Moscow is like one big monument to the past. It is full of hammers and sickles, and grand, imposing Soviet-era statues. The so-called Seven Sisters – Stalin-era skyscrapers that were supposed to make Moscow look like the capital of a modern superpower – now look dated. They haunt the city’s skyline like testaments to a world that might have been… Imagine what the world would have been like had the USSR poured its resources into further developing that unique form of architecture, instead of a generation or so of nuclear and missile development… Instead of a generation of backing satellite regimes and leftist revolutionaries the world over.
With reference to all of that Cold War stuff, I could write the same things about my own country… What if the United States had declined to pursue those same provocative actions? What if instead we had looked inward and gotten serious about, say, a War on Poverty?
Well, the world would be a different place in so many ways… Not the least of which is that this mini-Cold War we are now reliving – typified by election hacking and assassinations by nerve toxins – would likely be the stuff of fiction instead of fact.
And Vladimir Putin, whose fourth inauguration is tomorrow, would probably be an anonymous government functionary in some modified, but still socialist USSR.
It is a strange coincidence that I am in Moscow for this moment. I’m here to commemorate Victory Day – May 9 – the anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allied Powers at the end of World War II. What we used to call V-E Day. The last moment where the United States and Russia could plausibly claim to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder on anything.
On May 6, as I was landing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, more than a thousand anti-Putin demonstrators were arrested for protesting against Putin’s impending inauguration. They see him as corrupt – as a man who has held on to office in part by preventing free and open elections in his own country. By encouraging the same thing in mine.
Putin is a man who has learned from history.
Competition, not collaboration, was the story of the Twentieth Century. And that winners don’t need to play fair, because they can retell the story of their triumph anyway they please.
More missiles mean more security.
More guns mean more safety.
Poverty isn’t a social problem, it is a personal one.
Why am I in Russia this week?
Because I’m trying to remember that fleeting moment when collaboration was necessary for survival – when both Russia and the United States found themselves with their back to each other, fighting for their very existence.
I wonder how dire things must get in our present before we can see each other in that light once more.
More funky, dated skyscrapers more 1945 and all of the missed potential it carried… Less missiles, less stolen elections, less climate change, less 2018.