The Rus­sians Are Com­ing: How NYC came to ob­sess over Moscow

The Moscow Times - - LOOKING BACK -

Afew weeks ago, I made a long-awaited trip to New York. It was the first af­ter Don­ald Trump moved into the White House, and roughly a decade af­ter I left the city to re­turn to my na­tive Rus­sia.

When I was liv­ing in the United States in the mid-2000s, Rus­sia wasn’t on the radar. I did not see any neg­a­tive at­ti­tude towards my home­land, be­cause there wasn’t even an at­ti­tude. Most peo­ple couldn’t care. Some were cu­ri­ous, but the cu­rios­ity was lim­ited to cul­ture or Putin’s bare chest, borsch or mat­ters of his­tory.

To­day, things have changed. The words “Rus­sia,” “Krem­lin” and “Putin” are heard ev­ery­where—from ran­dom peo­ple and on TV; from ed­i­tors and read­ers, from friends and fam­ily. Ev­ery street cor­ner is buzzing with dis­cus­sions of Putin and Trump, of Trump and the Rus­sian threat. In just a few days vis­it­ing, I heard more about Rus­sia than I heard in a year liv­ing there.

My first day be­gan with a fa­mil­iar walk around Man­hat­tan — past the Rock­e­feller Cen­ter, towards Cen­tral Park in bloom. It was a sunny Sun­day af­ter­noon. Strollers strolled, run­ners ran, din­ers dined on restau­rant ve­ran­das, and street mu­si­cians played to their au­di­ence. Ev­ery­body seemed to be hav­ing a good time. Un­til, that is, you reached Trump Tower.

Metal crowd-con­trol fences and po­lice pro­tected the tower — some­thing we have come to know well in Rus­sia, of course. A group of pro­test­ers was camped out op­po­site the tower. A tall man with a goa­tee and glasses was in among them, sell­ing satir­i­cal pins and but­tons de­pict­ing Trump in a French kissy em­brace of Putin. The words un­der the pic­ture said: “Make fas­cism great again.”

An old man tried to con­vince the pin seller that the sym­bols and slo­gans were too neg­a­tive. But the seller replied firmly: “Putin is an evil, he and Trump are both fas­cists.”

That same week, for­mer CIA di­rec­tor, John Bren­nan was tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee. The sub­ject of the hear­ing was whether Rus­sia might have re­cruited some of Trump’s aides.

To many in New York, the idea made to­tal sense: It wasn’t us, the cit­i­zens of the United States, who elected this guy, but Rus­sia’s FSB-KGB fi­nally get­ting round to en­act­ing a long­planned strat­egy.

Just like back in Moscow, New York’s Rus­sians are split on the mat­ter of Trump. Some say they are un­com­fort­able with a pres­i­dent who seeks closer ties with the Krem­lin.

Adel Dress­ner, a first gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can, told me the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment was “no friend” of the US: “Rus­sia and the United States have al­ways been arch ri­vals for power and we are just now be­com­ing more aware of how deep this goes.”

In Brook­lyn, the his­tor­i­cal home of the di­as­pora, many peo­ple of Rus­sian de­scent voted for Trump. Even some Soviet dis­si­dents voiced sup­port for the man who seemed to have strong ties with the for­mer Rus­sian se­cu­rity chief. For them, sup­port­ing Putin and Trump was all about en­hanc­ing feel­ings of Rus­sian pride.Such at­ti­tudes en­rage lib­eral New York­ers like my friend and Rus­sia cul­ture ex­pert. Beth Mor­row.

“Hyp­o­crit­i­cal is the way I’d phrase it,” Mor­row tells me. “Sup­port for Trump means sup­port for the anti-im­mi­grant po­si­tion, and yet they are im­mi­grants and, what’s more, im­mi­grants who are hold­ing onto their her­itage”

My friend said she found it hard to process the cur­rent feel­ings she had: “I want to blame Putin and Trump for to­day’s out­ra­geous drama. But the in the United States we have democ­racy and we must blame our own vot­ers for a tragic re­sult like Trump. I’m be­trayed by my own peo­ple”

There can be no doubt that the elec­tion of Trump has re­turned Cold War com­plexes and di­vi­sions to New York. The city is now look­ing east in a way that it hasn’t for a very long time. A re­cent Reuters poll sug­gested that up to 82 per­cent of the U.S. adults now see Rus­sia as a threat.

But as I was walk­ing around the city I couldn’t help but no­tice an­other thing: the new, over­whelm­ing levels of wealth. On ev­ery cor­ner of Man­hat­ten is­land, I could see crowds of beau­ti­ful healthy-look­ing peo­ple in glitzy new restau­rants, en­joy­ing some of the finest meals that the earth has to of­fer.

I won­dered to my­self whether the in­creased ob­ses­sion with my na­tive lands might even­tu­ally swing back into a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Rus­sia. Whether would Amer­i­cans fig­ure out who it was that they were so scared of. Whether they they come to know the coun­try I know?

That Rus­sia might be an om­nipresent mil­i­tary su­per-power, yes. But it is also a coun­try where ev­ery day mil­lions strug­gle to pay for ba­sic medicine and even food.

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