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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Can Russia, U.S. Be Political, Military Allies?

Editor,
The competitive nature of business in the West, and freedom of speech, has provided U.S. citizens (and other nationals) with access to a wide range of news from around the world. We are frustrated quite often at the comments and political positions of nations that have long been "at odds" with the West. We are frustrated because we feel as if those nations forget that we do accept the "word" of official government spokespersons as easily as their oppressed populations do. (Point in case is the tired rhetoric and "propaganda" that we hear from nations like the People's Republic of China).

Many of us here in the States have been waiting for the changes in Russia to bring them into the modern world … not just technologically, but socially and politically. The recent summit between our two presidents has all the signs and symptoms of a breakthrough in this area. Why shouldn't the United States and Russia be political and military allies? It is in the best interest of the entire world, not just our nations.

The world has changed, my friends, and we hope that the new Russia can play a more active role as a partner and ally to the United States. Applause for both President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush. Full speed ahead.

John Rieder
St. Louis, Missouri



Substance, Not Flash



In response to "Putin Proves Presentation Is Everything," an editorial, June 19.

Editor,
Your editorial of June 19 is sadly biased. OK, you are a Russian newspaper favoring the Russian leader. American newspapers favor our leader as well. We can all live with that.

But examine just one of your points: You state that Vladimir Putin's most memorable moment came when he showed NATO's rejection of Russia as a member in 1954. And last year's rejection proves that America still considers Russia an enemy. Well, let's be honest, in 1954 that was the case. The Soviet Union was the enemy. As far as the rejection last year goes, Russia is not capable nor ready to be a NATO member. The Russian economy could not afford to bring Russia's military up to NATO standards. The action in Chechnya has laid bare the low standards of professionalism, and even of humanity, of the Russian military. NATO was founded as an organization to provide mutual protection of democratic nations. Russia has hardly proven itself yet to be a democratic nation. Putin especially seems to be determined to resurrect the demons of Russia's totalitarian past, thus the resurgence of the FSB (or KGB — they share many of the same traits), the hooded "tax police," the farce of a justice system. I could go on, but you get the point. Not being an enemy does not make one an ally. You go from being an enemy, to neutral feelings, to trusted nation and finally to ally. It is not an overnight process. It takes years to gain trust.

Frankly, your title says it all: "Presentation Is everything." In my mind, substance is more important than a flashy presentation. George W. Bush is going to spend the next several years as president of the world's most powerful nation and economic engine. He will say what he means and mean what he says, whether you agree with him or not. Putin is going to spend those same years consolidating his personal power until he is effectively a dictator, muffling any dissent, and trying to keep the Russian economy from completely falling apart. I, for one, am not convinced he is a man of his word.

I'll take a plain-talking Texan as president over a "statesmanly" former spy and dictator-in-training any time.

Jim Kaufman
Houston, Texas



Amnesty for Jack Tobin



Editor,
I am an American, a wife and a mother, and friend of Jack Tobin, the Fulbright scholar being held prisoner. So many of Jack's family and friends back in Connecticut waited in anticipation for your Russian holiday on June 12 when tradition allows for amnesty to be given to certain people convicted of a crime in Russia and sentenced to time in prison. We had hoped that Jack would receive amnesty under this tradition, but the day has gone by and no word has been issued.

We firmly believe that there was some misunderstanding that led to Jack's arrest and conviction. Jack is an honorable, hard-working young man who always spoke so highly of the Russian culture and the Russian people he met during his studies in your country. We hope and pray that President Vladimir Putin and the Russian parliament will look closely at Jack's situation and show the world that Russia is a nation that cares about justice and compassion. The American people look forward to good relations between our nations.

Ann Maher
Ridgefield, Connecticut



The Lesser Evil

In response to "Culture of Corruption," a comment by Nabi Abdullaev, June 18.

Editor,
The habit of petty bribery as an easy way of coping with minor traffic tickets and the like, while abhorrent to most Westerners, should be viewed, I think, in a broader economic context.

I do indeed personally regard it as corrupt, and do not engage in it. In many parts of the world, however, the gendarmerie view it as a way of supplementing their low pay. In Mexico, just a few miles from where I am sitting in prosperous, wealthy southern California, it is common for Americans to hand their driver's license to the local police accompanied by a moderately large denomination bill, which will often result in the immediate "dismissal" of a pesky traffic ticket. The government will deny that that happens, but it does. The propensity to tolerate this is a strong function of the prosperity level: Denmark, where, as you point out it is not tolerated, is a far more prosperous place than Tijuana, Mexico, where it is.

Similar customs are widespread in South Asia, where I have personally experienced it. Baksheesh can be described as somewhere between a tip and a bribe — more than a tip, less than a bribe. It's often paying someone to do something that is already their job, just to do it better or faster. A few hundred well-placed rupees will cause lost customs paperwork to suddenly appear, or the bureaucracy to suddenly process some application form much more smoothly. It's a well-established, widely tolerated practice. Indian bureaucracies are masters at delay and obfuscation when they put their minds to it. (I have often wondered whether they learned these skills from the Brits, or the other way around.)

A feeling person can only sympathize with this, when you realize that the average annual income in some of these countries is a tiny fraction (just a few percent or less) of that in the West. The locals regard it as a well-deserved supplement to their low pay. While I cannot condone it morally, if one is comparing relative evils, it is low-grade. Certainly the large-scale corruption that accompanies manifestly evil practices like drug-smuggling, influence-peddling by government officials and the like is in a different league.

Dr. Arthur H. M. Ross
Encinitas, California



More Bush Bashing



In response to letter from Claude Dunes, June 21.

Editor,
Claude Dunes seems to be surprised to hear the rest of the world is lamenting America's decision last November to elect George W. Bush as president. I should perhaps remind him that Bush, a man who has in his charge a nuclear arsenal that could destroy the world, did not seem to be aware that Slovakia and Slovenia were two different countries, called Lord Robertson "Lord Robinson" recently and referred to a group of British schoolchildren as "young Americans." These are just three examples of Bush's worrying ignorance. So why should it strike Dunes as odd that the whole world is whispering that the most powerful man on the planet may indeed be a bit of a simpleton, and in a country that considers itself a democracy it is surely not a big step to suggest that the American populace may have been, just a little bit, fools.

The election of Bush may not prove that the American people are stupid (further tests will need to be carried out to ascertain that). However it is certainly proof, if proof were still needed, of America's dangerous inward-lookingness and unbelievable disdain for any other country with the exception of their own. Meanwhile the rest of the world prays that the next U.S. election will produce a better alternative.

Peter Attenborough
Moscow



The Truth Sets You Free



In response to "Repressions Memorial Puts Russians to Shame," a comment by Andrei Zolotov Jr. on June 26.

Editor,
Thank you for posting this article.

In 1995 I was at Katyn and Mednoye and when I got back to New Zealand I wrote an article about the same issue.

I do not expect the Russian population to run around the streets shouting "mea culpa" all day long about these events, but until a far wider, open recognition is given to the terrible losses during that period, both of Russians and others, I think the risk of repetition is very real.

When you next go past the new Katyn memorial site in Katyn Woods, please see if the memorial to the nonexistent dead Russian POWs is still blighting the memory of all those, Polish and Russian, who were slaughtered and buried at Katyn in the Soviet period.

The Soviet Katyn memorial was a product of the 1944 Burdenko Commission report Stalin used to blame the Nazis for Katyn; supposedly it commemorates 500 Soviet POWs who were shot after the Nazis used them to bury the Polish dead in Katyn after they had shot them in 1941. It should have been removed with the Gorbachev admission of NKVD guilt for Katyn.

Until that type of memorial is gone I for one will not believe there have been the necessary fundamental steps taken to put this tragic episode in context and start to give its place in history, rather than its place as an example of how far Russia has to go.

Old, corny and naive maybe, but to a large extent I still believe that only the truth sets you free.

David Mirams
Wellington, New Zealand



Japanese Atrocities



In response to "Watering Down the Truth," a column by Russell Working on June 25.

Editor,
Russell Working's article on "Pearl Harbor" and the film's lame attempt to ignore Japan's role in World War II hit the nail on the head. Working seems to realize that Japan, unlike Germany, has refused to do any amount of soul-searching with regard to World War II. We continue to hear a great deal about the Nazi concentration camps — but how many people learn about the atrocities committed against Nanking? And the filmmakers of "Pearl Harbor" would do well to read about Japan's infamous Unit 731 (incidentally, The Moscow Times is one of the few major newspapers to write about this in the past), where men, women and children suffered unspeakable tortures that would even shame the Nazis.

Remember Pearl Harbor, yes, but remember Nanking — and 731.

Sue Hickey
Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland



Two-Way Window



In response to "
0.07," a column by Giles Roberts in The Beat, June 14.

Editor,
I read with discomfort the column by Giles Roberts, in which he offers the opinion that "Icons are grim. … The Madonnas look ill, they tilt their heads and wear bovine expressions. The babes have tiny heads and point in the most annoying way. Saints are rigid, angels non-aerodynamic."

Coincidentally, I just gave my students a take-home final exam (in a course on early Russian art and architecture) that included a similarly disparaging assessment of Russian icons made over a century ago by another non-Russian, non-Orthodox foreigner, Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace (I'm presuming that Roberts is in the same outsider category).

Asked to write a critique of Wallace, one student observed that: "Such pronouncements and the general attitude of Wallace express a smug sense of cultural superiority, which has been described in the context of colonialism as leading to 'cultural imperialism.'" The student confesses to having initially regarded icons as "static" and "primitive," but she adds: "However, looking at icons through the proper lens of theology allows us to understand their true function and therefore their form" (she earned an A on the exam).

We modern, hip Westerners must understand that old icons as an art form are medieval, pre-Renaissance, deliberately two-dimensional, and consciously imitative of traditional images going back to early Christian and Byzantine times. If we judge Andrei Rublev to be "inferior" to, say, Jan van Eyck and Masaccio, his approximate contemporaries, then we might as well "blame" Rublev for not having been born and trained in late Gothic Holland or early Renaissance Italy.

More to the point: Icons are not intended as works of art to be displayed in museums, as we now frequently find them; they are holy images, intimately connected with the teachings and liturgical services of Orthodox Christianity. An icon is a two-way window through which the believer prays to the heavenly archetypes and hopes to receive grace from them; church services incorporate icons along with prayers and readings from the Bible and Church Fathers (some of whose writings explain and justify the use of images in Christian practice).

When Roberts flippantly denigrates icons, he might as well make fun of churches, crosses, the Bible, chalices, censers, and priests' vestments as well: Like icons, they are all material devices by means of which the Orthodox faithful attempt to commune with the heavenly powers.

If I were to visit someone's home, it would be exceedingly rude of me to mock that which my hosts held dear — whether their ideas, their beliefs, their possessions, their family members, etc. Mr. Roberts, if you are, as I presume, a guest (visitor, temporary resident, whatever) in Russia, I believe that you owe all Russian Orthodox believers a humble apology.

Jack Kollmann
Stanford, California



Editor,
Just what is Giles Roberts trying to achieve by this article? More importantly, what is your newspaper trying to achieve by publishing it?

As an Orthodox Christian I am insulted by the ignorant and pathetic remarks made by this "columnist." If he is so upset by icons, why does he think about them? Why is he ready to insult a pillar of Orthodox culture and religion? Why can't he stay away and ignore them?

I am proud of my culture and extremely happy to have non-Russians experience it, give an opinion, whether it be positive or negative. But this goes far beyond what is acceptable. Where is the respect that every culture is entitled to? I strongly suggest that your newspaper publish intelligent, interesting and objective material, not such ignorant rubbish.

I also suggest that you urge this "columnist" to withdraw his remarks and publicly apologize for insulting a culture that has had the courtesy to have let him experience it.

Daniel Kisliakov
Sydney, Australia