MOSCOW — So special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals for allegedly tampering with American elections. While having tea, I asked a Russian friend, Alina, what she thought of the indictments. “What is this investigation?” she replied.

After my quick explanation, her one question was, “So these Russians, they are here in Russia, yes?” I nodded. Alina thought for a moment and then gave a very Russian shrug of complete indifference. “Then, no problem!” she responded and moved on to complaining about Moscow traffic.

Alina’s is a common attitude here: Russians care much less about the U.S. than Americans care about Russia.

In 2012, when I arrived for my first visit to Russia, the dynamic was much different. A deep sense of insecurity pervaded the country. Not only did the humiliating end of the Cold War persist, but Russians were well aware of how their day-to-day standard of living fell far short of the Western one. While Americans blithely moved on after the Cold War’s passing, the Russian people refused to accept their country’s diminished image on the world stage. In this they had a powerful model: Vladimir Putin, who was coldly determined to catch up with the West.

Well, Russia has caught up, and then some.

During the five years that I’ve been in and out of Moscow, life here has changed drastically. Daily experience is aggressively first world. Glitzy shopping centers and stylish metro stations pop up almost every month. Unlicensed cabs have been replaced by efficient Yandex Taxi. Uber Eats? They’ve had that and its Russian equivalent for years. Even the old alcoholic image is being erased by the nationwide ban on the sale of booze in stores after 11 p.m.


Forget 4G internet – here it is 5G, and even quite cheap. Russia has welcomed Starbucks, Google and Facebook, but most people prefer to use the Russian equivalents: Shokoladnitsa, Yandex and VK/VKontakte. Why? The Russian versions offer more options and fewer restrictions, making the American ones look … well, quaint.

Let me immediately add that it is unlikely that Americans would recognize Russia as a socially Western country. Putin’s image of an ideal citizen is someone morally strong and “pure.” Unfortunately, Russians equate purity with an intolerance of difference – it’s considered a sign of weakness. So, racism is unapologetically entrenched, and it is almost impossible to be LGBTQ here. Russians have neither understanding of nor sympathy toward psychological illness. As for women’s issues, I do not see a #MeToo movement happening here anytime soon, and most are happy that’s the case.

This social rigidity does not bother Russians as a rule. For the majority it was the lifestyle and influence of Americans that they coveted. Power – who has it, who doesn’t – remains the focus of the Russian political worldview. The hacking of our elections? Simply a show of power triggered by opportunity. The opportunity? The openness of the American electoral process, newly vulnerable in the digital age. It was a weakness (that word again) asking to be exploited.

Putin, through his friends, aimed to make our elections look disorganized and discredited to his country, our country and the world. Putin: 1. U.S.: 0. Remember my friend’s response to the indictments? Let me translate: “So, Putin won this time? Well, good, but powerful people playing powerful games, yes? Let’s complain about the traffic.”

While not much interested in the indictments, Russian media have reported extensively on the Parkland shooting. Russians find American devotion to gun ownership baffling, our optimism about being able to control gun use naive. Russians have little faith in humanity. In fact, they believe we are all driven as much by our baser instincts as by our higher ones. And certain things are sacred in Russia, the protection of children chief among them. When Russians see that we allow policies that put our children at risk – at school, no less! – they are stunned. For them it’s a simple choice: guns or children.

I am proud to be an American. We are an optimistic people, a hopeful people. Our positivism has enabled us to accomplish great things. However, on this issue, I find myself siding with the Russians.

At School 1541 in Moscow, I enjoy teaching my students many things: English vocabulary and grammar; walking, not running, during fire drill; how to raise their hands politely before speaking. They learn that, no, it was not nice for Tasya to steal Sava’s eraser, and it was definitely not nice for Sava to hit her in return. But at least I do not have to teach my students what two-thirds of American students are now being taught – that an unknown teenage shooter with a legally bought assault rifle could walk into their school and shoot them dead.

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