Outside the American bubble
Personal observations from Moscow
About two years ago we sold our Florida home to reposition ourselves for life’s home stretch. Being older than my wife, I wanted her to be resettled in Russia near her family before the end time. My vision was to split time between Italy and Moscow, while maintaining a US connection. So our first trip out resulted in our buying a new one bedroom condo in an upscale complex in Moscow, but on the southwestern edge not far from Domodedovo International Airport.
As winter approached we headed for the beach at Rimini; then on to Rome. We were back in the US to settle some business and perhaps find a new home base. We were there 4 months before the sudden death of Olga’s daughter forced us back to Moscow. Then the pandemic struck and we have not been able to leave Moscow since.
Considering the fact that I run an international educational business in retirement, I was unfazed by our situation. However, never had I been outside the US for so long a period. It was inevitable that I would begin seeing the world from another perspective. Of course the view from Moscow is more mind bending than the view from Rome. And I soon learned that Sarasota offered no view at all, nor Bergen County, nor Manhattan.
Everything I’ve experienced and observed seems so random. And maybe some day they will inform an essay spanning culture, history and geo-politics. But for now I want to collect these tidbits and share them with you. Here goes:
Low Cost of Living
It costs us 40% less per month to live here as opposed to Florida. Everything is cheaper, especially utilities, taxes, condo fee, cable TV and internet. I compare our community to Queens, NYC and the cost of our condo in a concierge building is one quarter the price of a condo there. Our complex is gated with manned entry and includes many stores for foods, wine, restaurants and hair salons We don’t need a car and taxis are plentiful and cheap (by US standards). The subway system (in walking distance) is excellent and ubiquitous. Here is a photo of our street and condo:
For most Americans of my generation the color of Russia is propaganda gray. In the 1960s we were fed a steady diet of unsmiling Russians on drab streets maintained by muscled older women in babushkas. In fact, Moscow is and always has been a world class city, gleaming at night under stunning architectural lighting. The sheer volume of museums, performance venues, landscaped parks, wooded tracts, shopping malls, people friendly spaces and free outdoor cultural events - all are jaw dropping even for this New Yorker. Moscow is one of those cities that never sleeps.
Cutting Edge Medical Care
Given my 86 years, more friends and family were concerned about my medical care in Moscow.. They forgot that Olga was a general practitioner in Moscow before getting her Ph.D. and moving to Duke University as a neuroscience researcher. Health care is free for Russians and for non citizens on an emergency basis. There are also private hospitals and clinics in a variety of price ranges. Medical home visits are available. After years of struggling in the US, my diabetes was finally brought under control in Moscow minus all side effects. Plus they discovered the source of my frequent leg infections: a slowly developing case of lymphedema, now under treatment. I use the private K-31 clinic and hospital with reasonable costs. When I get residency status in Russia, I will also get full health benefits, plus there is cheap supplemental insurance. During the pandemic, I was grateful for the quick availability of the Sputnik V vaccine, with no side effects, two years of immunity, and efficacy against most variants. Russian science and medicine are awesome. Olga and I have concluded that we are getting far better care and medications here in Moscow than from our HMOs in Florida.
Russians consider that they live in a democratic country, regardless of what politicritics say. I remember that when I was in college during feverish anti-communist times, I was fascinated by the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev. He was a Ukrainian dirt farmer who joined the political class and rose to lead the country - compared to the patrician John F. Kennedy whose party stole the presidency for him by rigging the vote in Chicago. Democracy’s constant mantra as I grew up was that the US was a country in which anyone could grow up to become president. Trump proved that.
While there is a definite nostalgia among older Russians for Soviet times, that does not necessarily include governance. To me Russia appears to be a democracy “of the people” in which public opinion drives policy and decisions - as compared to the US where the Congress ignores all polls and serves a minority of Americans who wield economic power. The Communist system in China is actually structured so that public opinion can move through the tiers of power to drive legislation and regulation; there are hundreds of peaceful public protests in China daily , aimed at malfeasance and various economic and environmental issues. Russia and China are the leading authoritarian democracies, while from here the West seems run by parliamentary democracies tied in knots by their partisanship. Of course, the American electoral process is an outlier, a mystery to most Europeans. How does one explain permanent minority governance as guaranteed by the electoral college, partisan redistricting, and the senate filibuster? When one adds gun toting partisans and other deplorables to the mix, we feel safer and freer in Russia. And as a guest in residence, I try to abide by expectations of good citizenship.
Patriotic to the Bone !
Russian patriotism is not jingoistic. It runs hard, it runs deep and it runs fast. The Russians celebrate the end of WWII with millions of citizens joyfully marching in streets carrying signs with photos and names of relatives who died fighting the Nazis. The depth of this feeling is better understood when one learns that more than 20 million Russian civilians died in the war. Only the Chinese had more. Olga’s father was a military doctor, one of nine brothers. Six of those brothers died in military service. Yet Russian history is generally peaceful compared to its European neighbors. The Russians only made two major incursions into the West: pursuing a retreating Napoleon into Paris and liberating Eastern Europe from the Nazi invaders after driving them from the Soviet Union. There were many minor skirmishes along the southern border where the Russians ousted the occupying Ottoman Turks and Mongols. There as actually a time when the Poles invaded Russia and captured Moscow. If anything, the Russian people seem selfless in defense, difficult to intimidate and generally against interventions abroad. The government responds to those expectations.
I am not going to repeat the MSNBC and FOX-TV joint narratives about the Ukraine, but since coming here I’ve seen another side to the issue, which makes more sense. The fact is that the US and the EU intervened in Ukraine to stage a coup against the pro-Russian government, even after those in power had agreed to new elections. There was a short window in which no legal government existed in Ukraine. In that power vacuum Crimea chose to seek Russian protection and those in the eastern provinces declared independence. They saw the reign of terror being visited on the Russian majority population by Ukrainian nationalists in the Maidan. It is possible that the Donbas could negotiate a settlement with Kiev. But Crimea as a Russian province has no such option.
Ukrainians are just one of a group of Slavic tribes that fought to control its share of Balkan lands, highly opposed by the Poles. It explains why this group enlisted in the SS Waffen to fight for the Nazis against Russia, Poland, the Jews and other factions. This is the tail end of a messy situation that dogged Eastern Europe for centuries, against which Russia was a counterbalance. Ukraine never existed as a separate nation until the Soviets gave them independence during the break up. I never knew any of this until I got out from under the western media bubble.
When Trump won the presidency, he declared NATO obsolete. That’s was before the military-industrial complex descended full force on him. Now for the first time I am living on the receiving end of American missiles. The prospect that more of these missiles will be planted in unstable Ukraine makes me uneasy. Offensive missiles are not defensive weapons; they should be using the Iron Dome system that has proven so effective in Israel. I see no panic here, only a cool readiness to blunt and counter any EU offensive. Like Frances’s Maginot Line prior to WWII, the EU is counting on a deployment that is technologically obsolete in these days of drones, robotic weapons, supersonic speeds, and cyber warfare. What a contrast to the utter hysteria in the US over Soviet missiles in Cuba.
That’s all for now. More later.