Journey to St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Crimea

J. W. Associate Anti-imperialism, Antiwar, Blog, Cold War, Militarism, Russia, U.S. media, U.S. policy

We’re pleased to crosspost an excerpt of this piece co-authored by our board member Rick Sterling and Dan Kovalik. The article was first featured on AntiWar.com

At the end of April of this year, the two of us ventured together to Russia. We went with the purpose of fact-finding and also to make a point that we do not believe that Russia should be isolated from the world through sanctions and travel bans.

At this moment, Russia is more isolated from the West than it has ever been, quite possibly in history. As just one example, while V.I. Lenin was able to famously travel from Finland via train to St. Petersburg, even during the height of WWI, the train from Finland to Russia ceased operating after February 24 of 2022. And indeed, it was through Finland that we decided to travel to Russia, simply because there are now very limited ways to travel there. Thus, while for years, even during the Cold War, one could easily fly directly from the US to Russia on Aeroflot and other airlines, that is no longer possible due to sanctions. Now, one can only fly there through Serbia, Turkey or the UAE, but those flights are quite expensive.

And so, we ended up choosing to fly to Helsinki, Finland and have a Russian friend who has a non-Russian passport (Russians with only Russian passports cannot travel to Finland) drive from St. Petersburg to pick us up. This turned out to be more easily said than done as our friend’s car broke down at the Finnish/Russian border. And so, we took a very expensive, three-hour cab ride to the border, met up with our friend and crammed ourselves into the cab of a tow truck to drive the remaining three hours to St. Petersburg – a quite inauspicious beginning to our journey.

St. Petersburg (Leningrad)

Our first several days were spent in St. Petersburg, formerly “Leningrad.” We stayed strategically at the Best Western in Uprising Square – so named by the new Bolshevik government in 1918 to commemorate the Great October Revolution of 1917. In the Square is located the Moscow train station which we used to great effect during our journey, as well as the Leningrad Hero-City Obelisk. The Obelisk commemorates Leningrad’s designation as one of 13 “hero cities” in the Soviet Union which distinguished themselves for their exceptional sacrifices in resisting the Nazis during WWII. Two other cities we visited on our trip (Moscow and Sevastopol, Crimea) are also honored with this designation, as is Kiev, Ukraine and of course Volgograd (formerly “Stalingrad”).

During our stay, the city of St. Petersburg sure seemed more like Leningrad, for it was beginning to be decked out in red flags with hammers and sickles and stars to commemorate both May Day and Victory Day over the Nazis on May 9. We were told by long-time residents that the ubiquitous display of such symbols of the USSR was something new (at least since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991), and was spurred on by Russia’s Special Military Operations beginning in February of 2022. It appears that the Russian people, and the Russian government as well, are looking to the legacy of the Soviet Union as a source of strength, pride and unity during this time of war – a war that they view, we believe quite rightly, was forced on them.

The newly released Russian Federation “concept” on foreign policy states quite explicitly that Russia’s current foreign policy is informed by the two main objectives and successes of the USSR – the defeat of Nazism and global decolonization. Certainly, on paper at least, this belies the claim of some Western leftists that Russia is motivated in its relations with other nations by imperialist concerns.

While in St. Petersburg, we visited the site of the terrorist attack which claimed the life of Russian journalist Vladlen Tatarsky and wounded over 30 others, at least 10 gravely. The attack involved the bombing of a cafe in the picturesque University district of St. Petersburg along the Neva – a soft target if there ever was one. The cafe remains closed, and three sets of memorials for Tatarsky are set up around it, consisting of flowers and photos. Of course, the Western press has tried to do everything it can to justify this vicious attack upon civilians, writing off Tatarsky as “pro-Kremlin” and “pro-war” (as if the Western press can’t be fairly characterized as “pro-war” and “pro-Pentagon”) and simply glossing over the numerous other civilians wounded in the assault as collateral damage.

Moscow

While in St. Petersburg, we visited the site of the terrorist attack which claimed the life of Russian journalist Vladlen Tatarsky and wounded over 30 others, at least 10 gravely. The attack involved the bombing of a cafe in the picturesque University district of St. Petersburg along the Neva – a soft target if there ever was one. The cafe remains closed, and three sets of memorials for Tatarsky are set up around it, consisting of flowers and photos. Of course, the Western press has tried to do everything it can to justify this vicious attack upon civilians, writing off Tatarsky as “pro-Kremlin” and “pro-war” (as if the Western press can’t be fairly characterized as “pro-war” and “pro-Pentagon”) and simply glossing over the numerous other civilians wounded in the assault as collateral damage.

Moscow too was being decorated for the May 9 Victory Day celebration. Red Square was sealed off from the public to prepare for the event, and the city was on high alert for possible terrorist attacks, one of which would come while we were in Russia with the drone attack upon the Kremlin itself. Despite the fears of attack, Muscovites were out on the streets day and night. Both Moscow and St. Petersburg were incredibly vibrant – much more so than our cities back home which are still feeling the effects of the lockdowns during the pandemic. Gorky Park was particularly lively with throngs of families with children enjoying the spring weather, swings and slides. Colorful tulips were in full bloom.

From appearances, Russia largely did not appear to be a country at war. However, everyone we talked to confided in us about their concerns for the war – for the loss of life on both sides, the fact that it was lasting much longer than people had expected, and the danger that the war could expand into a greater conflagration. Some Russians expressed their fear that nuclear weapons would end up being used before this was all over, though they believed that the US would be the first to launch them. At the same time, the Russians showed their usual stoicism in the face of such dangers, with one family with whom Dan had dinner stating almost matter-of-factly that “Russia has always had difficult times, and it will have them again.”

After several days in Moscow, and our hopes for visiting the Donbass falling through, we took the long, 27-hour train ride to Crimea – a region now fully in the crosshairs of the proxy war.

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