Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

International Herald Tribune
November 15, 2001
How Russians View the U.S.
By Amy Waldman
New York Times Service

Dollar Signs Glow in the Red Belt

TULA, Russia They call this region south of Moscow the Red Belt because of its fealty to Communist leadership. But these days, when talk turns to Russia's newly warm relations with the United States, dollar signs seem to glow in people's eyes and words like "credits, investment, joint ventures" spill off their tongues.

"We need the money," said a woman who gave only her first name, Tamara, and her age, 53, as she sold hats and gloves at an outdoor bazaar just off Leninsky Prospekt, hoping to supplement the $100 a month her husband earns at a factory making hunting guns. "Putin promised that soon we'll live a happy life here. We've been waiting a long time."

As President Vladimir Putin of Russia heads to President George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, for what some here call a "summit without ties," military topics will be high on the agenda. But for most people in Tula, the United States matters much more as an economic superpower than as a military one.

Not everyone likes the United States, or welcomes the U.S. war on terrorism and the presence of U.S. troops in former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan, or, for that matter, the invasion of U.S. culture. But everyone seems to agree that, economically at least, Russia needs all the U.S. goodwill it can get.

"Just look around and you will see - Russia is lagging behind," said Anatoli Ivanovich, 51, a jewelry vendor who left a factory job because it did not pay enough to live.

Or, as Anatoli Gololabenkov, a 60-year-old businessman, put it: "We're not as rich as we used to be." For good or ill, the U.S. influence is felt most here as a producer of the goods, like Nike and Adidas, advertised almost everywhere; as a creator of employment through joint ventures like the one Procter Gamble has in a nearby town; even as a source of unemployment, when managers at a local steel factory blamed U.S. quotas for laying off 1,500 workers.

Negotiations on the missile treaty are weighed in Tula largely for their economic repercussions.

Sergei Volkov, a former policeman who now manages the city's municipal markets, said that if the United States went ahead with a missile shield, Russia - which he called a "country of paupers" - would have to compete. "We're not afraid of attack," he said, "but of another spiral of the arms race that could make us even poorer."

Tula was once a famous center of gunsmithing - Peter the Great put a small arms factory here in 1712. But in the 1990s, with falloffs in state orders and failed attempts to privatize, the industry, and thus the local economy, plummeted. Only one factory, which managed to get permission to sell arms abroad independently, continued to prosper.

Even the city's production of samovars, or Russian tea urns, suffered badly - and most of those made now are for export, too expensive for local residents. Official unemployment in this city of 575,000 is put at 9,000, but it is much higher in the surrounding region, where huge collective farms have struggled to modernize. THINGS HAVE IMPROVED since Mr. Putin took office almost two years ago. In an effort to consolidate the defense industry, he announced this month that Tula would become a center for manufacturing small missiles, which means guaranteed state orders.

And then there are the joint ventures that have come in the last few years - Procter Gamble, which manufactures soaps and detergents, and Knopf, a German company producing construction materials. They pay well by Tula standards - $300 to $400 a month.

"These two enterprises play the role of the defense industry in old times," said Alexander Yermakov, the editor of Molody Kommunar, an independent local newspaper. "They are the engines of our economy."

But Stanislav Kupriyanov, the Communist Party's regional secretary and a local deputy in the state Duma, criticized the Procter Gamble plant for streamlining production so much that workers had been laid off. America's attempt to dominate Russia economically, he said, had replaced the effort to dominate it militarily. That sentiment has some currency in a place where the Communist mayor is expected to be re-elected with 80 percent of the vote, and the region's Communist governor is equally entrenched. ("Those democrats know nothing but demagoguery," Mr. Kupriyanov said in explaining the party's continued popularity. Besides, he said, they had ruined the economy.)

A few weeks ago, Mr. Yermakov said, during the World Economic Forum in Moscow, what appeared to be a small, staged protest in Tula against globalization by a group of young men suddenly swelled when old people joined it, drawn largely by slogans against the United States.

"What kind of anti-globalists are these that Tula has?" he wondered.

They represent this city's aging population, which sometimes still sees the United States as the enemy. One woman, who would not give her name, said sarcastically that the United States had already "helped" Russia - by disarming and therefore weakening it.

Among the young, attitudes are considerably more nuanced, shaped by the lack of Communist propaganda against the United States, personal contacts formed through exchanges or business deals, or by the Internet or television. They do not see the United States as the enemy, but they don't see it as Utopia, either. They bristle at the suggestion that they should ape the West, and say U.S. imports corrode their culture.

"I think after perestroika, when we opened to Western culture, after such a long period of being closed, we absorbed too much of it," said a student at Tula State University, Ileana Glinsteva, 18.

Another student, Daniel Medvedev, 18, praised Russian support for the anti-terror coalition, but said that the United States still interfered too much with other countries' interests. He did not like how the United States took sides in the Balkans conflicts or how it had judged Russia for fighting a war in Chechnya.

The U.S. official attitude toward the Chechen war has been considerably softer since Sept. 11, and that perceived hypocrisy grates on some here. "When we're fighting terrorists, we're doing something wrong," Mr. Volkov said. "But now, well, fighting terrorists is right."

But a trio of policemen, celebrating National Policemen's Holiday with on-the-house shots of vodka in a Tula cafe, said they were delighted that the United States was joining Russia in a fight against terrorism. They had wept when the World Trade Center collapsed, they said, and now included its victims in their toasts.

"We are ready to fight terrorism with the people of the United States," said Sergei Tsyastus, 43. "Chechnya and their leaders for us is what bin Laden is for the United States." He even praised the multinational corporations in the region. "What our governor cannot do for people," he said, "these companies can do."

Back to the Top    Next Article