Tension surrounds this meeting. But all of us meet anyway.
We are quite a diverse group; part academic, part policy, part science, (including a few nuclear energy experts, and Russian policy advisers who actually consult on their stockpile) former CIA, former Duma, international journalists, Russian media, part non-governmental organizations (I have learned here, that one is actually much safer calling a non-profit a "non-commercial" entity because use of the word "government" even if preceded by the word "non," can mean that you and your organization are against the government. A really good thing to know in Russia.)
I find myself next to one of the most famous people of the people-to-people initiatives, Sharon Tennison, President of the Center for Citizen Initiatives. I have already learned from my friend, Deb Palmaeri, the Honorary Consul of Colorado, she is coming to Colorado in a few weeks. We put our heads together.
What we share in this World-US-Russian Forum is that everyone here is really smart, not one of us wants to see our countries on the verge of war, and everyone agrees that something must be done by we people about the status of our relationship; Better heads than mine announced that it's the worst it has been since the Cuban missile crisis. That's saying a lot. I have been reminded more than once that a cold war we can handle. No one should want a hot one.
As I write, there is an ad for a computer warfare game running on the hotel lobby bar video. Two tanks. Guess which countries they appear to be? This is followed by the news, the lead story features somber people in military uniforms, armed officers uncovering weapons in Ukraine, and what appear to be launches of anti-ballistic weapons, although I am fairly certain those are stock footage. At least I hope so.
I have pages of notes, that are going to go into my report following this meeting. For tonight, let me say that while during day one we Americans endured a certain amount of posturing from some of the Russians present, there was a lot of pain. They do not understand where we are. They do not understand why America seems to hate them. They do not understand why the west thinks they would not be worried about what happens on it's borders. "Would America just ignore a revolt across its borders with Canada?" one asked me.
"Well no," I respond. "But it's Canada"!
"Exactly," he said.
Our vastly diverse group shares this view; it is inconceivable to any of us that our governments have reached a stage where they no longer talk. We debate ways forward, we share the frustrations across our various fields. I tell everyone about FRUA and how in fairness, we need better reporting from Russia of the success of our families. If we're going to work on relationships; we need to start at the ground floor. The group agrees with me. I get commitments from several to take our FRUA materials and what they have learned and hep spread he word. I gradually begin to realize that what I have done, what FRUA has done, is walked through the back door to Russia.
While I'm on the topic...if you haven't been to Moscow in a few years, you haven't seen Moscow. This is a European city. Those here during the economic crisis of the 90s would barely recognize it. Those here earlier this past decade would not either. Those here two years ago may not; cranes are everywhere on the drive in from the airport and throughout the city. The city skyline is glistening. The Arbat is one hundred percent built out; which I learned when I went looking for the beautiful tiled wall that shielded a view of vacant lots when my now-grown children were photographed with their small hands on hand prints imbedded in the colored tiles. I swear during my two-hour jaunt on the Arbat, at least ten street sweeping machines whizzed by...there is not a single piece of trash anywhere.
On a Monday night, the place is buzzing. People are well-dressed, strolling, enjoying the street scene. I pass young women with baby strollers; not many, but some. My waiters are friendly and want to practice their English. I stop for a few gifts, and discover that the Visa sign in the window does not mean that this store will take an America Visa. They refuse and I walk out.
A fellow conference attendee forwards Johnson's List to me: russialist.org/ which begins:
"We don't see things as they are, but as we are."
"Don't believe everything you think"
"Don't believe everything you think"
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