I Visited Russia During War & We Are Being Lied To
Things are not as they seem & nuclear war hangs in the balance.
I traveled to Russia for 2 weeks amid the Russo-Ukrainian War & accompanying socio-political fallout. What I experienced in dealing with Russian authorities, people & institutions was vastly different from what the U.S./western media (& accompanying mob mentality) is portraying.
This should be no surprise to anyone who read or sees validity in my previous post about Covid vaccines, but I believe it has significant ramifications for the world’s future.
I don’t write this to instill fear or concern for anyone. I’m writing this to organize my personal thoughts, because I have a unique perspective having been inside Russia & dealing with their institutions, & for interested parties who desire a new/alternative perspective..
As with all my thinking, I take an extreme multidisciplinary approach to analyzing any situation & this one in particular. I will often use wildlife biology or interpersonal growth principles as metaphors for geopolitical matters.
Before I go any further:
I love Russians & I love Ukrainians. I have spent time in Ukraine, had some of the best (& most intense!) experiences of my life. I have friends living in Kyiv who are fighting for their freedom & I see great valor & beauty in their cause. I also love Russia, their history, culture & people. I believe most Russians don’t want this war. The war is a tragedy for all involved.
Why does the Russo-Ukrainian war matter for your daily life?
My previous politically-oriented post about Covid was directly relevant for thousands of people who faced tough choices around vaccination, wearing masks, etc, all of which impacted our daily lives.
Even though this war seems far from home, it will impact our lives in both direct & indirect ways. Directly, there may be a period where food & energy prices skyrocket, which will hurt common people more than the wealthy. Russia & Ukraine are big food & natural resource exporters. Indirectly, the stakes are higher.
#1. A cornered animal will fight
In the wild, animals almost universally avoid fighting if it can be helped. This is even true of the largest & most equipped killers, such as the Siberian tiger. While in Russia, I was tracking 4-600 lb Siberian tigers & they almost always try to avoid a fight.
Fighting in the wild, even for the victor, can spell death due to injury or accidents. But backed into a corner with no place to go, any & all animals will fight. I have seen a mongoose fight a lion to the death because it had no other option.
The problem in the case of Russia, is that this “animal” is human & they have more nuclear weapons than any other country on the planet (about half the total). And while nobody really wants nuclear war, the Kremlin (Russian government) has already said nuclear weapons are only an option if its existence is threatened (i.e: if they’re backed into a corner).
Beyond any speculation about Russia’s use of nuclear weapons, just sit with & contemplate the idea of what annihilation could look like. Don’t intellectualize it. Actually feel what kind of travesty it would be to go down that route.
#2. We are laying the foundation for future conflict
As of writing this March 31, 2022, it seems a peaceful political resolution may be viable between Russia & Ukraine. But the tension & conflict does not end here.
Putin has said, & I agree, that the economic sanctions imposed by the United States & western countries are akin to a declaration of war. Whatever solution comes from this conflict will be a band-aid over festering wounds.
History offers a few comparisons.
One is Imperial Japan during World War 2. In 1940, the United States placed an oil embargo on the aggressive Japanese military. Backed into a corner, the Japanese believed the only way to handle the situation was to destroy U.S. naval power in the Pacific ocean (aka: Pearl Harbor). It was their version of “cutting the head off the snake”. Today, Russia has nuclear weapons so a similar type of attack would likely be more catastrophic.
The second example is Germany after World War 1. Their defeat led to the Treaty of Versailles, incredible reparation payments they could not afford, & general vilification of the German people. This ultimately led to Adolf Hitler gaining power along with the Nazi party with the aftermath being World War 2 & the Holocaust.
#3. Insight into the projection & decay of the American Empire
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” - John 8:7
The U.S. media as an institution is broken.
It has been for a while, but now it is even more clear to me.
The fact that our media could spew nearly 2 full years of fear, doom & gloom around Covid & then do a 180 degree refocus on the “unprovoked & unjustified Russian invasion of Ukraine” is farcical at best & criminal at worst.
I don’t know if this is intentional or there is some “conspiracy” to sweep under the rug all the missteps from the covid era & I prefer not to speculate. But it doesn’t look or feel good.
I’ll clarify with more detail how I see this whole experience illuminating the sensitive underbelly of U.S. institutions, but here’s a quick list:
U.S. media agenda (as described above)
Our own unjustified/unprovoked military actions across the globe (Iraq, drone strikes on civilians including U.S. citizens etc)
Unlawful/political prisoners (i.e: Guantanamo Bay)
Virtue signaling of our corporate elite & influencers (Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday etc)
Expenditure of resources we do not have (billions of dollars in aid & military funding)
Truth & Reconciliation: A Path Forward
I don’t want this essay to be focused on all the problems with the current western/US narrative without offering some type of solution. Nelson Mandela’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission from 1996-2003 is a great model for a path forward. It would look quite different in this situation, but we know that something, where transgressions are forgiven for future human flourishing, is possible. And that’s a good place to start.
To do this, the west & America in particular will need to look at our role in creating the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A core principle of interpersonal/self-growth is taking responsibility for ANY given situation no matter how objectively unfair it may be. The belief is, taking responsibility creates empowerment & allows us to learn for the future.
Collectively, the same principle applies. What is the United States’ role in bringing on the war in Russia?
For one, we have pushed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) onto the front door of the Russian Federation. Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania are all former Soviet bloc (USSR) nations that are now part of a military alliance that features nuclear weapons & anti-defensive nuclear capabilities in Russia’s old sphere of influence.
As of 2021 Vladimir Putin & Russian officials said they believed NATO expanding into places like Ukraine was an existential threat to Russia. It was a red line that should not be crossed.
As in, the Putin administration clearly vocalized their boundaries to the USA, to Ukraine, to NATO & to the world.
Yet we pressed forward.
It’s like we found a hibernating bear sleeping in a den during winter. The bear isn’t nearly as powerful as it once was, but it’s still capable of destruction. We poke the bear. We poke it some more. And then we’re surprised when it attacks?
Generally speaking, it seems as though the USA believes we can do whatever we like on a geopolitical stage & get away with it. The principle “might is right” has validity to it – as of now, we can do pretty much anything we desire & get away with it. But we need to accept responsibility for our actions. We overplayed our hand. And it’s not always going to be this way.
That does NOT mean I condone the war in Ukraine. That does not mean I think it’s justified or necessarily a “defensive” posture as Russian officials might want us to believe.
But we can’t start any conversation without taking responsibility for our part in creating this.
Irredeemably Evil: Why Our View on Putin Needs to Change
“The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
There is a fake TIME magazine image likening Putin to Hitler. Pundits are speaking Putin’s name in the same sentence with people like Stalin & some of the most brutal totalitarian rulers of the 20th century.
This is a problem for two reasons.
It trivializes the tenacity of large-scale genocide campaigns that did occur
It ensures we continue treating, dehumanizing, & vilifying a man who is still in power & is still making decisions about his own legacy & the fate of the people he represents
Putin has not rounded up enemies of the state for large-scale murder & he certainly has not engaged in “total war” on the scale the Germans, Japanese, or Soviets did. To even make the comparison reflects the ignorance of those who do so.
Perhaps more importantly, when we dehumanize a person & make it impossible for them to redeem themselves morally, we do nothing more than create the very thing we fear. We are building in an Us vs Them separation that is not only false (if one believes we’re all connected), but also incredibly dangerous.
For the most succinct explanation of why it’s dangerous, see Goethe’s quote above. If we see Putin as a monster that cannot be brought back from evil, we will treat him that way, & he will become that because of our treatment.
Alternatively, if we can, with a firm & well-boundaried hand, open our arms in open embrace, we may be able to avert catastrophe. But we’re not leaving much room for him to come back.
Here’s an example parents will understand best: imagine you tell your children that they are a “bad boy/girl” & make it clear that there is no way they can be a “good boy/girl”. What do you believe their response will be?
We Know Nothing About Ethnic Minorities
As a melting pot, it is very challenging for Americans to understand what it’s like to have ethnic minorities in jeopardy or in other countries.
This is different from what Russians experience. During the Soviet Union, ethnic Russians were exported (i.e: forcibly moved) all over their sphere of influence. There are ethnic Russians in European countries like Estonia & Latvia.
In Ukraine, the ethnic minority Russians do exist. And in many cases, they do have a stronger allegiance to Russia than Ukraine.
For example, when the Crimea region was annexed by Russia, the entire Berkut (police) of that region defected to Russia & asked for Russian passports/citizenship. They did not fight Russian occupation. It is possible (likely even), that Putin believed he would face a similar situation in the whole of Ukraine.
Because we don’t understand what it’s like to have ethnic minorities in hostile nations, we have a hard time empathizing with his/their motivations.
What Would We Do?
Putin & his followers have said NATO & the EU are existential threats to Russia.
And they’re not wrong.
A Ukraine that is in NATO means there will be defensive & offensive nuclear capabilities only 300 miles from Moscow, the capital of Russia with nearly 12% of the total Russian population.
What would we do if Russia or China tried to put nuclear weapons in Tijuana, or Guadalahara or Toronto?
Well, that happened in the 1960s with John F Kennedy Jr was president & it was the closest we came to nuclear war. Our reaction seems telling:
Everyone minus JFK wanted to bomb missle sites, launch an invasion & remove the threat. Luckily, JFK decided to avert war by first placing a blockade on any further weapons around Cuba & then negotiating with the Soviets to remove the weapons.
In the same situation, 60 years ago, most of our military minds & politicians wanted to do what Putin tried to do preemptively. We averted crisis because we had what was arguably the most well-loved American leader in the 20th century.
Punishing the Average Russian
From my experience in Russia, most Russian people do not want the war. None of the Russians I spoke to wanted involvement. Some of the Russians I met in places like Dubai were lying & calling themselves Georgian because of the shame that this war is creating. Thousands are being arrested & detained for speaking out against the war.
The economic sanctions will fall almost squarely on their shoulders. There are limited resources in Russia. The oligarchs will take what they want internally even as their external world shrinks around them. Average Russians will suffer. Are suffering. I saw it. I felt it. I still do.
Even the Russians who are fleeing the Putin regime find that Ukrainians have free entry into the US, but they do not. Same “enemy” ostensibly, but different treatment. This needs to change.
U.S. Military Intervention: Civilians & Sovereign Countries
The Biden administration consistently uses rhetoric that speaks to Russia’s bombing foreign sovereign nations & “war crimes” against civilians. During his role as Vice President under the Obama administration, here are a few specific instances that make his rhetoric now hypocritical:
41 people killed at funeral bombing
42 people killed at hospital bombing
16 year old American boy killed by drone strike
582 civilians killed each year of Obama presidency
In war there will be civilian casualties. It’s unfortunate. For those who have to live with them, it’s life-altering in the most unimaginable way.
I personally don’t believe Biden is a bad person for being a part of an administration where such carnage was wrought upon a civilian population. But for him to speak in the dramatic fashion that he’s speaking just comes across as farcical.
The truth is, Putin & Russian forces do not have the superior technology that the American military has. This lack of precision will lead to more civilian deaths, as sad as that is.
But Putin & the Russians have not taken the proverbial gloves off. Anyone who studies wars like Vietnam or World War II will see that the Russians have not waged total war on the Ukrainian people.
This doesn’t mean what is happening is pretty. Again, I neither condone nor think what’s happening in Ukraine is anything other than a tragedy – but the mischaracterization of what’s going on for political or other brownie points by Biden/in Washington is hypocritical & disingenuous.
Proxy Wars Are Dangerous… for Ukrainians
The United States is playing a very risky game with how much funding & facilitation of combat forces (both American & foreign) are involved in Ukraine.
First, did we learn nothing from the way we funded “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan in the 1980s against the Russians? Remember how those same weapons ended up in the hands of the Taliban? I’m not saying that will happen again in Ukraine, but it is possible & we should be mindful who we arm.
But beyond that, and perhaps more pressing, is the ways in which our weapons & assistance are akin to a proxy war for OUR American / western interests with Ukrainian civilians facing the bulk of the burden.
Former U.S. Special Forces Mike Glover & his crew at Fieldcraft Survival do a great job describing in numerous videos how our U.S. weapons (like surface to air weapons) are taking out Russian forces, which is causing Russian conventional forces to change their tactics to break through the resistance.
And the Ukrainian civilians are going to pay the consequences for it, not the politicians in Washington D.C. who just want to see our classic enemies hurt for old time’s sake. The more we arm them, the longer this conflict will remain & it’s not going to be in the benefit of Ukrainian civilians.
Because Mike Glover & his crew believe something I’ve been saying since the beginning of this war: the Ukrainians cannot win this war. The only reason they’ve not lost is because Putin doesn’t want to win for some reason (i.e: collateral damage is too great).
Things Are Not What They Seem in Russia
The way Russia is functioning is very different than the media would make it seem.
One of the hardest things to manage on my trip to Russia was the perception & stories of danger propagated by the US/western media. I was receiving texts from friends & acquaintances about imminent danger to Americans in Russia.
The US Embassy was consistently warning US citizens to “get out now”. Understandable given the tensions. But there are ways it’s being portrayed that seem “off” to me.
Case in point, the U.S. Embassy never talked about the conflict in terms other than “Russia’s unprovoked & unwarranted invasion of Ukraine”. Odd. Why are those wordy adjectives used EVERY SINGLE TIME they mention the war?
Secondly, there was a lot of talk of American citizens being detained/arrested for political purposes.
The main examples include these former U.S. Marines, one of which seems to have gotten into a bar fight with a policeman & the other who is accused of espionage. The other example is WNBA basketball player who was accused of transporting illegal vape cartridges of hash oil into the country in mid-February (before the war started).
In total, that’s 3 individual cases. The former Marines got into a fight with law enforcement & may have been up to shady espionage-related activity. I don’t know. Griner could 100% have brought vape cartridges into the country even if it was by accident. I’ve forgotten that I had ammunition in my baggage until I was caught & forced to dispose of it.
Before covid travel restrictions, 290-340,000 US citizens visited Russia. There were ~61,000 visitors in 2020 & 2021. That’s a 0.005% chance, which is incredibly low.
And yet, the state department & U.S. media have consistently released headlines like:
US warns that Russia may “detain” Americans, urges them to leave (link)
The state department tells Americans to leave Russia (link)
Russia “Singling Out” Americans for harassment state department warns (link)
The irony in all of this is how hypocritical it is for Americans to discuss political prisoners. Guantanamo Bay is a detention camp that has housed nearly 800 people, most of whom have been treated as political prisoners, tortured, & not afforded any of the rights of our constitution calls for.
In contrast to what’s being portrayed, I had an extremely pleasant experience within Russia & with Russians who were working in an official state capacity.
Those working at the airport or in an official capacity were friendly, they often spoke English or at least tried to make themselves understood even though we lacked Russian language knowledge, they followed protocol & did their job well.
We were asked to show them some of our camera gear, which wasn’t immediately intuitive to them. When they asked what it was, we told them it was camera gear, it made sense, & they let us continue.
We had more polite confrontation from US customs about why we were coming back from Russia than we ever did while in Russia.
Russian censorship is a problem. As someone who loves freedom, I do see the censorship & restriction of media outlets as an egregious infringement on individual sovereignty in the country.
Russia has a long history of censorship & the detainment of people who are outspoken, such as billionaire Khodorkovsky or Alexei Novotny.
But I was alarmed to see that Facebook & Instagram temporarily allow “calls of violence against Russians” during the war. Firstly, it’s sickening that anyone, much less multi-billion dollar publicly-owned companies would make a specific exception for violence against a people.
Second, it speaks to a dangerous double standard of our largest influence-peddling platforms. It’s a clear indicator that they are not objective, that they have a clear agenda, & it is inadvertently harming America & its citizens.
Spending What We Don’t Have to Kill Others
I understand the impulse to support Ukrainians economically both by individuals, organizations & our government. But we are spending billions of dollars that we do not have & it’s being used to kill Russians & Ukrainians.
Past wars offer a glimpse into the expenditures that we’ve burdened. Estimates in 2021 put the wars in Afghanistan & Iraq costing $6.5 trillion dollars. This is a mind-boggling amount of money, which we will almost certainly never pay off given our country’s insane debt obligations.
After how much money we spent in those two countries, how many Americans died, how many civilians died, how much damage it has caused our reputation AND how challenging the last two years have been domestically with Covid:
Why are we sending billions of dollars in aid & hundreds of millions in weaponry to Ukraine?
Looking back at history, the US has taken every single opportunity to weaken & harm our enemies that we possibly can. We funded Afghanistan freedom fighters to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s. We funded Iraq to invade & fight against Iran in the 1980s.
My only guess is: we spend money we don’t have funding wars we have no business funding because… we’ve always done it!
(Side note: clearly it doesn’t work that well. We funded Afghanistan & Iraq to fight our enemies & then turned around & fought both countries for 20 years…)
Biden has allocated $13.6 billion for aid in Ukraine, $800 million of which is going to security (arms, ammo etc).
I am not saying deciding whether to financially support Ukraine or not is easy. The alternative of saying “well, we don’t really have money for that right now” does not feel good either. I get it. But I see few people & no official organizations speaking about this pragmatic issue.
The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
For most people, funding & supporting Ukraine during a difficult time is coming from a place of support, love, & defense of freedoms. I understand & empathize with that. I’d like to believe good intentions are the source of the entire US/western reaction to the war with Russia.
But we are playing a game of politics, war & aggression that most people do not understand. Even I, someone who studied history in school & focused heavily on military history my entire life, have not experienced the bitterness of total or nuclear war. Few in America have or western Europe have.
The same set of incentives & paradigms that we all see are breaking civilization are also at play in the coverage & response to this war. And unlike a virus or radicalized Islamic fundamentalists, this war could become catastrophic if we don’t approach it with tact, empathy, & care.