The relations between the two nuclear superpowers, Russia and the U.S., deteriorated so rapidly during the Ukraine build-up to war in 2014 that it seemed to us critical to try to rebuild citizen diplomacy again –– even though this attempt feels like David and Goliath with the slingshot.
Our 22 Americans from 15 states (and one from South Africa) came together to travel to Russia May 30 through June 15. Our goal? To learn how Russian citizens perceive the situations in Ukraine, Crimea and the Washington-based economic sanctions they are now under. We wanted to get clarifying information from them, to share our views with them, and to examine how to begin new efforts to break through the existing barriers between our two countries.
Our non-traditional travel had no tour guides, no tour buses, no palaces, no concerts, no normal rounds of canned meetings. Fortunately CCI has sufficient connections across Russia to organize meetings with ordinary Russian business people, journalists, professionals, university students and yes, Russia's venerated TV anchor over the past 40 years, Vladimir Pozner with whom we spent an evening in Moscow.
No other country has been so persistently maligned in US mainstream media (MSM) over the past decade as has Russia; this demonization has been initiated by a thin segment of Washington's current policy makers and America's compliant MSM. It is said to have started in 2000 when Yeltsin turned over the reigns of the "new" Russia to then unknown Vladimir Putin. I was told by a State Department diplomat that on that very day when it was announced that VV Putin would likely be Russia's next president, "The knives were drawn." Actually I think it was even earlier in 1990, when Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Brzezinski, et al, came up with "The Wolfowitz Doctrine."