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​Russia ‘living in interesting times’

​Russia ‘living in interesting times’
The open unfettered exchange of ideas, viewpoints and to question them all, is to my way of thinking what being an American is all about.

It was one of the driving factors of my desire in the late 1980's to move to Russia and bring the best aspects of the American perspective and constitutional principles to Russia. Historically, my family fled the Bolsheviks in 1920 and found a good life in the USA. I am no apologist for the Soviet Union, quite the opposite, but I have clearly seen since 9/11 (in fact earlier, since George Bush Sr.) a national disconnect from the America I grew up in, love and admire. In my back and forth over the Atlantic, I have come to realize the sad sensation of being a stranger in a very strange land when stateside.

I have been around enough not to lazily swallow whole what the press and government are spin-presenting regarding Ukraine and the tragic downing of the Malaysian jet. I must question the presented versions, and try to discern different perspectives. MH17? I certainly do not know how it was shot down or by whom. The facts will emerge over time, as they usually do in the end. My experience in this region however strongly suggests Russia had nothing to do with it; it serves no Russian interests whatsoever. The role of Putin as the arch-villain may be good for thriller fantasies, or re-armament budgets, but it is far from plausible here inside this seemingly desired sequel called “Evil Empire Part II”.

I do have a passing acquaintance with spin. I have been a member of the US-USSR Trade & Economic Council starting in 1975 through to the collapse of the Soviet Union and was able to observe that great spin game firsthand from both sides. Naive I am not, trusting I am not. In one aspect I have been fortunate enough to have lived in a key transitional period of Russian history, observing and participating in the incredibly speedy evolution of a dynamic country from communist stasis through to gung-ho cowboy capitalism in the best traditions of for example; Carnegie, Hearst, Morgan, and Rockefeller. Every step of this evolutionary dance, as is usually the case is: three steps forward, two steps back, and a pause to digest.

Russia (as opposed to the USSR) has not been on any missionary adventure anywhere. It has, despite all the MSM mudslinging, been attending to its business and not forcing "...isms" down any protesting throats. I regrettably cannot say the same for my land of the free, can I?

As for Russia, Putin and the world. Given the neighborhood, and given the vast, lengthy and ranging borders to the east, south and West, having a good old "zone of influence" is important, conceivably well warranted and certainly in the best Russian national interest (see cartoon).

Yes, I have met and worked with some suitably barbaric avaricious caricatures of immoral vodka swilling Russians, no more (and possibly even less) than similar character types in the States, Europe, Africa, or Asia - then again I do business internationally. I look and listen to Bloomberg, CNN, Fox, WSJ, Financial Times, The Economist, NYT and so on, getting my country's beltway worldview....from Obama, to Kerry, McCain, Nuland and other luminaries and ask the PC question - are they representing and putting forward the best America can offer?

A man inspects wreckage inside a damaged building following what locals say was shelling by Ukrainian forces in Donetsk August 7, 2014. (Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin)

Russia may not be the democratic ideal purists might desire to see, there is always room no matter how noble the intention, for improvement. One should not fail to ask as well if the EU is the democratic brand of nirvana desired, or is America the preferred purveyor? Russia, since discarding the socialist noose has focused on itself, issues affecting it directly in resources, infrastructure, demographics, broadening trade corridors, diversifying currency dynamics, and so on. Some find fault in an overemphasized oil patch, and an under-diversified general and agribusiness infrastructure. Recall that Russia started from a desolate ground zero one generation back.... I would call this achievement world class by any global standard. In many ways I wish we in the US would focus on such homey internal issues as well, like border security, roads and infrastructure, it might be a more productive expenditure of resources, and definitely would be in the national interest.

As for the Ukraine, despite all the ballyhoo, it is a geopolitical sideshow (a painful truth). This may result both for us in the USA and the EU with an interesting outcome, which may well be summed up as; "be careful what you say you wish for, you might get it". The Ukrainian Albatross is ready to grace and hang off the fiscal necks of both Brussels and Washington. Mazeltov!

It would have been far, far better (and more equitable for all parties) if the Russian proposal made before and during the Maidan excesses wasn’t dismissed out of hand. They proposed to sit down with Ukraine & the EU and come to a workable compromise agreement – what was unacceptable to Washington and Brussels in that? Seemed to me at the time to be the ‘American’ way to equitable results.

So, despite vaunted principles and innocence unless proven guilty, today punitive sanctions against Russia are ratcheted up yet another notch or two. What about proof? What of some objective due process? Do the principles governing WTO member states mean nothing? Seems each year ignoring agreements, laws and constitutional precepts becomes easier with abuse. Yes, sanctions will cause pain and discomfort. Many construction projects will be frozen (touching not a few global investors) due to unavailable long credits from Europe and the States.

However, by and large these sanctions in Russia to a degree are strangely welcomed. They help reduce the ruble rate, improve export trade with Asia, India & MENA, force delayed steps needed to upgrade the Russian agricultural sector, boost internal manufacturing, jumpstart key but languishing heavy industry sectors (oil patch, etc), forcing quick standardization of non-dollar trades (yuan, rupee, etc), in sum it is a challenge right up the alley of the Russian soul! It takes the political pain out of making the diversification changes no politician sees as short-term beneficial in endearing the electorate. It seems therefore that the sanctions being imposed will ultimately serve to strengthen and reduce the Western import dependence of Russia, growing its internal manufacturing horizons.

The real tragedy will be for people living in the newly engaged EU+Ukraine. The EU agro-quotas are little known to most Ukrainians who expect that most of their famous “breadbasket” of production will find buyers next door in Germany, France and Spain. Imagine their surprise when this doesn’t happen. Industrially Ukraine can re-tool to probably meet basic export standards for the EU, some estimate by 2020/21. But who will provided the billions of euro needed, and in the interim where will be the market for such Ukrainian products?

Meanwhile, who will subsidize the feeding, clothing, powering and heating of Ukraine? Still a further detail is the Ukrainian traditions in democratic processes and the Rada, this has all the makings of a tragedy, ending the fairy tale that all societies operate from similar viewpoints, values & principles. Ask the Greeks, Hungarians, Brits, Scots, Spanish, French, and Croats.

Did/does the EU further each country's individual interests? Is the global vision as purveyed by Washington or Brussels a welcome path for all worldwide? As for Russia, I am impressed with the restraint Moscow has shown in the political, news and military arenas. Russia has showcased professionalism both in their public statements and diplomatic efforts. Some objective, painful soul searching by the US/EU is in order, aptly phrased in the bible to benefit man individually and organizationally; “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you..

Yes, we live in interesting times.

Paul Goncharoff
Chairman, Ethics and Membership Committees
The Association of Directors and Upper Management, the Russian Federation

“May you live in interesting times" is an English expression purporting to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. Despite being so common in English as to be known as "the Chinese curse", the saying is apocryphal and no actual Chinese source has ever been produced.[1] The nearest related Chinese expression is "宁为太平犬,莫作乱离人" (níng wéi tàipíng quǎn, mò zuòluàn lí rén) which conveys the sense that it is "better to live as a dog in an era of peace than a man in times of trouble."