...2. Next, how healthy and vibrant Russia looks today. Not in my 32 years of traveling around Russia has this country looked so prosperous and orderly. It definitely doesn't look like an isolated country under sanctions. It looks like a healthy, robust place with a great deal of modernity present everywhere.
3. There is a definite pride in Russia's citizenry that I had not seen previously. Today Russians respect themselves and their country, as opposed to the former years when, when to one degree or another, they seemed burdened with insecurities and self-doubt.
4. Russia's structures, from 18th century buildings to today's skyscrapers, are well kept these days. Unlike yesteryear, streets and sidewalks are clean. We traveled by metros, minibuses, and cars inside these cities--and across the countrysides by train and occasionally by cars. Highways are finally in good shape, city streets also, and they are as well marked as ours--this is new. Pedestrians have the right away with traffic now! We saw few dilapidated houses, except for rows of original wooden houses in Volgograd. Russia's villages are disappearing which is a great loss to those who still revere village life. Khrushchev's five-story apartment buildings are being razed with numerous elegant residential buildings going up in each city. I counted 19 cranes from one vantage point in Ekaterinburg.
5. Beauty and Russian classicism "are back" in Russia. Having survived the ugliness of the Soviet period, the bleakness and breakdown of the 1990s, Russian designers and architects have finally come upon classic styles for new building construction and decorating.
6. It seems to me that Russian people have found their comfort zone. They don't aspire to be like Americans or Europeans or anyone else. They feel good about being Russian and belonging to Russia. I think this is due to finally settling into their "national idea" of themselves (a combination of classicism from the Tsarist era including the re-emerging Russian Orthodox faith, built-in social services from the Soviet era, plus a renewed sense of Russia's cutting edge scientists and the Russian nation rising in the world). They have been searching for "what" Russia would become since the 1980s and no doubt even earlier. They appear to have internally settled this issue for the present.
8. Russians know they are a major country coming up in the world, yet one gets no sense that they are hungry for power. They aspire to be part of a developing multipolar world, where nations cooperate as opposed to break into competing alliances. I agree, this is the only way that makes sense at this juncture of our world's evolution. Russians are still a modest people, and not given to grandiosity or exceptionalism, in private or in public.
9. Russian people are still questioning what system will be best for them to develop. Is it American Democracy? No. Is it full blown Socialism? No. Is it full Capitalism? No. Is it private sectorism? Yes, definitely. It is some combination of these with plenty of safeguards to support excellent education, culture, the needs of children, the disabled and pensioners, etc.
10. Political system: They seem to still be searching for what's best for Russia ". but are comfortable with their current trajectory at the moment. Putin's approval rate in the Levada independent poll this week is 89%--probably the highest in the world for a head of state. Are there those who dislike Putin, who think he should vacate the presidency and make room for someone younger without a KGB background? Definitely. Frequently they are the younger educated males in the major cities who believe that Putin is the root of all of Russia's challenges in the world. Those with whom I had long discussions have a lot of holes in their perceptions. They are a thin minority but it's good for Russian society for them to exercise other points of view--even if most won't agree with them.
11. Personal freedoms: Most Russians have the main freedoms that they cherish. Remembering communism, they feel great that they can travel abroad at will, be safe in their homes, safe on their streets, choose any kind of work they wish, move wherever they want, educate their children as they please, read whatever they like, have whatever friends they wish, and they are glad to lead a normal life in Russia. There are Russians who push for more freedoms, they too are good for society. However, those who do such acts as desecrating the National Cathedral are not among them. Average Russians don't respect exhibitionism in any form.
12.What would Russians change, if they could? First of all they wish for fewer taxes, less bureaucracy, less corruption and more incentives for private business. They want a more highly organized and efficient society. They want to better understand how to innovate and instigate new levels of Russian production.
15. Russians and their leadership in the Kremlin and elsewhere have ZERO interest in taking over more land. Nothing would cripple them more quickly than having angry Estonians, Latvians or Ukrainians under their roof. In addition, Russia has more land than they can use. They have more natural resources than they can extract and use/sell over the next 50 years. As far as Crimea goes, they and the Crimeans have understood themselves as the same people for centuries. But for a drunk Khrushchev who gave Crimea to Ukraine without consulting the Crimeans in 1954, Crimea would have been part of Russia up to this day. Rumors that Russia will take any of the Soviet space back into Russia, including Ukraine, are pure fabrications to benefit the objectives of those who are trying to reduce Russia's ability to be competitive in the world.
Краткая аннотация на русском:
Этот взгляд близко совпадает с моими собственными впечатлениями за два последних, довольно продолжительных визита в Россию - в мае-июне 2014 и июне 2015. Никогда я не видел более спокойных и уверенных настроений обычных жителей России, отсутствия истерики и катастрофизма, как в последний год. Признаков кризиса довольно трудно найти, несмотря на ослабление рубля. Везде продолжается новое строительство, городские пейзажи постепенно облагораживаются, в магазинах полно вполне приличных продуктов, в Подмосковье и ближайших областях туристический бум.
При этом никаких хитрых или даже сильно-квалифицированных ходов Путин не совершал.
Для нехитрого экономического и социального чуда всего-то оказалось достаточным воровать чуть меньше, чем "либеральная оппозиция", и не источать национальную ненависть к русским с такой интенсивностью, как оная "оппозиция".