A Russian Sightseeing Tour for Realists

Russia Snow
Popular Russian landmark, St. Basil’s Cathedral, pictured in the winter. Photo credit: pxhere

The other day I received an invitation from The Nation magazine to “Visit Russia.”

Dear Friend of The Nation,

Join us in Russia April 19–30, 2018!

At this pivotal moment in US-Russia relations, The Nation continues to believe in the power of direct people-to-people interaction as an essential way to foster more productive dialogue and to support peaceful relations between nations. Please join us on our next trip to Russia for firsthand insight into Russia’s rich culture, complex history and politics, and welcoming people.

The tour, I was informed, would include a stay at a five-star hotel in St. Petersburg, a high-speed train ride to Moscow, a trip to the Gulag Museum, and a private “escorted” tour of the Kremlin, as well as meetings with “distinguished historians, cultural leaders, professors, and curators.” We would be accompanied on the trip by other journalists, The Nation’s editor in chief, Katrina vanden Heuvel and Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen, vanden Heuvel’s husband, and an emeritus professor of Russian studies, history, and politics from New York University and Princeton.

All of this was presented in a casual, entirely non-critical tone as though this were an offer for a Club Med vacation in the Caribbean. Not a word mentions Russia’s current role in the world and in US affairs or the many abuses of human and international rights under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin.

There is also no reference to Russia’s role in the election of President Donald Trump, and calling whatever is going on between him and Putin a “pivotal moment in US-Russia relations” seems like a naive description.

As a one-time editorial contributor to The Nation, I am not surprised that the magazine prefers engagement over confrontation. It’s hard to disagree with that. I was also glad to see mention of past problems in Russia, such as the gulag, and encouraged by the notion that there should be independent journalists along.

By the same token, it is difficult to see this as anything but willfully blind.

How can you celebrate Russia and simply ignore the political realities of that country today?

Pussy Riot Red Square

Pussy Riot at Lobnoye Mesto on Red Square in Moscow. Photo credit: Denis Bochkarev / Wikimedia Commons

When I read that invitation to visit “delightful Russia,” I thought what an alternative tour might look like:

  • Visit sites where journalists and opponents of the regime were shot, beaten to death, or tossed from windows.
  • Hear an informative lecture from scientists who develop ways to poison enemies of the regime with polonium and other exotic substances.
  • View a fascinating display of items used to stealthily deliver the poisons, such as the umbrella that shot a tiny, ricin-containing pellet into the leg of a victim who hardly felt a thing.
  • Visit horrific prisons where members of the band Pussy Riot and others who spoke their minds were held.
  • Learn how to loot a nation and transfer assets to shell entities on sunny islands.
  • Meet the oligarchs and see their fabulous mansions — plus, as a bonus, learn how to launder money through real estate acquisitions.
  • Speak to an opposition politician who was barred from running in this year’s election.
  • Spend a few hours with young hackers who will show you how easy it is to assume the identity of an indignant American to sow discord online.
  • Join mathematicians exploring potential vulnerabilities in online American voter registration systems.
  • Join a homophobic hate march.
  • Visit the Olympic doping center.
  • Enjoy a day tour to the recently occupied Crimea.

That would be the WhoWhatWhy Russia Tour. Who wants to join me?

(Of course, in the spirit of fairness, it is worth remarking just how many aspects of present-day Russia have their counterparts in the United States. An insiders’ tour of such locales, from Wall Street boardrooms to Guantanamo to the White House Situation Room, might be illuminating for Russians and Americans alike.)


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from pxhere

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20 responses to “A Russian Sightseeing Tour for Realists”

  1. John Kesich says:

    I’d like to see Who What Why’s similar tour for the US.

    Of course, it should really be a world tour since there is hardly a nation where the US has not invaded, orchestrated a coup, carried out an assassination or rendition, set up a torture prison, devastated the environment, or colluded with local Quisling elites to oppress the natives.

    But even a tour of domestic sites and instruments of US inhumanity would run many weeks.

    Was George Carlin thinking only domestically when he observed, “It’s a big club; and you ain’t in it”?

  2. geeyp says:

    I have had a lot of respect for Russ, especially ’cause of “Family of Secrets”. I was looking forward to his next Kennedy tome, assuming it is still on. I say this as I am practically shocked at his attitude towards the latest “Schiff” related lies and evidence free accusations. You do have to still have evidence to claim such nonsense, Russ. I don’t mean to denigrate you. I feel let down as you had followed a straight path for evidence in order to write FOS.

  3. Paul says:

    I’ve been to Russia several times, the Russians are very friendly to me as an American. The few times I’ve had a conversation about politics makes me realize they are subject to propaganda more than we are. The wars, defending their country and pride in their country is very strong though. There is greed and theft of resources just like in America, it is more about human nature than about Russia. While it is easy to condemn Putin for his thuggery, in the same breath we need to remember that we are no better. Most Russians are basically happy that they aren’t starving, that they don’t have to struggle as hard as in the past. I think they are aware of the theft but know the alternatives haven’t worked very well. Better to engage in dialog as an outsider, but I do appreciate Russ’ thoughts about not forgetting the atrocities and hopefully the Nation will hear his criticism and take it into consideration.

  4. Frances says:

    Although I don’t agree with all the Club Orlov newsletters, I think it broadens perspective to read Dmitry Orlov’s writings as he has lived in the US for decades and returns frequently to Russia and sees both sides. I tire of the demonisation of Putin and Russia per mainstream media fed by the various alphabetic agencies.

  5. artemisix says:

    I think it is a good idea to communicate with those who the elites want us to hate. We are probably have far more in common than is now understood. In stead of our “15 minutes of hate” (which is really 24/7) this may be a step towards Peace. Good for the Nation.

  6. Ken Goodman says:

    WhoWhatWhy is leading the Russiagate hysteria. It never gives facts that run contrary to their narrative. Really sad to see it degenerate like this.

    • artemisix says:

      Agree. It is unfortunate.

    • Eric Morris says:

      Yep, agree, this is very disappointing to read. I’d trust more if Russ wrote the book on Putin’s alleged crimes, like he actually did and document quite well on Bushes.

      If Putin did that stuff, fine, but so far I have seen little evidence and lots of speculation bordering on propaganda.

    • Steve Ross says:

      Ah, the far left, matching the far right in the perfection of its bubble. At least Russia doesn’t seem to have much of a self-perceived refugee problem, as so few want to live there.

      The issue is not meddling in our elections. We meddle! The issue is that Russian money has been moving to Trump because so few normal investors will deal with the US President. That’s unconstitutional.

  7. erichwwk says:

    Russ- Strange (IMHO) article, so different from the sort of stuff you used to do. Have you listen to Stephen Cohen’s talk on last December’s Trip? Read the recent article by the Saker at UNZ? Know much about Russia or Putin?

    http://www.unz.com/tsaker/professor-stephen-f-cohen-rethinking-putin-a-critical-reading/

    Might also try this, from a former San Jose ICU nurse (Sharon Tennison) that got her start with Physicians for Social Responsibilty, and has actually met Putin. Have you?

    https://archive.org/details/PA3355975

    I have never know Stephen to shy away from honest, direct discussion. Why don’t you engage him in a discussion? To me you come off as an uninformed blowhard, repeating gossip rather than the more careful investigative work I used to associate with you.

    But I **AM** glad that you at least profess to also prefer engagement over confrontation , although your objections to the tour stops agenda belie that.

    All the best erich

    • rick says:

      Erich – FYI on this comment… it got tossed into the moderation queue because of the number of links (two or more triggers that). We’ll be watching this and freeing comments like yours with several links but which are fine, so don’t worry, it’s not lost.

    • erichwwk says:

      Thanks Rick. Don’t comment too often, re the times I read. But do clarify. “(more than 2 triggers that)” implies to me my original post (as well as this one- which is a clone, so DO toss the one in moderation) should not have triggered tossing in to the moderation que? But more importantly, I do hope Russ does read it and clarifies the basis for his views re Russia and Putin. Sorry for missing the comment policy, which raises another issue, why the request not to post links? Seems to me the MAIN purpose of a comment section is to contribute to understanding, NOT to merely vote up or down on what was said, or to contribute inane memes. I remain puzzled. Was going to share a clip of a Russ Baker visit to Sante Fe, but in the interests of brevity and no links, I’ll just give it a BIG thumbs up!

    • rick says:

      It’s not a problem to post links but posting 2 or more is often what comment spammers do, so it triggers a filter. We might loosen this in the future, but for now, it’s a new filter (this is a new comment system, so we’re refining things a bit)

    • anonymous says:

      Were Mr. Baker’s responses to these questions caught in the new filter, too?

    • John MM says:

      Erich, I share your thoughts on this matter.

  8. miclic says:

    I like the new comments system; www don’t be afraid of your comments section, don’t go for perfection, don’t go for some scraped manicured version,
    just let it be organic and ugly as it may be . You won’t like the loss of control but let it be.

    I kinda get what you’re going for as far as the site goes; I get it, but you certainly cannot expect that reflected seriously in the comments section.

    If you do expect that, you’ve tricked yourselves into some conceit and you’re over-extended.

    The db articles, the Sater articles, especially the one about the fbi and Sater were eye-opening and very good work (still not what you’re trying to project though [not scholarly as such])

    Anyway, this will all work itself out over time; understand though that how you handle comments can have a scalar effect on your site’s overall growth.

    So that’s just one way of looking at it.

  9. Marko says:

    “…. it is worth remarking just how many aspects of present-day Russia have their counterparts in the United States. ”

    Russia doesn’t pound its chest proclaiming to be the world’s beacon of freedom and democracy.

    ” How can you celebrate Russia and simply ignore the political realities of that country today? ”

    What’s not to celebrate ? Russia is just like back home , but without the pretense.

    • 62Fender says:

      “Russia doesn’t pound its chest proclaiming to be the world’s beacon of freedom and democracy.”

      With a president like Vladimir Putin, it’s no wonder.

    • Frances says:

      Russia doesn’t have 800 military bases/installations over the world like the USA.

  10. mauisurfer says:

    Where can i sign up for a tour that includes the site of the lynching of Emmit Till?