deployed in between 70 and 90 countries at any moment. Last year SOFs were active in 147 countries. The US is actively engaged in five wars and is considering a sixth in Libya. Russian military spending will fall next year, and the US will outspend Moscow by a factor of 10. Who in this comparison looks threatening?”

It’s important for US people to learn more, from ordinary Russian people, about their responses to troop buildup and new bases on their borders, threatening military exercises, and antagonistic arsenals of nuclear weapons on high alert. As President Vladimir Putin begins summoning a new Russian National Guard that could include 400,000 troops, it’s important to hear how Russian people feel about this development.

Rather than foster cartoonized versions of foreign policy, the media should help people recognize complexity in Russian society and include awareness of desires to live in peace on the part of people in both countries.

US people committed to peace making might help ordinary Russians sense the complexity of US society and better understand how US military spending and build up toward war adversely affects civil society in the US

Suppose someone in Russia were to ask me what I was doing before coming to Russia. In honesty, I’d explain that the previous week companions and I finished a 150 mile walk to a supermax prison in my home state of Illinois which could eventually subject 1900 people to tortuous years of solitary confinement, doubling the number of such cells in the US Like the military-industrial complex in the US, the prison-industrial complex is now rooted in government salaries and corporate profits, and it’s hard to uproot it.

Before joining the walk, I lived for several weeks in late May and early June with young volunteers in Kabul who long to "live without war." 15 years into the US war in Afghanistan, the US has “succeeded” in creating conditions for ongoing war.

NATO and US officials claim that their military exercises in countries around the world will enhance international security, but those of us who are members of the delegation here in Russia believe that it’s essential to swiftly reverse the present trend toward Cold Wars with Russia and China. The fantasy of world domination endangers people throughout the world and within the US as people again shudder over the possibility of war between nuclear armed powers.

This morning, Dmitri Babich, an active journalist for over 25 years focusing on Russian politics, said it’s important to name the problem we face, and he believes the fundamental problem is the US insistence on being institutional supremacists – exceptionalists.

In other words, the policy fantasy that stands in the way of addressing major world problems cooperatively is the idea that the United States can retain and expand the boundaries of “sole superpower” domination. United States policy should stop poking and provoking Russia and China along their frontiers, and instead seek negotiated peaceful coexistence.

Missiles fitted with thermonuclear warheads and on battle-ready status are unstable, and, at any time, can result in the catastrophic destruction of cities on both sides, and even the ending of civilized life on earth.

With active cooperation among the great powers and large reductions in wasteful competitive military spending, all countries could cooperatively address the threats from climate change, water shortages, regional underdevelopment, and economic pressures caused by population growth.

Ordinary people everywhere should do all that we can to demand that all international disputes be resolved by nonmilitary means, avoiding all wars and achieving the deactivation of all nuclear weapons.

Sharon Tennison’s work to develop citizen-to-citizen diplomacy, since 1983, suggests that people could work together to tackle such problems.

But, informed public opinion in the US and in Russia will be crucially needed.

My friend Brad Lyttle, a lead organizer of and participant in the “San Francisco to Moscow Walk” (1960-1961) recently wrote to President Obama that there is no reason why the US and Russia should continue to jeopardize the very existence of the human species with their huge nuclear arsenals. “Work with President Putin to reduce and eliminate these,” wrote Brad. “Emphasize a trustful and positive approach. Don’t assume that the future needs always to be as bad as much of the past.”

Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

11 thoughts on “Kathy Kelly: Why Go to Russia?”

  1. I have friends in Russia. I will not stop being friends with them even if my government wants to fight a war with theirs. Communism is dead there. They are a different place than they were thirty years ago. It is time our government figured that out.

    1. I honestly don’t believe Russia was a threat even back then. At least not to anyone but themselves. The USSR was a failed experiment born in poverty and under siege by an international force aligned with Czar’s Whites that included tens of thousands of American GI’s fresh from the trenches of WW1. This siege was the beginning of the Cold War and it never ended. The fact that the Russian people have managed to achieve so much under this siege, including a degree of democratic freedom, is a testament to there resolve as a people. These are the people who won the Second Word War in spite of the growing psychosis of Stalin. And these may very well be the people who will have to win a Third World War against the psychosis of the American Empire. As an American anti-imperialist, I find myself in the odd position of wishing them well and rooting for them against my own country.

  2. The link for “Voices for Creative Nonviolence” Is all jacked up, it takes you right to a spyware link. It should be removed. Also Kathy should be told so she can fix it. Someone has hacked it obviously.

  3. As a teacher of Russian I was a beneficiary of the exchanges established by Gorbachev and Reagan in Iceland in 1986, but made my first trip to the USSR in 1971. Yes, the people there are just like us. In the Soviet period one saw drunks, but not homeless people. Now there are pensioners who beg at subway stations. And garbage, which one did not see before the country adopted capitalism. No, capitalism is not the answer, unless one wants a country of the haves and have-nots.

    1. Yes, capitalism is not the answer. Capitalism is bringing about all these disasters we are facing now.

  4. The Foreign Minister of Germany, Steinmeier is from the SPD Social-Democrat Part (Centrists )y, that is the coaolition partner of the CDU Christian-Democrat (Rightwing Conservatices) of Chancellot Merkel’s government, that leads the campaign in Germany against relations with Russia. But just now, Foreign Minister Steimeier has surprised Germans by advocating an end of the economic embargo of all NATO nations against Russia, which has been established as retaliation against the Crimea annexation. Before Steinmeri, the Prime Minister (State Governor) of Bavaria who is an arch-conservative with separatistic inclinations had already visited Putin and advocated an end to the embargo of Germany and NATO against Russia . (The Prime Minister Renzi of Italy has also advocated an en to the embargo). German and Italian business does not want to lose sales just because the USA wants to weaken and then dismember Russia. – Thus now pay attention: No matter what, the permanent objectives of the USA throughout this century and beyond IS THE DISMEMBERMENT OF RUSSIA,. The USA wants control over Siberia by means of “independent associated states” just like the U.S. “associated states” in the Southeast Pacific: Palau, Marshal Islands, United States of Micronesia. Russia’s Siberia has the longest coastline in the Pacific and border on China where the USA wants bases for squashing China. Russia’s Caucasus will be surrendered by the USA to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Karelia to Finland. Only “Core”-Russia would remain as a docile “neutral” entity. All the “peace good-will” will not change this.Unfortunately. The Russians are smart enough to understand this, and may resist as long as possible.

Comments are closed.