Introduction

Welcome dear reader, to Russia Without BS, the foreigner-in-Russia blog that strives to give all those interested in Russia an insight into life in the capital from the perspective of an ordinary working-class American.  If you’re interested in Russian life and politics without the bias and sensationalism of Western journalism or the farcical propaganda of the Putin fan club, you’ve come to the right blog.  If you’re interested in living and working in Russia and you’re skeptical of the expat literature that’s full of embellished, exaggerated, and occasionally fabricated tales of nightly debauchery or James Bond fantasies, read on.  This blog is definitely for you.  Chances are you probably already have an opinion about Russia even if you’ve never been here, and I can’t promise that I won’t piss you off, but even if you choose not to take my word for it at least this blog is offering you a second opinion.

When I moved to Russia permanently in 2006, I never imagined I’d be writing one of those “foreigner-in-Russia” blogs.  However, over the years it became increasingly apparent that there is a huge disconnect between the perception of Russia outside the country and reality.  I am certainly not alone in this sentiment.  Many of us foreigners here complain about the media distortions about Russia both inside and outside the country.  Eventually I decided to stop complaining and start doing something about it.  I wanted to give people a realistic, balanced view of life in Russia. I also make a distinction between the Russian people and the Russian government.

In recent years I’ve also had the opportunity to work in Ukraine, which is a country that needs publicity even more than Russia.Ukraine’s history and politics are obscure to much of the world, a fact which makes it even easier for charlatans from both Russia and Ukraine to manipulate the narrative of the critical situation there. This would also be a good time to note that this blogger unapologetically supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine according to the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 and the Russian-Ukrainian Friendship Treaty of 1997.

In general I strive to educate readers with analysis based on my years of reading, experience, and contacts with experts, as well as entertain with humor and satire. Every once in a while I like to do off-topic posts about pop culture or American politics as well.

Do check out the Facebook page and my Twitter feed @RussiawithoutBS

I have been published in The Guardian, The Moscow Times, Open Democracy, RUSSIA! Magazine, Voice of America and Cracked.com. I have also been featured as a guest on Sky News, France 24, CBC, Stopfake, TRT World, CBS radio, BBC radio, and The History Channel.

Email contact: nobsrussia@gmail.com

If you have Paypal, you can donate using the email address above.

If you need commentary or other journalistic services, I can be reached via Paydesk.

31 thoughts on “Introduction

  1. Estragon

    Hi! I’m an American former Moscow-based expat. I just discovered your blog, and it’s fascinating. I look forward to digging into it in detail. Only two problems: I don’t see any search engine on the blog, nor do I see any contact information for you. Would be nice if you could provide these things!

    Reply
  2. jonathan

    Hi,

    Interesting blog. Thank you. I lived in Crimea for many years and created the site accesscrimea.

    I would be keen to hear from you about whether you have noticed any changes in attitude towards you as an American this year?

    Some of my friends in Crimea have become radically anti-Western, to the point where they say they wouldn’t even want to visit Europe anymore. In the past we would often talk about how great it would be if one day they could visit the UK where I am from.

    My best friend there is the type to post 5 FB memes a day about how evil the West is/how Putin will save the world, and this fervent nationalism has gone so far as to even have affected our personal relationship. He interprets criticism of his position as personal criticism and as far as he is concerned I am now a fascist zombie. It is very saddening to see how politics has turned people sour like this, and created this division between nations. My policy now is to avoid any political debate with any of my friend’s there!

    Reply
    1. Big Bill Haywood Post author

      It does not surprise me that people in the Crimea would be more anti-Western. Sure, they have turned that way in Russia as well, but remember Crimea is where America was supposedly arming neo-Nazis to wipe out the entire population just before the heroic Russian army came in to save them… Oh wait…That didn’t happen. All those soldiers were local self-defense militias. But the Russian soldiers were allowed to be there anyway. But they weren’t…

      Reply
      1. thewaywithin

        Bill, some posts you have can be seen as critical of the Kremlin and Putin, I was wondering if you experience fallout from this by others where you live?

        Also, I appreciate your blog. Thanks.

      2. Big Bill Haywood Post author

        Thus far I haven’t had any problems, but it always helps to be careful. You can never be sure you are insignificant enough; this is a state which goes after obscure Russian bloggers and turns them into potential terrorists who supposedly work for foreign governments. The thing that helps me in this respect is that I only write in English and I write to a non-Russian audience.

    2. thewaywithin

      Jonathan, I went to your site and see you still list Crimea as Ukranian. I was wondering if there was any fallout from this towards you? I appreciate you listing it that way by the way.

      Reply
  3. jonathan

    Hi,

    I haven’t changed it more than anything else because I can’t be bothered. In any case my business is fucked now because a high percentage of tourists were from cruise ships and they now have to buy tours with the state company working with the cruise ships to get the 1-day visa. The end for small tour operators such as mine offering personalized high quality services!! 😦

    Also anyway since last week EU residents can no longer work in tourism in Crimea.

    I don’t live in Crimea now but I have got the fall out even from afar – some of my friends there have rapidly become very nationalistic and anti-Western to the point in which a small number have become antagonistic to me for not sharing their state sanctioned views. Apparently I have been “zombiefied.” Really frustrating! There are many things that we barely mentioned in years of knowing each other that have now become a massive deal to them, such as gay rights (or lack of them).

    Reply
    1. Big Bill Haywood Post author

      Well at least you’re a zombie with electricity, right? Their behavior isn’t much different from many Russians in the mainland. These things they say are really more about convincing themselves that everything is under control.

      One funny thing I find about Crimea is that they keep calling this historical justice and insisting on how righteous this was, and yet their government wasn’t doing shit to return the Crimea until Maidan gave them an opportunity to do it by subterfuge and force. In other words, suppose they had their way, Yanukovych crushed Maidan, and then joined the Customs Union. What was their plan then? Or suppose he gave into the protesters almost immediately and signed the AA with the European Union and everybody went home. What then?

      This is just more proof that these people don’t think. They just recite what they’re told.

      Reply
  4. jonathan

    Yes, Putin has kept changing the reasons for the Crimea escapade – “Protecting its citizens” – “Its our temple mount” etc.

    Still, for pro-Western Ukrainians it is better off Russian. That is 2 million voters who always voted for the pro-Russian parties off the register. In the same way that the US losing a few southern states would ensure no more Republicans got into power for a long time!

    Reply
  5. Mike Spindell

    Hi,

    I just discovered your blog from a re-posting of your article on guns. I’m happy to find it because of late I can observe the return of the “American cold Warrior” and the demonization of Russia beginning anew. Never having been to Russia, but suspicious of all propaganda from the mainstream media, I’m happy to find someone “on the ground” in Russia, so to speak, to give me their view.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Well there are Cold Warriors and then there are people who have actually spent time in Russia and are honest about reality here. Then there are those who came here and found careers by touting the Kremlin’s line.

      As for the demonization you see in the media, I’d imagine it’s mostly about Russian involvement in Syria. To be honest, it’s hard for me to criticize this latest Russian adventure apart from its stupidity. Sure, Russia’s not going to make a dent in ISIS, but it seems that a large portion of what little bombs they can drop with such numbers of planes is going to land on Al Nusra and other Islamists.

      But if you want to understand what’s going on vis-a-vis Russia, you have to erase the term “mainstream media” from your vocabulary. The Kremlin supporters love throwing that term about, and what it really means is any media source whatsoever that disagrees with their master’s line(which changes on an almost weekly basis at times). Oddly enough, however, they’re perfectly alright with citing that “mainstream media” if an article says something that appears to support their case. Of course then that begs the question as to why this anti-Russian propaganda machine (consisting of public and private media from a wide variety of different countries) would ever put out anything at all that seems to support the Kremlin line.

      Reply
  6. Mike Spindell

    “But if you want to understand what’s going on vis-a-vis Russia, you have to erase the term “mainstream media” from your vocabulary.”

    Jim,
    I think you mis-understand me and where I’m coming from. I understand what was said about the Russian position on the “mainstream media” and have no doubt that is how they view it. However, living in America, I view the “mainstream media” from my perspective, here in the States. Putin, Russia and any other nation that is in disfavor, tends to be demonized in the American media. In the last Republican debate I was brought back to my memories of the “Cold War”. Now personally and politically, I’ve never had a great deal of use for the USSR, or now Russia. I knew far too many CP members when I was involved with my Union back in the 60’s and frankly thought they were ridiculous. With the end of the USSR and the “invasion” of Reagan/Bush’s “economy experts,” the country’s possibilities were set off on the wrong track, leading to Putin as strongman today. Not a great deal of improvement except for the fortunes of the oligarchs.

    That said, I see Russia being built up as a “bogeyman” by many here, who represent America’s Military/Industrial/Intelligence Complex. This group, whose main aim is American Empire are always looking for reasons to confront and conflict. Setting up Russia as an opponent can bring much profit to the industry of American defense and those that gain from it.

    My attitude is a pox on all of these players of the “Great Game” of international relations, because beyond their rationalizations, it is all about money and power for the few and death and destruction for the many. Now I saw the Putin/Rose interview. Charlie Rose is a highly overrated interviewer who always takes the safe route in questioning. Putin made mincemeat of him and actually came off as personable, which I highly doubt is his true character.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I do suspect that certain Congressmen and figures are in fact motivated by connections to the defense industry, specifically that portion of it which is dedicated to the kind of conventional warfare type systems which were hit hard by the war on terror. Building up the idea of a Russian threat is advantageous if you’re job is selling tanks, self-propelled artillery, SAM systems, and fighter jets.

      That being said, a lot of the bad stuff they report about Russia is fairly accurate- it’s just that Russia is not a real threat to anyone but Russian citizens and their immediate neighbors.

      Reply
  7. Mike Spindell

    I’ve no doubt that there are bad things going on in Russia and I’m glad someone is on the ground to talk about it. I know Putin is also not one of the good guys, whoever the good guys may be in any nation. My concern is that in America’s search for world hegemony, they will use demonizing other nations as an excuse to turn America into the same kind of place. In America’s “War on Terror” our law enforcement establishment is already morphing into the Soviet secret police model that was so negatively bandied about during the “Cold War” era. Ihave no doubt Putin’s former KGB status influences policing in the Russian Republic today.

    So while I hold no brief for Putin and have my doubts about the sides in Ukraine, they fall within the context of what I see happening in the US and what certain of our leaders/oligarchs are trying to accomplish with US foreign policy.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I do fear that America is starting to develop the same mentality that we see in Russia. Resentment, crab mentality, paranoia, and most of all, crippling cynicism. People there need to use what freedom they have to improve their lot and stand up for themselves.

      Reply
  8. henk

    Jim Kovpak you do realize that Russia in 20 or 30 years from now when Putin is long gone
    Russia will probably still be the described in the same manner by some other guy from the West,
    just like you he will try to understand why Russia has so many problems and why it cannot be more
    like those wonderful countries such as Switserland or Canada, If you have a little knowledge of history
    you will know that Russia as long as it has existed has always been seen as this strange backwards place
    by people from Western countries,In 16th century English travellers called it a rude and barbarous kingdom,
    Russia is different from Western countries just like china or India.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Wow, Henk, there’s some real Russophobia there. Japan was also a very exotic and isolated place, and Westerners used to describe the Japanese as “lazy,” “over-emotional,” and without appreciation for the importance of time. Once Japan got industrialized, these racist stereotypes ceased.

      Russia has gone through major changes in the past with lasting results.Even though the country’s educational system is hurting, the respect for education and science is still widespread despite the state’s attempt to ram religion and reactionary ideas down everyone’s throat. It should be noted that Russia is still the leading country when it comes to putting people into space. This is a far cry from pre-revolutionary Russia, with 80% illiteracy and staggering infant mortality.

      What this means is that the potential for Russia to be truly great, as opposed to Putin’s phony “greatness,” exists. It’s only a matter of people waking up to reality and throwing out the thieves who exploit them.

      Reply
      1. henk

        I was not trying to be Russophobic but just stating some facts,because i got the impression that
        you have the belief that Russia without Putin will become another wonderful Western state.
        In my opinion Russia will always have different values and mentality from Western nations,
        And despite Russia’s many problems i think Russia is a great country already, whether you like Putin or not.
        And i also hope that Russia will keep its independent position in the world,neither belonging to the West or East

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Western nations have different values from one another, and they are also independent. That’s why France and Germany(later Spain and Italy) told George W. Bush to shove it on the matter of Iraq, for example.

        What Western nations, in reality developed democracies have in common, are certain things like respect for individual rights, rule of law, etc. Are they perfect? Of course not- every state has flaws in a number of these categories. But one thing you’ll notice is that these countries consistently stay on top while countries like Russia stagnate and fail.

        Even if you don’t like those countries or some aspect of their culture, you have to wonder why it is.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I think they will eventually, but it will be after the collapse of the current regime. Hopefully people don’t make the same mistake they made in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

      Reply
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  11. Whatdoiknow

    Hello there,

    I’d like to ask your opinion, since you are a well informed person on the matter.

    How likely is that the Kremlin will decide to pick a fight against NATO by doing what they did on Georgia or Ukraine somewhere else that is actually in the alliance?

    If they do, how fucked are we all?

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I think it’s highly unlikely. Putin, if nothing else, is a huge coward bent mostly on self-preservation. He’s not going to do something that will almost certainly hasten his demise within a short amount of time. One significant military defeat and his whole paper tiger military may lose the awe of his people.

      Reply
      1. Whatdoiknow

        Perhaps not directly, but somebody could argue that he will try to use all kind of propaganda in european nations and the US to make unpopular (in order to ultimately dissolve) those institutions such as the EU and the NATO that could fight back.

        It is not unthinkable that with dear ol’ mr Trump on the White House, charming young Marine Le Pen in l’Élysée and with the british conservative becoming an increasingly chauvinistic and racist UKIP copycat could be advances on that direction.

        I guess you are right about pointing that the biggest (and practically only) goal of Putin appears to be self-preservation. But if economy gets worse and people start to grumble and think that maybe after all they could be better without him, could he not feel tempted and desperate enough to make the gamble, hoping that eventually west will overlook it?

  12. evarhclupes

    Hi there, I was surfing around looking for other great authors who are mercilessly in pursuit of exposing Putin’s far-rightism, like Anton Shekhovtsov, and came across this page. Am following immediately!

    I’d like to ask you, though, what do you think Russia’s relationship is like with Croatia (my country) at the current moment, especially among Kremlin fanboys? Our president has a well-known reputation for being NATO’s little lapdog, yet she has made statements recently commenting how “Russia should be less demonised” and other such lukewarm pro-Russia statements.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Dobro dosli.

      Russians never seem to mention Croatia at all. Naturally they talk about their “little brothers” in Serbia, but that’s about it. Russia’s still trying to be involved in the Balkans, but it seems to be more aimed at Montenegro and Serbia than anything else.

      Reply

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