Our month traversing Russia from the Arctic to the Caspian has been a wonderful education. There is no doubt that this is a truly great nation with a history as epic as any, including China. And to come here, well after the fall of the ignominious experiment with Communism and see how the country is emerging from that experience, has been a privilege indeed.
The uneven nature of progress from the past, is something that has struck us. For the old Russians and for those living in the North, the Gorbachev/Yeltsin/Putin era has delivered very little as yet. They see the Flash Harry oligarchs and the Russian Mafia drive by in 21st century vehicles but trickle-down hasn’t quite got through yet. Certainly for the young professionals living in the wealth belt of St Petersburg to Moscow, the New Russia is wonderful and on the move. There’s some way to go yet to ensure the spoils are shared more widely so that the current Russia can be viewed as something sustainable.
And on foreign policy the New Russia seems to us at least, to have its feet firmly on rational ground – as opposed to a shrill George Bush and some of the NATO cheerleaders who have seen the recent Georgia / South Ossetia incident as Russian aggression. After all it was the dickhead in Georgia who invaded South Ossetia simply to create an incident that would accelerate the urgency afforded his country’s entry into NATO. Ironically that might be the ultimate outcome but at what an awful cost not just to the civilians of South Ossetia but also those of Georgia itself. The cynicism of politicians too often knows no bounds.
So we would like to thank all those who have made our trip across Russia such a pleasure – from those at the Russian Embassy in Wellington and the NZ Embassy in Moscow to our own personal contacts, both old and new in Russia itself, who enabled us to get a real taste of Russia and Russians proper.