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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Having Trouble Telling the Police From Thieves

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I am writing to share with you my terrible experience during a visit to Russia in late August. My girlfriend and I were "robbed" by policemen just by Red Square.

While enjoying ourselves in Red Square on the morning of Aug. 26, we were stopped by two policemen just outside the State Historical Museum at about 10 a.m. The policemen asked us for our passports. We had all the required documents including visas and the residence proof issued by our hotel, the Rossiya, and we produced them accordingly. But once the two policemen got hold of our passports, they led us to a van about 100 meters away. The van was parked in a corner where few people could see it; it was small, with all the windows shut and covered with curtains.

When we boarded the van, we were shocked to find that there were over 10 policemen inside. The policemen asked us in an impolite way to take all our things out of our bags, as if we were thieves or drug traffickers. They even asked us to take off our shoes and socks!

During the search, one or two of the policemen asked, using sign language, whether they could take our mobile phones. I, of course, said no. After 20 minutes of searching, they found no prohibited items, but they would not let us go. A policeman wrote "150 US" on a small piece of paper -- they menacingly demanded that we pay them $150! We had broken no law or rule so we refused to pay. They then crossed out the "150 US" and wrote "100 US."

We paid eventually. They had taken our passports and were refusing to give them back to us. Don't forget that there were over 10 policemen inside the van. We didn't know what would happen if we failed to pay. Would we be hit or detained? Who knows?

We have no proof of what happened (how could we have proof?), but we are sure that it is not an isolated incident. You see major complaints about policemen in Russia on the web and in Hong Kong newspapers and magazines.

Actually our travel agent and friends had already warned us about police maltreatment of tourists before the trip. Some of my friends had even been "robbed" by policemen on Red Square before. We kept alert when we walked around Red Square, but we admit that we underestimated the seriousness of such "robbers in uniform."

After the "robbery," my girlfriend was so frightened that whenever she saw someone in uniform in the distance, she pushed me to run away. It is ridiculous that we could not distinguish the police from thieves in Russia.

I am sending this letter to the relevant authorities and some other organizations, so that more people will be concerned about the safety of tourists in Russia. Unless I see improvements to tourists' safety, I will not recommend any of my friends to visit Russia, although it is a very beautiful country. I shall also write to local newspapers and travel agents to remind people who wish to visit Russia to be careful.

George Lo
Hong Kong

What a Gas

In response to "A Past Master of Inarticulate Eloquence," a column by Michele A. Berdy on Sept. 27.

I had to serve as an interpreter to Viktor Chernomyrdin on several occasions at the end of the 1980s, when I was working for a U.S. corporation that did business in the Soviet Union.

At that time, Chernomyrdin was the Soviet minister of oil and gas, and later the head of Gazprom. I don't remember that his speech was riddled with innuendo (probably because we were discussing such romantic topics as gas pipelines), but I do remember anticipating every sentence he uttered with trepidation because, like many of his colleagues, he tended to use idioms and industry jargon, which I then would have to untangle and present in conversational and technical English (or Texan, for my superiors).

To be fair, the Americans for whom I was working were just as "folksy" in their manner of speaking. Several hours of interpreting would leave me feeling as if my brain was about to short circuit. So, thanks to Ms. Berdy for stirring my memories, and for my renewed appreciation of why I eventually went to law school.

Jennifer Brenner

Pre-emption Parallels

In response to "Russia's Real Iraq Quandary," a comment by Vladimir Frolov on Oct. 1.

I agree with Vladimir Frolov that Russia should support the French approach, which is more diplomatic and subtle.

I am very uncomfortable with the U.S. position vis-a-vis Iraq. And I know that many Americans feel uneasy about the U.S. administration's bellicose position.

There is one aspect about which I, as a Russian-American, am particularly uncomfortable. This is the adoption of a "pre-emptive" war strategy by President George W. Bush and his military advisers.

For me it has very bad connotations.

It is no secret that the notion of pre-emptive war was ingrained in German military thinking.

Advocates of this strategy included such people as Frederick the Great and Count Moltke.

Hitler adopted this strategy against the Soviet Union in 1941.

He argued that the Soviet Union was bound to get stronger and possibly develop weapons of mass destruction; Stalin was a Bolshevik dictator and a imminent danger to Germany and the rest of the civilized world.

And more than anything Hitler wanted the oil fields of the Caucasus. We all know the disastrous consequences of Hitler's war.

Of course, U.S. intentions are nobler, but there are some disturbing historic parallels.

Igor Biryukov