The late Averell Harriman, the United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union, said that there were two statements which would show him a person was foolish or idiotic. One was, "Alcohol doesn't affect me." The other was, "I understand the Russians." I have always agreed with that. The late Sir Winston Churchill described Russia as "a riddle inside a puzzle wrapped up in an enigma," although he did believe that they could be counted upon to act to preserve their own interests rather than anyone else's. That is why the word "understanding" is in quotation marks in the title. We must always be willing to try harder to understand what kind of a threat or problem the Russians represent without fooling ourselves we have achieved it.
One particularly rich source of insight about the direction in which Russian social and political development has been going in the past, present, and future is the work of Russian author Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. That includes a collection of eight short stories in a book entitled, "Apricot Jam and Other Stories," written soon after his return to Russia from a long exile in 1994. The writing of this blog post especially stems from the story titled, "Fracture Points." This story indicates that Solzhenitsyn devoted a lot of thought, and probably research, to the way both civilians and government employees were responding to the uncertainties of the immediate "post-USSR" period. He constructs a haunting, chilling metaphor of a former State Security official's view of the Soviet state intelligence apparatus, known recently as the KGB, as a formerly majestic and grand Moscow skyscraper now full of holes and falling apart with "bitter winds" blowing through it and gradually carrying things away. I do not share that view and I doubt that he did either. His point was to make the reader realize that there were people out there who did.
I had already found it chilling to read parts of "Gulag Archipelago," his most famous work which laid out for the world the Soviet penal camp system, about the amoral upbringing suffered by children consigned to the prison camps at a young age. With the Soviets putting so many of their citizens in detention camps it only follows that they had to do something about their children, and it only follows from the heavy-pawed "Russian bear" tactics of the Soviet state that their choices were bad. There were accounts of young children in gangs in the camps luring women assigned to guard them into traps and gang-raping them. These children later grew up and we are now contending with their children and grandchildren. Solzhenitsyn's later story, "Fracture Points," while it does not deal with such blatantly immoral violence, still makes us think about the mental framework with which everyday Russian citizens, and government officials as individuals, try to deal with the shifting uncertainties of post-Soviet life and not only survive but thrive and try to build what they perceive as security for themselves and their families. As a whole, Solzhenitsyn's work points in a chilling direction: he shows us traumatized, uncertain, cynical, but sometimes unbelievably innovative and adaptable people whose basic philosophy too often is, "Anything goes," or, "The end justifies the means."
While the public part of the testimony before the Senate of former FBI Director James Comey has seriously crippled the Democratic Party's persistent false accusations of Republican collusion with the Russian state in last year's Presidential election, and hopefully killed them entirely, the reaction of our government and our media and ourselves to these accusations seems to indicate a serious lack of imagination or effort to keep up to date with just what, and with whom, we are dealing in Russia.
While the Russian government today may be seriously unable and possibly not entirely willing to deal with the looming moral implications of such forces in their society, that does not mean they fail to perceive opportunities to make use of the cunning, intelligent, and completely amoral individuals which the Soviet lifestyle has spread and fostered widely within their ranks. Not every threat from Russia to the United States will originate from the Russian government. Not all cyber crime or acts of espionage that originate from this riddling, puzzling enigma of a culture and country will have been funded or sponsored by the state.
I think that the Russian state as an entity, and its leaders as individuals, may be quite happy with that situation.
A Christian man living in Southeastern Pennsylvania, USA. Came under conviction in 1978 or 1979 to begin believing the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Came to saving faith in Christ in October 1982 by confessing I was a sinner by nature and only Christ could save me.