Putin, Russia, U.S. Sanctions, Adoptions, and Trump

Putin, Russia, U.S. Sanctions, Adoptions, and Trump July 11, 2017

Russia’s main hope for economic survival is the release from US sanctions. “Adoptions” is code for “lift the sanctions.”

"Fashion statement" shoe coverings required to visit the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia; photo by Christy Thomas, US sanctions
“Fashion statement” shoe coverings required to visit the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia; photo by Christy Thomas

We recently took a Baltic Sea cruise that included several days in St. Petersburg, Russia. In between the glittering highlights of that fascinating city, we caught the glimpses of what life is like for people who live in Russia.

Several were astoundingly open with us about their lives and about how they feel about Putin and about Trump.

Here’s a summary:

Nearly everyone gets wasted on cheap vodka every weekend. It’s their release.

Housing is miserable. Some people still live in Soviet-era communal apartments, i.e., 10 or more people, not necessarily related, in a three-room apartment, sharing a kitchen and a toilet. They don’t leave because there is no other housing available. No one lives in detached housing. It’s all apartment dwellings. It is possible to buy an apartment, but most can’t afford it.

In every room in every museum sits a dour and unhappy woman. She is angry because she was probably a professional of some sort, and then discovered that her pension, long promised by the Soviet and then Russian government, was so small that she had to find a job after retiring.

The lowest paid people in Russia are doctors and teachers. The highest paid are police officers because they routinely shake everyone down that they arrest and get rich off the bribes.

Russians state with certainty that everything Putin says is a lie and that neither he nor the Russian press can be trusted in any way.

Russians also know that Putin is getting massively rich off their backs–our guides estimate Putin’s personal wealth at 70 Billion US dollars.

Russia itself is in terrible shape economically and getting worse daily. Their major export is oil but the price has to be $100/barrel for them to recoup their investments in the infrastructure of drilling and transportation. Oil has been sitting at $50/barrel or less for a number of years now. The state is bleeding money.

Some of the gold gilding in the Catherine Palace; some say Putin wants to be the next Tsar.
Some of the gold gilding in the Catherine Palace; some say Putin wants to be the next Tsar.

The necessity of lifting US sanctions

Because of this, their main hope for economic survival is the lifting us US sanctions against them. And here’s the key: the issue of US sanctions and the adoption of Russian children by US citizens is inextricably linked. So, when a Russian official wants to talk about “adoption” it is code for “how do we get you to lift those sanctions?

Putin did get elected by 80% of the vote. Here’s how. The military force is Russia is huge. All members of the military were bussed to the polling places to find their ballots pre-filled out with Putin as their candidate. They “voted” with those pre-filled ballots.

Employees of state-owned industries (most Russian businesses still although some free enterprise is showing up) had the same experience.

Of course, Putin got 80% of the vote. The fact that he got only 80% reflects that fact that those who could actually vote cast their ballot for Putin’s opponent.

As for Trump, Russians desperately want him to lift those US sanctions but see him as so personally unstable and unreliable that they don’t see much hope of it happening. They are horrified at the thought that Putin did interfere with the US election because it makes Putin even more terrifyingly powerful than he already is.

Their summary of their lives, “We are not free and we know it.”

Our current POTUS and his debts to Russia

One of the big concerns I have had with the election of our current POTUS has been the extent of his personal and business debts to Russia and/or Russian-backed financial institutions. His refusal to disclose those details poses huge problems for the rest of us.

Trump is driven by money and greed. He has also boasted many times that he embraces debt with enthusiasm. The oldest son, Donald Jr., said in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” and “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

As a businessman, there is not one thing wrong with that, assuming the money is clean and the businesses are not being used for some sort of money laundry operation. That’s a big assumption where Russian money is concerned.

No matter what, as the POTUS, that kind of debt poses a different scenario and one that makes the Trump/Putin romance far more plausible. Unfortunately, it is highly likely that Putin and his henchmen own Trump, his sons, and his son-in-law. Such a scenario does not play out well for US interests.

My fascination with Russia

I have been reading both Russian literature and books about Russia for over 45 years. I admit to being fascinated by this vast country.

One of my long-held dreams has been to take the six-day trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok. I mentioned it to a young woman from Russia who was visiting my son’s house in London. Her response, “If you want to do that, you MUST have protection or you will be robbed and probably hurt along the way. If you decide to do it, get in touch with me first. I have an uncle in the Russian Mafia–he will arrange whatever you need so you can travel more safely.”

That’s what Russia is like today. This was the only Baltic city we visited where we were NOT instructed to put on our seat belts in the tour busses. Human life is far more dispensable here. No one really cares. It’s the one city where we had to carry our passports with us and where we were constantly warned about pickpockets and the dire consequences of losing those passports.

Other than the glittering tourist spots, much was dirty and run down. St. Petersburg has been called “the city built on bones” because of the immense cost in human lives by the serfs who were forced by Peter the Great to build it out of swampland.

The fact that our current POTUS feels he can trust the words of the man leading this slowly imploding place scares me to death.

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  • Linda Coleman Allen

    Thank you for such an eye opening story. I have been under the impression that this is exactly what life in Russia is like most of my life. I am sorry to find that it is still true.

    • denise kelsall

      Sorry Linda – the article is not strictly true. I spent time in Russia a few years ago and found it fascinating deep and beautiful. I travelled the Trans Siberian route on different trains and never ever felt anything but safe. I stayed in 3 different cities where I found nothing but kindness and genuine interest and generosity. I stayed in one of those ugly apartment blocks and after the rickety grey metal lift or elevator as you call it arrived into a lovely Russian apartment. Cruises are a comfortable but very superficial way of travelling and you don’t get to see or experience much of the reality of a place. It is the place I wish to return to and spend some time as it is so rich. I met some fascinating people there who could speak a bit of English – in their late 50’s early 60’s like me. Both were engineers at a Aircraft factory. The woman had retired at either 55 or 60 (can’t remember exactly) on a small state pension which everyone gets and worked at a local shop part time, Her husband still worked on aircraft. Interestingly they believed people were better off under communism. Of course I was astounded and asked why? They said that things like medicine, education etc were free and now under a more capitalist system everything is getting worse and harder as they have to pay for everything as it all goes up! Truly – from the article above you would think we were in different countries. And by the way – if you are truly interested in Russia and what is happening do watch the 4 one hour Oliver Stone interviews with President Putin – they are fascinating illuminating and quite wonderful. best wishes

      • Linda Coleman Allen

        Interesting to hear a different point of view.

        • S.Philips

          Agenda driven journalism on these days! We need to be very careful!

          • Chuck Johnson

            Our journalism has always been driven by agendas.
            As time goes by, we have become more aware of the various agendas.

            This awareness is a good thing.

        • S.Philips

          “One of the big concerns I have had with the election of our current POTUS has been the extent of his personal and business debts to Russia and/or Russian-backed financial institutions. His refusal to disclose those details poses huge problems for the rest of us.” Author already made her judgement!

      • Chuck Johnson

        Denise, thank you for your first-hand observations.
        Much of Christie’s news consists of hearsay (gossip).