Russian attitudes to the west

mercurydancer

LE
Book Reviewer
#1
No doubt things have changed a little in the last 15 years. We have a resident kgb chappie, who chimes in with regularity and generally provokes debate of a most interesting kind.

I'm no stranger to Russia and find the western view of Russia to be a bit dated.

Russia and oil - Yes Gazprom and the other companies have made oil a viable challenge to middle eastern oil supplies. As we in UK dont have that much of our own its a matter of who is holding your testicles. Certainly Russia see this as a strategic advantage. I doubt that if a humungous amount of sweet, low sulphur oil was found in Rutland, enough to supply Europe, we would not be any different.

Arms dealing. Russia have been at it equally as we have. There are infrastructure issues which the Russians are hampered by, such as GPS satellites, but its the most effective weapons which get the buyers. I suspect that any arab nation is going to look at the performance of Russian and Chinese anti-aircraft and think that there are better alternatives, ie some that work.

Russians see the world map differently to us in the west. Its an important perspective which has been around for a long time. We in UK see an island and USA see a huge continent but Russia's borders are far more widespread and encompass far more nations than USA and some planetary aspects too - the arctic is bordered by Russia for about 1/3 of its diameter. Spin the globe on google earth and take a look. Its not expansionist for Russia to think of part of the Black Sea to be Russian water (even taking into account the Ukraine ports) and they are very well aware that Istanbul is a choke point, which is has been since Jesus first picked up a chisel.

Muscovites are no more obnoxious than the inhabitants of any major capital. I dont want to offend Londoners, Parisiens or Berliners, but there is a certain arrogance for those who live in capital cities that I dont feel outside of any of those capitals.

Moscow taxi drivers. A good reason to bring back gulags. I dread not the Russian immigration but the swathes of taxi drivers in the terminal which I have to become increasingly rude to ( and violent if they try to take my bag off me). B'stards every one of them.
 
#4
I had an interesting (drunken) conversation with a Russian lad once in a bar in Zelenograd, just outside Moscow. We were getting on famously until I made a well-intentioned but perhaps ill-advised comparison between Northern Ireland and Chechnya and got an angry monologue about how Chechnya is an indivisible part of Russia etc etc. It occured to me then that because Russia is contiguous with what were once independent countries, then its imperial conquests and now quasi-autonomous parts of its federation, white Russians genuinely do not see the country as an empire that has morphed into a single state (Turkey is another example of this). Neither does popular international opinion - in contrast with the way the former empires of Britain, France, Holland, Portugal, Spain and Belgium are seen. If nothing else, this allows Russia and China - perhaps unconciously - to approach international questions like Libya as if they are whiter than white with regard to imperialism, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Popular opinion in Russia and the UK is more similar than most of us would care to admit. Both countries are more liked than disliked (if international social attitudes studies are to be believed) but suffer from a shared delusion about the past. Just as we Brits are almost universally ignorant about, say, famines in the Raj which are still remembered in India and for which we are held responsible, many Russians exist in a state of denial about how they are seen across much of Eastern Europe, thanks to the USSR.

What I found most interesting about Russian attitudes to the West was how different they were to what I had expected, thanks to the media. There was wide-spread admiration for Thatcher, a residual respect for Stalin and a kind of exasperation that Westerners seem to think that day-to-day life in the Soviet Union was a kind of living hell, as well as a marked disdain for what is seen as Western (specifically US) hypocrisy. The biggest lesson I took away was that because they look like us, we expect Russians to think like us, when actually their worldview is quite different.

Then again, all this applies to European Russia and the parts of the East settled by ethnic Russians. To get an appreciation of how complex a society the Russian Federation is, I can't recommend a visit to Tatarstan highly enough. For want of a better comparison, it's like Bosnia on acid - superficially familiar but with a culture and national outlook wildly at variance with anywhere else. And this is a fairly accessible and multi-ethnic part of the Federation; Christ knows how the indeginous people of the Mari El Republic see the world...
 
#5
I can't recommend a visit to Tatarstan highly enough. For want of a better comparison, it's like Bosnia on acid - superficially familiar but with a culture and national outlook wildly at variance with anywhere else. And this is a fairly accessible and multi-ethnic part of the Federation; Christ knows how the indeginous people of the Mari El Republic see the world...
But why can't you recommend to visit Tatarstan? Its capital Kazan is a nice city with nice people. Some Tatars - tall, pale skinned, grey eyed look as Russian or typical Europeans.. Only their typical Tatar names and surnames could tell you about their descent.

10% of Tatars are Orthodox christians. For the majority of others Islam is just a tradition. They drink vodka, eat pork and so on.

The last week I spend in the city of Ufa (in Bashkortostan). It is a typical Russian city. Many Bashkirs in Ufa hardly can speak their native language. There is a bloke in a subsidary of our firm in Ufa. His looks a bit 'mongolian' but his name is Robert (a strange name for Muslim region). His surname is Islamov. He don't know Bashkir language at all.

Returning to vodka drinking, I recall a bus driver in Siberia (in the city of Nizhnevartovsk), ethnically a Bashkir who was able to consume a liter of vodka immediately in one 'drink'.
 
#6
"Returning to vodka drinking, I recall a bus driver in Siberia (in the city of Nizhnevartovsk), ethnically a Bashkir who was able to consume a liter of vodka immediately in one 'drink'."
And keep on Driving.

john
 
#7
Returning to vodka drinking, I recall a bus driver in Siberia (in the city of Nizhnevartovsk), ethnically a Bashkir who was able to consume a liter of vodka immediately in one 'drink'.
Plenty of Russian pilots can do the same.
 
#8
"Returning to vodka drinking, I recall a bus driver in Siberia (in the city of Nizhnevartovsk), ethnically a Bashkir who was able to consume a liter of vodka immediately in one 'drink'."
And keep on Driving.

john
I spent an intresting summer back in the late 80's taking a holiday through Khazakstan, Chechinya and Uzbeckistan (hence my name tag). We had planned to do the Transiberian 'express' but ended up doing some intourist southern tour instead. Fascinating place to visit as a teenage lad. I'm still mind boggled that my Grandmother took me there. I do recall a little old bloke downing what looked like a pint of vodka before heading off to work in the tractor factory.....
 
#9
But why can't you recommend to visit Tatarstan? Its capital Kazan is a nice city with nice people. Some Tatars - tall, pale skinned, grey eyed look as Russian or typical Europeans.. Only their typical Tatar names and surnames could tell you about their descent.

10% of Tatars are Orthodox christians. For the majority of others Islam is just a tradition. They drink vodka, eat pork and so on.

'Can't recommend highly enough' is an English turn-of-phrase, Sergey, and means that you would recommend something! Sorry if the idiom caused some confusion. Tatarstan is indeed a fascinating place and about as 'unIslamic' a place as you can imagine - hence my comparison between it and Bosnia.
 
#11
Plenty of Russian pilots can do the same.
Helicopter anti-freeze was a favourite in the DDR in the 80s. The poor old squaddies had to make do with boot polish spread on a half loaf of bread and left upside down in the sun on the windowsill.
 
#12
What I found most interesting about Russian attitudes to the West was how different they were to what I had expected, thanks to the media.
Agreed. My bestest friend here in Balkania was a Colonel in the VDV until 2 years ago and was seconded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work in an international organisation some 6 years ago. We have far more in common than I would have thought at first and we have more foreign policy agreements than disagreements. He understands the concerns of the West about certain things but he always says that one of the best weapons Soviet and Russian foreign policy had was US foreign policy.

I look forward this year to my first vist to Russia. Balkania - Kiev - Prokhorovka - Mosow.
 
#13
I have a couple of Russian chums (can speak a bit myself) and I was interested to know their views on the 'west'. I was really surprised - this was only a couple of weeks ago.

The general consensus was that Russians have no problems with the UK at all. We're just... the UK. Even though we were 'against' them.

Here's the part of the email which was the response to my question about the average Russian's views. This guy is 27, his name is Alexey.

The average Russian's view on America isn't so friendly. The Cold War is ended, but the confrontation still takes place. Russians used to say about Americans that they are stupid and fat and laugh at them. But saying so every of those people recognize that the standard of living in America and UK is much higher than in Russia, they envy, and at heart, they dream to leave and live in this paradise. America and Europe are called "Запад" (West) in Russia. To be honest, every Russian dreams that his children went на Запад to live in this paradise. I remember how our History teacher told us that a lot of Americans even don't know what is the capital of USA and who is the president. Plenty of Russians think so, but not me. To be honest I don't like Russia, may be it's bad, and I'm not a patriot, but Russians are a bit mad, I mean their mentality. I don't think I'm Russian, I just live here. I want to live in запад, in paradise, but I still don't have an opportunity! I think that America is a great country. It's deeply religious (like me, I'm a protestant), very strong, rich, prosperous and not so mad like Russia!

As I told you most of Russians learn English at schools and universities. They learn only English English, not American and they also learn some interesting things about English culture. Russian's view to UK is friendly, except that UK is a member of NATO (it's pro American). Anyway, Russians don't think that English people are stupid. We like them. English people are polite, but Americans not so. They are rude, but it could be because we are Russian.
Was interesting to read. I did advise that should he want to come to запад, he just needs to strap himself to a lorry heading for Dover.
 
#14
'Can't recommend highly enough' is an English turn-of-phrase, Sergey, and means that you would recommend something! Sorry if the idiom caused some confusion. Tatarstan is indeed a fascinating place and about as 'unIslamic' a place as you can imagine - hence my comparison between it and Bosnia.
Yes, Wedge I see my mistake.

Two old anecdotes about the Tatars spring in mind.

Centuries ago Russia was dependent from the Golden Horde where the Tatars played a key role. There were many raids on Russian, Ukrainian and even Polish lands.

So there is a saying - Uninvited guest is worse than Tatarin (Tatarin is here used in meaning - Tatar invasion, raid). There is the same saying in Polish language.

An anecdote: Once the Tatars complained to the UN that the saying is insulting. The UN adopted a resolution that the saying now should look this way

Uninvited guest is NOT worse than Tatarin.

There was an epic, historical battle beween the Russian army and the Tatar one - The Battle on the Kulikovo field happened in 1380. The Russians won their enemies that were much more numerous.

During Gorbachev Perstroyka times the next anecdote was born. Gorbavev decided to battle alcoholism (without any result of course). Many measures were proposed to bound a consumption of vodka.

An anecdote: In the shop. I want vodka. - Vodka is sold only to participants in the Kulikovo field battle. - But they all are dead long ago! - Really? But Tatars show papers that confirm it.
 

mercurydancer

LE
Book Reviewer
#15
I wonder if it was Mr Gorbachev who banned the sale of vodka in the many kiosks which line every underpass in Moscow. You can buy beer in those kiosks astoundingly cheaply but Ive never seen any spirits sold in them. Only in supermarkets, and even then some supermarkets wont sell vodka after 10pm. Left vodka is awful. I tried it once and hated it. I much prefer Armenian brandy. I recall brandy and vodka being sold by the carafe in cafes in Kislovodsk and Pyatigorsk just as the French would serve wine.

The poster who said that Russians think of the west as a kind of paradise isnt far wrong. It took some time to convince my partner that in England women working was the norm and not a man's job to work and all would be provided by one income. That said I work in Middlesbrough so I dont think that I could find a better example of the west NOT being a paradise.

One thing that shocked her was the almost continual swearing in England. I'm sure that if some people didnt use the F word and stopped saying "know what I meeeen" and "like" they would be silent. Once, we went to a pub at lunchtime where some chavvy types had taken up residence in a corner, together with the various offspring. We returned to the pub later in the early evening and the chavs were still there but much drunker. She asked me where they got the money from, and I said that they lived off benefits. Her reply was that we were mad to support it. I couldnt disagree.

Ive found that Russians, even Muscovites, to be very polite - spasiba and pajalsta goes a long way.
 

mercurydancer

LE
Book Reviewer
#17
Glad to hear the Russians think the British are OK. I thought the Cold War was back on, especially after the Litvenenko business.
Bulletcatcher, the 432s, Milans and SLRs are still in the store. The Russians still think of England as being strong because Mrs Thatcher threw the diplomats out of UK. You would have thought the opposite but it was considered to be an act of strength. The GRU who got thrown out expected it. Although many Russians would have a hard time telling you who the present Prime Minister is, its hardly surprising. Mrs T did have a world standard presence and there has been no one else who has got into the Russian mind as PM. Frankly there have been no contenders. Major is only remembered by me as liking peas. Blair is vile and having his snout so far up Dubya Bush's lower digestive tract, the Russians didnt see him as anything distinctive. Reagan genuinely frightened them.

What is puzzling me is why Gorbachev isnt being seen as one of the Presidents who enabled the new renaissance of Russia. He is talked about in reserved terms, without anything like some respect for what he did.
 
#18
I don't worry overly about Russia It's a country that is quite literally drinking itself into an early grave.

Luke Harding reports on Russia's male life expectancy crisis | World news | The Guardian

Really interesting article. I find funny that my granny lives in a small village where maybe 10 houses are still occupied so I could find quite lot similarities. However, it’s not as bad as the one in the film and it’s not Russia.

In terms of drinking vodka, it’s just so true. When I was growing up there were lots of people coming from Belorussia selling cheap petrol and homemade vodka. The vodka was sold in plastic bags so you did not have a clue what it was made of. It was too strong to drink anyway and it had to be diluted with water.
 
#19
I recall Alexander Zuyev (stole a MiG-29 in 1989, flew to Turkey) in his book 'Fulcrum' going through a couple of interesting things about the Russian mentality. Firstly, in his experience as a VVS front-line pilot, the whole vodka culture thing was nonsense. Drinking was frowned upon - "More than 24hrs between bottle and throttle" and pilot fitness was paramount. The American culture of going for a few beers (he discovered this later, obviously) the night before operations was frowned upon.

You get the impression of an immensely dedicated, highly motivated, intelligent group of people, but only within certain areas. However, the system - and Zuyev writes a lot about this - was completely****ed. Corruption, top to bottom. Bureaocracy, lies, incompetence, and graft.

I do get the impression that outside of the urban centres things probably haven't actually changed that much for the man in the street. Less safeguards, perhaps.
 
#20
You get the impression of an immensely dedicated, highly motivated, intelligent group of people, but only within certain areas. However, the system - and Zuyev writes a lot about this - was completely****ed. Corruption, top to bottom. Bureaocracy, lies, incompetence, and graft.
Sorry, are we now talking about the UK or Russia ? I'm confused as the above seems to apply to both in equal measure.

D_B
 

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