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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Love It or Hate It, the Trans-Siberian Is a Trip

To Our Readers

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We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

In response to "All Aboard the Trans-Siberian," March 23.

I loved your article about the Trans-Siberian trip. My wife and I will be doing some of the trip between Novosibirsk and Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude this summer. My daughter refuses to go and will stay with relatives. Everything you describe is the very reason I want to do the trip and is probably the reason my wife is not too enthused to do the trip. We will also have homestays in that area and live for a couple of days with a previous exchange student we had a few years ago. Thank you for such a perceptive and entertaining article. I am even more thrilled about going.

Gordon Thomas
Tampa, Florida

I wanted to comment on your crude and uninspiring article on the Trans-Siberian railway. I am a Canadian who was so enamored by Russia and the same trip four years ago that I am now in Voronezh teaching English for more than six months.

I wrote a manuscript called "Moscow+7" that took a laborious three years to complete. The contrasts could not be any more apparent. Juliet Butler should have attempted to make the journey a bit more of a surreal and timelessly magical incident and The Moscow Times should have enforced this prior to the publication being released.

With the Mir space station now dead in the water, Russia has few icons of this sort to boast about, and your article was a tourism reentry and slow burn-up for the Trans-Siberian railway. I think, instead, the trip is a wonderful experience for the prepared and an amazing accomplishment for the Russian Federation, retaining a major piece of its history. Don't stab Russia as it painfully staggers into a new world of openness and freedom.

Brent Antonson

I am an American high school student who studies Russian. I frequently read The Moscow Times over the Internet because it gives me such wonderful stories about the goings-on in Russia.

When I read about Juliet Butler's trip on the Trans-Siberian railroad, I was left with a very pleasant feeling. Her discussion of the famous railway was what anyone like myself with an interest in Russian culture would enjoy reading. I am going to show the article to my Russian teachers at Staten Island Technical High School in New York so that they can show their students a little slice of what Russian is like beyond the capitals.

To Americans, the railroad is what the "monster" in Lake Baikal that Butler wrote about is to Russians: We have all heard about it, but we don't know anything about it. So, thank you for that delightful, descriptive and informative story.

Joseph Caneco
Staten Island, New York

Shameful Coverage …

In response to "20,000 Turn Out in Support of NTV," April 2.

You should be ashamed of your coverage of the demonstration in support of NTV last Saturday — a small article compiled of wire copy that ran on page 3. By giving this story such sorry coverage you are not showing a great deal of solidarity with your embattled colleagues at NTV. I would have expected more from a paper that for many years was a leading voice of justice.

This demonstration deserved the front page, together with pictures, and should have been covered by one of your own reporters. You might also have considered devoting an editorial to it.

Last Saturday's massive display of support for NTV was remarkable for Russia. Independent media outlets — including The Moscow Times — should muster courage from it to stand by one another. Otherwise you might end up in a situation where, when the government gets around to attacking you, there won't be anyone left to defend you.

Diederik Lohman
Director, Moscow office
Human Rights Watch

Concrete Aid

In response to "Good Aid Is Concrete, Accountable," an editorial, April 4.

I entirely agree with your statement in Wednesday's editorial that Russia needs concrete and efficient foreign aid. However, I would also like to note that there is no $600 million loan on the table, as you suggest. In fact, we have just concluded negotiations on a $50 million loan for a pilot education reform project which is aimed at: (i) testing at the federal and regional levels (Samara and Yaroslavl regions, the Chuvashia republic) models and mechanisms to improve the quality of secondary and vocational education; (ii) ensuring that vocational education is relevant to the rapidly changing demands of employers; and (iii) improving equity of access to high-quality education. The project has been designed to test reforms so that future investments in education will be cost-effective. A well-planned selection of the pilot regions, as well as a carefully planned implementation-monitoring program provide the basis for a successful project.

Your editorial also called for "Western aid programs in Russia — particularly those that go after real health emergencies, like the spread of AIDS ...". I am glad to inform you that the World Bank is currently at a very advanced stage of discussions with the government of the Russian Federation on a project to fight the twin scourges of TB and AIDS, which are already causing harm and suffering to thousands of people in Russia.

Julian Schweitzer,
Country Director for Russia and Resident Representative
of the World Bank in Moscow

Excellent Coverage

In response to "U.S., Russia Unite to Fight Child Sex," March 27.

I read newspaper articles from all over the world, and have been reading some of your articles on and off for the past several months, but nothing prepared me for the article on child pornography you ran on March 27.

I was listening to National Public Radio recently, and there was a small story on the child-pornography bust that was coordinated by the U.S. Customs Agency and the Moscow police. I also read a small article in my local newspaper, The State, as well as papers like The Washington Post, The New York Times, the New York Daily News and a couple of others, trying to see if I could get a better picture of what took place.

But nothing prepared me for the thoroughness of your reporting.

In the articles I read, there was some mention of an American who went to Russia and tried to have sex with an underage boy, but the details were sketchy to say the least. Your article filled in all the blanks as to what happened, how it happened and when it happened.

I commend you for your detailed reporting of this most unfortunate crime, and look forward to reading more about Russia in general from your paper.

Thank you very much for helping fill in the blanks to this story, and keep up the good work.

David Walker
Lexington, South Carolina

Two Kagarlitsky Fans

In response to "Give Me the Visa Already!" a column by Boris Kagarlitsky, March 16.

Visa processing makes me quite angry, too. I am an American living in Switzerland.

In 1999, I made the foolish mistake of asking the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to issue a visa for my then-girlfriend, Svetlana. We wanted to get married, and I thought a visit with my parents (both in their late 70s) in Virginia would be respectful and appropriate.

What a joke that turned out to be. I have rarely been so humiliated in my life.

I don't need to go into details since Kagarlitsky described the degradation already. Everyone is a criminal until proven innocent. Every single Russian woman is a prostitute until they show they are the Virgin Mary, which wouldn't be believed by these people anyway.

I dealt only with official U.S. citizen consular officials — no Russian employees of the consulate.

It was worse than Kagarlitsky's experience, I think. The way my fellow citizens treated me was about the same as they treat a drug lord trying to smuggle contraband.

And, get this: The head of the non-immigrant visa section is a true devil. I am convinced this person has a personal hatred for Russians. I am not joking. She said the following to me (almost shrieking over the phone, by the way): "Mr. Sandwick, tell me what's going to stop your girlfriend from getting on the first plane to Miami to walk the streets as soon as she lands in Washington?" I could imagine she had spit flying out of her mouth, she was so angered by my very plainly and calmly made request for a visa.

I have advanced degrees. I make good money. I have a public persona in publishing and television. I have a broad and deep list of clients and work in a highly respected profession. All that and I get this person, an official of the U.S. government, telling me she suspects my fiancee is a prostitute.

I, too, have told this story to anyone who will listen. It is truly shameful of my government. There is no recourse, no exemptions, no addressing this situation to anyone in official positions.

Each consular official is a little Hitler, waiting to intimidate and berate good-minded people and subjecting them to the most humiliating treatment. I am a very proud American, but ashamed of some aspects of my government.

Anyway, enough griping. Thanks for the good reading and wish me luck in the future as my Russian wife (she's now an official Swiss resident, which helps a lot) and I go out and apply for visas.

John Sandwick
Geneva, Switzerland

In response to "Two States Accusing Each Other," a column by Boris Kagarlitsky, March. 30.

This column was excellent. As an expat in Moscow in 1992 and 1994, I couldn't help but notice the change in Russian attitudes toward America and Americans in my two visits.

President George Bush (the elder) was foolish enough to think that American-style democracy could work in Russia, and Russia bought in to this notion.

Now Russia has taken on one of America's most distasteful and dangerous hobbies — the idea that having an enemy can cause a distraction and steer criticism away from failed internal policies. I will never understand why America did not provide more assistance to Russia — not in terms of cash, but in dealing with democracy's inherent difficulties.

And I fear that this lack of usable and valuable assistance will continue for at least the next four years.

The appointment by our present President George Bush of Condoleezza Rice (a scholar well-versed in Russian affairs and well-practiced in Cold War paranoia) as national security adviser shows an attitude that will benefit neither Russia nor America.

I do not believe Russia is a desperate country in need of American assistance.

I do believe that it would have been in the best interests of both countries for America to have done a bit more to help a new neighbor and friend.

I sincerely hope this situation does not go into the history file called "Opportunities Lost."

Rick Pettit
Rutland, Vermont

Lost Self-Respect

As a student of history and culture I have long admired and enjoyed Russia's often ambivalent struggle to identify itself within the context of a larger world.

When communism imploded, Russia's people where left ill-prepared to deal with the highly competitive, very aggressive nature of "free enterprise."

High-placed apparatchiks — long cynical about the achievability of true communism — exploited their positions and developed amoral even diabolical schemes to defraud the people of control of basic industries.

These amoral, self-serving "tycoons" — the equivalent of despicable, treacherous, cowardly types like Marc Rich and Pinkus Green in the United States — are indifferent to the sufferings of their people.

While they control billions, pensioners live on scraps in apartments that are often unheated, Russian soldiers hustle dubious after-hours employment and sometimes even beg in Moscow's subways, and young Russian and Ukrainian women end up as sex slaves in the cities of Western Europe and Israel.

Russian mafiosi operate with impunity in Eastern Europe, Western Europe and North America.

What all of these things reflect is a great nation that has lost its confidence and, please forgive me, its self-respect.

There is a desperate resignation in the face of the nation's massive problems. This aching despair is reflected in Russia's declining birthrate and population, its shrinking productivity, its declining life expectancies.

What can be done?

The most important step that Russia must take is a relentless and continuous campaign to be fully included in the evolving Europe. This means, ultimately, membership in the European Union, membership in NATO and eventually full partnership in all councils and forums that bear on Europe's future.

Vinton Heuck
Lancaster, California

More on Teens!

I am a teenager who really loves to read your newspaper and not just the comics.

But I wanted to write and tell you that you don't often write about the problems and issues of teenagers. I think it is important to realize that teenagers are not frivolous and wild creatures but an organized society with their own norms, culture and habits that should be appreciated rather than criticized.

Of course, we don't understand life inside and out, but maybe there are advantages to that. Perhaps we act more boldly because of it.

I appreciate that The Moscow Times was created mostly for foreign residents of Moscow, but I think that they too would be interested in knowing more about local teenagers.

Vyacheslav Ryzhkov

Fresh Perspective

Bombarded as Americans are by the relentless media presenting one-sided views of international affairs, variant coverage and analysis are critical to broadening our understanding. The Internet offers one means of providing information and interpretation to at least a segment of our population.

What the Russians or Germans or Chinese, etc., are saying is important to know and it must be said by others than our own mass media.

Thank you for providing alternatives to corporate-controlled American media.

Roland Dion
San Diego, California