We’re putting the Crimea story through the filter of Russian poetry, literature and history. I’m calling on two Russian-born authors and scholars, Maxim Shrayer of Boston College, and Svetlana Boym of Harvard. What if we could summon the best Russian minds we’ve ever known – starting with the humanist Tolstoy, the Slavic nationalist Dostoevsky, the gentle Russian in the Crimea Anton Chekhov, and the moderns Solzhenitsyn and Nabokov to fill in the back story of Russian annexation of Crimea?
March 20, 2014
Russian troops are encircling naval bases, Crimea is locked down. We Americans are looking across an ocean, flummoxed in a familiar way by the mind and the mission of the Russian president and people.
Suzanne Massie, who persuaded Ronald Reagan that he could hate Communism and love the Russian people in the same career, puts it this way: Why do we keep getting Russia wrong? Putin is only the latest in a series of Russian leaders that have divided American thinkers and policymakers against themselves. Is he a realist, or is he ruled by his emotions? by Cold War nostalgia? by a vision of Eurasian Union? Is he a fascist or a plutocrat, or is he simply reacting to the West’s expansion of NATO? Is he winning — or has he overplayed his hand?
We turn to Massie and other close familiars of Russian culture and history to try and figure out how to read the Russians, now and forever. Thought experiment: given that many of our best insights into Russian character and temperament come to use from their literary geniuses, can we summon some collective judgment on Putin, Ukraine and the Crimea from the contentious, often dissident wisdom of Tolstoy, the humanist; Dostoevsky, the Slavic Nationalist; Chekhov, the gentle star of both Moscow and Yalta; Solzhenitsyn, who argued forcefully that Ukraine must be an eternal part of Russia; and Vladimir Nabokov, who sailed out of Russia for the last time from the Crimea?
March 20, 2014
Suzanne Massie is the freelance American friend of Russia, Russian people, and Russian culture. I call her the woman who ended the Cold War, because of the almost unimaginable persuasive power that she brought to bear on Ronald Reagan, now 30 years ago. She’s just published her memoir, Trust But Verify: Reagan, Russia and Me. “Trust but verify” is the old Russian motto that Suzanne Massie taught to Ronald Reagan, which he kept repeating to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last chief of the Soviet Union, when those two leaders conspired to call off the conflict and get rid of their nuclear stockpiles, almost.
It was Suzanne Massie who gave me my first unforgettable walking tour of St. Petersburg — of the Hermitage, the Royal Palaces, Pavlovsk, Dostoevsky’s house and grave, the Italianate churches — in 1992. It was all part of my assignment to write an account for The Atlantic of her extraordinary service to Ronald Reagan and all of us. I thought the title of The Atlantic piece in February, 1993 should have been “The Woman Who Ended the Cold War.” Here it is, under the headline “Agent of Influence“.