Alpaca Takes Moscow Metro For A Joyride

With 250 stations and a daily passenger load of about 7 million, you would think that there are no surprises left for the Moscow Metro.

But commuting Muscovites had to chuckle at the site of an illegal stowaway, taking advantage of the convenience of the capital city’s famed transit system… in the form of an alpaca.

This is not a face you would expect to see in the crowds massed underground in Moscow

The Moscow metro sent out this message concerning the incident, according to the Russian news portal TASS:

“Yesterday, there was an unusual passenger in the subway – a fluffy alpaca was riding on the ring line as if nothing had happened. The security officer took pity on the animal and let it go with the owners to the subway, although the rules forbid it.…We also love animals very much, but we can transport in no case should such animals be in the subway – if something went wrong, the alpaca could not only suffer itself, but also harm other passengers or stop the movement of trains.”

The statement made no mention of the alpaca using public transportation without a medical mask.

VISAS TO RUSSIA, THE EASY WAY

According to eyewitnesses, the alpaca was given the freedom to move around the train, but then was put on a leash in order to be led to the exit. Enjoy a video report:

How To Say Goodbye In Russian | Pronunciation and Options!

There are several ways to say goodbye in Russian. First, the most common and usual way to say goodbye in Russian:

Google Translate got this one absolutely right! (Google, however, did get “hello” in Russian (mostly) wrong!).

To say goodbye in Russian, you say “до свидания” (Pronounced “dasvidaniya”).

Now listen to the pronunciation of goodbye in Russian:

If this is your first day in Russia, and it seems difficult, I will teach you a little secret my friends and I used in the 90’s during my first trip to Russia. FULL DISCLOSURE: This is incredibly juvenile. We would say “dogspeedonya”. Our Russian friends would look mildly confused, but catch the meaning and reply “до свидания”!.

Visas to Russia, the Easy Way

You’ve made a new Russian friend. But do you know which way to say “goodbye”?

As with most things Russian, you will be loved and approved as a foreigner if you learn just this one phrase (“dasvidaniya”), but you will be a champion if you learn a few more situational phrases:

  • The informal goodbye: Пока (pronounced “pahkah”) is the simplest departure phrase. It is to be used with friends when you will see them again in a reasonably short period of time. The most obvious English parallel phrase would be “see you later”. If you are in expectionally mirthful spirits you can also do a bubbly “Пока, пока!”. It’s sort of like the English “bye-bye!”.
  • The forever goodbye: Прощай (pronounced “proshchai”) is useful at funerals or how you say goodbye to your Russian girlfriend if you are having an exceptionally dramatic breakup. I suppose if your Russian friend was immenently embarking on a round-the-world trip on a rowboat, this departure phrase could also be useful. Otherwise, be careful of this one. 🙂
  • The courteous goodbye: “Всего доброго!” (pronounced “vsevo dobrovo”) or “всего хорошего!” (pronounced “vsevo horoshevo”). This is what I use to say goodbye to taxi drivers when getting out of the car. Seems to be the Russian goodbye of choice after a friendly chat with someone you aren’t closely acquainted with. Also, often goes like this: Всего доброго! До свидания!”.

There are more ways to say goodbye in Russian, “До встречи”, for example.

What other ways do you know to say goodbye in Russian, and in which situations should they be used, or not used? Comment below!

Russia Central Bank Eyes Cryptocurrency Prohibition

In what appears to be a sudden move, the Russian Central Bank recommended a complete prohibition on cryptocurrency today. Up until now, mining and the purchase or sale of cryptocurrency have been in a gray zone, with sales of goods or services in return for cryptocurrency have been marked as illegal.

But according to Russia’s news portal Interfax, this recommendation calls for a ban of the following:

  • Crypto cash exchanges. This is a part of the Russia cryptocurrency scene that has gained increasing international scrutiny, as described in this Bloomberg article entitled: “Ransomware HQ: Moscow’s Tallest Tower Is a Cybercriminal Cash Machine”
  • Cryptocurrency mining. Mining has gained significant popularity in recent years, particularly in locations in Russia with cheap electricity rates. This law, if passed, would certainly not be popular among the many Russians who have invested heavily in mining equipment.
  • Cryptocurrency Creation. It will be interesting to hear what Ethereum’s Russian-born founder, Vitalik Buterin, has to say about this ban.
  • Cryptocurrency Purchase and Sale. This part is a bit confusing as it appears that “hodling” is not prohibited, but it is unclear of what could possibly be then done legally with any crypto.
Russia’s Central Bank is calling for significant crypto curbs

So, why this sudden call for crypto-prohibition? According to the web-portal Smotrim.ru the logic of the proposed prohibition is as follows:

  1. Cryptocurrencies have similarities to financial pyramids. The price of “new money” depends on the speculative demand of new market players and can be manipulated by a small number of investors with the largest savings.
  2. Cryptocurrencies are popular among criminal gangs for laundering and withdrawing money.
  3. Cryptocurrencies threaten the economy – virtual coins, with an increase in their share in settlements, reduce investments in the real sector of the economy and increase capital outflow.
  4. Mining requires a lot of energy. Russia has become one of the largest mining centers. This increases the country’s emissions and carbon footprint, hinders the achievement of national goals, and increases the risk of emergencies.

Point 3 is perhaps the most curious of the 4, as there has been recent ruble volatility. This is not law yet, but it will be interesting to follow whether it does become law and then how closely a “crypto dry law” would be both followed and enforced.

What is the Collective Security Treaty Organization?

When the Soviet Union collapsed, many of the former states formed a collective security treaty organization. The signing of this treaty took place in 1992 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Although you might see news from time to time in Russia about joint military exercises between Russia and Armenia, for example, and I was vaguely aware of a military alliance, I only remember hearing the name of the Collective Security Treaty Organization for the first time yesterday, with the backdrop of unrest in Kazakhstan.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization logo.

Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokaev appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization yesterday for assistance as he stated that foreign-trained terrorist groups were behind the unrest around Kazakhstan.

On the evening of January 5th, Armenia President Nikol Pashinyan confirmed on his Facebook page that the Collective Security Treaty Organization would be sending a peacekeeping force to Kazakhstan. According to the news service TASS, this is the first peacekeeping mission in the history of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Here is the point of view of Guardian news, concerning the Kazakhstan unrest:

If you are interested in a more detailed summary of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, I recommend the history portion Wikipedia page. I read it with great fascination because again, this is not an organization that has been at the front of the news to my recollection, until now.

The reason I find this so interesting is not just because of the news from Kazakhstan but because an organization like this is certainly logical. And with rising tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine, I suspect we will be hearing more about the Collective Security Organization in the coming months.

In the Collective Security Treaty Organization, aggression against one signatory is to be perceived as aggression against all. According to the Kommersant new service, the organization members include Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. Possibly the most notable non-member is Uzbekistan.

On a personal note, I am of course hoping for a peaceful resolution for the nation of Kazakhstan. I have been privileged to visit Kazakhstan a couple of times and it truly is a beautiful nation. And as I’ve learned something new today about this treaty organization, I am again reminded that even after 23 years here, there is still much more to learn about Russia and this part of the world.

How To Say Hello In Russian | Correct Pronunciation

One of the first words you will want to learn when starting to learn Russian, or before traveling to Russia is how to say “Hello” in Russian.

This post will teach you how to say “Hello” in Russian, and also teach you some other common Russian greetings, and also provide guidance on the cultural nuance surrounding each word.

How To Say Hello In Russian

The Russian word for Hello is “Здравствуйте”. It is pronounced “zdravstvuyte“. Now this might seem intimidating at first (four consonants in a row!?!), but please give me a chance to teach, and give yourself a chance to learn!

It is important to learn this form of the word “hello” in Russian if you will be in any kind of formal contact with any Russians. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s listen to how to pronounce “Hello” in Russian:

It is too bad that the Russian language can be discouraging at “hello”. But I guarantee that if you have fun with this tongue-twisting greeting on repeat, you will most certainly delight and impress the Russian-speaking people that you meet. This might sound strange, but you need to practice so that you can begin to “feel the sound in your mouth”. And you will be encouraged that even if you don’t pronounce exactly right, they will still be impressed at your effort, and over time you can drop a Russian “Hello” like the Russian mafia boss that you are.

One common mistake that I hear particularly with English speakers when they first start pronouncing the word Hello in Russian is actually the final syllable. It is “Tye”, and it is one syllable (not “tee-ye”, just “tye”). For some reason, when I first learned this word I would say something like “Zdrastvuche”. And I started noticing that this was a common mistake. Now again, your Russian-speaking friends will be very kind to you about this, but make a particular effort to enunciate the “T” at the end and not switch it out with a a “ch” sound.

Visas to Russia, the Easy Way

FUN FACT: The Russian word for “Hello”, “Здравствуйте”, literally means “Be healthy!”. Now, of course, on most days Russians aren’t thinking about this deep meaning when they’re greeting each other. But sometimes your Russian friend might say “Hello” to you a bit more slowly with meaning in their eyes, and you can tell they aren’t just saying “hi”, they are wishing you health and that’s a very special moment for sure.

This brings us to…

How To Say “Hi” In Russian

I was sincerely shocked today when I googled “How to say hello in Russian” and received this result:

Google Translate is normally quite good, but I consider this to be a glaring error. The Russian words for “hi” and “hello” are very much dependent on the situation.

The Russian word for “Hi” is “Привет”. This word is pronounced “Pree-vyet” and is two syllables. This is, of course, considerably more simple than the Russian word for “Hello”, but before we work on the nuance of the pronunciation of the Russian word for “Hi”, allow me to provide some warning.

WARNING: Only say “Hi” in Russian if you are greeting a close friend, someone considerably younger than you, or if you are of a more youthful age, you can use this greeting when meeting someone who is your age.

I have seen foreigners walk into business meetings in Russia. They had found “Zdra-stvu-tye” to be too challenging, so they just went with “Pree-vyet” when greeting their new Russian counterparts. They were immediately and permanently banished to Siberia as a result. Kidding, of course, the Russians are always kind in these situations, BUT the foreigners started the meeting by demonstrating an ignorance to Russian cultural code. Which perhaps is not the best kickoff into the Motherland.

The two best ways to show that you are new to Russia are: 1) Wearing a hat like this. 2) Using the wrong form of greeting.

The most common mistake I hear (and again the same mistake I made early on) in saying “Hi” in Russian is turning it into three syllables. What I often hear is “Pree-vee-yet”. That is incorrect. Instead, work on making it two syllables: “Pree-vyet”. Again, repetition will help you “feel” it better as you speak.

Here’s an interesting tutorial on the pronunciation of the Russian “Hi”:

What If You’re Not Sure Which Greeting To Use?

Being unsure of what Russian greeting to use can be a somewhat amusing cultural dilemma, that quite frankly, I still run into from time to time even after living here for 23 years!

So, what do I do?

In situations where I am unsure which Russian greeting to us, I go with:

Good Morning: Dobroe Utro / Доброе утро

Here is the pronunciation:

Good Day: Dobriy Den’ / Добрый день

Listen to the pronunciation:

Good Evening: Dobriy Vecher / Добрый вечер

Pronunciation of “Good Evening” in Russian:

A FEW MORE RUSSIAN GREETING TIPS:

  1. It is important to use good morning strictly until noon, or else you might get a friendly lecture on getting out of bed earlier.
  2. Alternatively, if you start using “Good day” at about 11 a.m., you will be quietly respected for being such an early bird. I don’t understand this, particularly in a nation that starts work quite a bit later than where I grew up in Ohio, but there it is.
  3. Only greet a Russian ONCE per day! If you greet them twice they might give you an abrupt “мы уже сегодня здоровались”. This literally means “we have already greeted each other today”, with the subplot being “did you forget me already?”.

I hope this is helpful and takes away some of the complications of a Russian greeting. I do believe it is important to work on this, because wherever you are in the world, the first impression is a lasting impression. And if you demonstrate a sincere effort to greet your Russian-speaking comrade in their native language, you will have won them over from the get-go.

Now that you’ve learned how to say “Hello” in Russian, take a few minutes to learn how to shake hands in Russia.

3 Homemade Russian Machines You Can Buy On The Internet

Sometimes I sit around pining for the good old days in Russia. You know, when you had to use your elbows while occupying a queue at 3 a.m. or saran wrap your bag to be granted access to a grocery store.

It’s almost like life is too easy these days in Russia. You can do most of your bureaucratic hoop-jumping online and for those moments when you need to visit the government entity in question, you can normally “take a number”. There is, of course, home restaurant delivery, together with just about any other service you could imagine. I recently saw a service that will even take your trash out for you. All of this is boring… and degrading, to say the least.

To be serious, Russians are more in a hurry these days, less likely to drink tea for hours, and more likely to be busy making money. Sometimes it feels like they took capitalism and put it on steroids. Can’t say as I blame them, but it also feels like something valuable went missing.

Another fantastic part about Russian culture that seems to be particularly absent in Moscow is mechanical ingenuity. I remember the brake system of my brand new UAZ being jerry-rigged in the freezing cold of January along a lonely highway in the Urals with a random piece of wire (obviously, by a Russian, not me) in the late ’90s. But in 21st century Russia, an increasing number of folks are coasting into the American way of not using any mechanical skills but just calling roadside service.

With this deterioration of mechanical ingenuity, I decided to go to Avito, Russia’s online classified portal, to get some much-needed reassurance that Russia was still held together in the hands of Russia’s genius village engineering wunderkind. And here are a few items I found that you too can purchase for the right price:

Homemade Tractor:

If you have enough spare parts, through the miracle of evolution, they could possibly fall together in the correct configuration to produce useful machinery.

Alternatively, you could end up with something like this:

Imagine pulling up to the village disco on this bad boy on a Friday night. You would be Vasya #1 in your neighborhood and all the local Tanyas would be clamoring for a ride.

Why waste your hard-earned money on a store-bought tractor, when you can always have a repair job to occupy any free time in your life?

The lack of apparent usefulness in this particular model is compensated by, um, personality? This wonder of village technology, boasts new tires, according to the ad, and can be yours for one low price of 46,000 rubles. This is an exclusive offer, available only in the village of Orlik, you know, the village of Orlik in the Belgorod region. There is no mention in the ad if the chicken and dog will be part of the deal.

Homemade Freight Truck:

If farming isn’t your cup of vodka, and you’re more into transportation and logistics, but on a budget. You can make your own homemade freight truck. Or not to waste any time building your own, you can buy this beauty.

With a price tag that is suspiciously lower than a homemade tractor, you can soon be transporting the harvests of the Motherland for just 36,000 rubles.

According to the ad, there is need for some work on the brake system, BUT the rear axle is from a Studebaker. And now, as so often happens in this great nation, I’m left with more questions than answers.

Bonus Homemade Freight Truck: Have more metal and random buckets of paint than you know what to. do with? Spend your Saturdays combining the two and this will be the result:

This reminds me of a vehicle I rode around in Tunisia on once. Please note the windshield wipers and flags. I feel like I need to stand and take off my hat.

Homemade Snowmobile:

Perhaps you’re more into the out of doors and relaxation than any kind of work? And winter’s just around the corner!

Or maybe because you’re Russian, you don’t have any wheels laying around, just some skis.

Well, here you go:

This sleek Arctic fox will set you back 41,000 rubles, but the ad boasts a Honda engine and lots of fun for both kids and adults alike.

Alternative popular homemade snowmobile model:

Russia, please never stop building whatever idea just randomly popped into your head. Only you know how to make humor and resourcefulness collide in such a way to inspire both amusement and a little bit of fear from comrades worldwide. Never stop doing that.

Russia Upsets Switzerland At American Football 36-9

Football isn’t their day job, but it is their lives. There is a small but growing and wildly energetic American football movement in Russia.

There was an attempt to start an American football league in the early 90’s, but it fizzled out and the American Football league in Russia was reborn in 2002 and now boasts 11 teams from 6 regions.

The “underdog” Russians coming out of the tunnel in Switzerland

According to the American Football International web-site, the Russians were coming, hoping for an upset.

But if you thought the Russians were coming “just for fun”, allow me to show you their rousing rendition of “Katyusha” as they exit the tunnel before the game. And I must admit, this video, which I originally saw on the social media page of the Vologda Vikings is the real inspiration behind this post. The Russian teams is amped for some American football, and proud to represent their homeland.

The first half was slow, with the Swiss holding the lead at the two-minute warning 3-0. The Russians took the lead with a Russian (sorry, I mean “rushing” touchdown) with 1:48 left in the first half. The score at the end of the 3rd quarter was Russia 16, Switzerland 9, the Swiss lurking just a touchdown away from Russia.

But with under 8 minutes left in the 4th Quarter, Team Russia decided to go into superpower mode, adding another Russian/rushing touchdown to extend the lead. The announcer stated, “As I said just a few minutes ago, I don’t think Team Russia can run the ball down Team Switzerland’s throat, but that’s exactly what they just did.” The score was 22-9 on a botched extra point.

The power of the energetic off-tune Katyushka singing in the tunnel was felt again with a short passing touchdown with 2:35 left in the game. And the final nail in the coffin was administered with yet another TD with 0:42 left on the clock. What Team Russia lacks in understanding about running down the game clock when you have a commanding lead left with only seconds left was compensated by Team Switzerland taking a short run in the resulting series to end the game. Final Score Russia 36, Switzerland 9.

You can watch the full game here, with most of the action taking place in the 4th Quarter. Enjoy!

And to all the Russians who not only are on Team Russia but give so much of their energy to their local teams around Russia, please accept my congratulations. Your energy inspires me, this is a big win for all of us in Russia!

Torzhok: Ancient Crossroads Between Moscow and St. Petersburg

Russia seems to have a never-ending supply of historical cities. And if you’ve lived in Russia for 22 years, like me, you might start getting a little cocky thinking you know all of the historical and even lesser-known cities such as Kostroma, Petrozavodsk, or Vyborg. So, when my Russian friend Zhenya suggested we visit Torzhok with our Russian-language YouTube channel, I wasn’t just surprised, I honestly had no idea what he was talking about, but we quickly agreed to make the trip.

Torzhok is conveniently located halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. This was doubly convenient in our situation as I am in Moscow and Zhenya hails from St. Petersburg. You can travel to Torzhok by train from Moscow via Tver, for less than 1000 rubles. There is a direct overnight train from St. Petersburg. And, of course, travel by car has become much easier to Torzhok from either city with the new Moscow-St. Petersburg superhighway.

The Tvertsiy River courses through the heart of the ancient city of Torzhok

Torzhok was first mentioned in an ancient chronicle in 1139 as “Novy Torg”, which means “New Trade”. It was a commanding point on a trade route to Novgorod. And although it once held a key position in trade, it now has the feel of a sleepy provincial town that has been left to remember its rich history.

A birds-eye view of the Boris and Gleb Monastery that overlooks Torzhok from a hilltop.

I understand there is a Shell oil refinery on the edge of town that perhaps keeps the local economy alive, but when in the city there is only a very real sense of history.

Of course, Moscow and St. Petersburg are cities that have invested massive resources into renovating their historical architecture, and rightly so. But sometimes, the feeling is that the renovation has been done so well, that the feeling of history is lost. And this is what I loved about Torzhok most: They are renovating, but there is much work to do, and this is a chance to not just see, but feel the history.

Zhenya and I met a church photographer who argues that renovations must be done using ancient tools, rather than modern construction methods. An interesting point.

If you’ve been to both Moscow and St. Petersburg and are looking for a short getaway nearby, or on your trip between the two major cities, Torzhok is definitely worth stopping overnight and for a day. Or you can do what I did, and meet your friend from the other city at what is roughly the halfway point.

Trying out some of the local cuisine at the “Onyx” restaurant, with our guide Sergei

If you’re looking for a guided trip, check out this site. We weren’t able to work out our schedule to make it to any of their events, but they recommended Sergei to be our guide, and he was fantastic.

A local man presumably enjoying the weather and the fact that he is avoiding the hustle and bustle of Moscow

I would be interested to hear what other less-famous and historical gems are worth visiting in Moscow? Please comment with your ideas.

And here is the Russian-language video version of our visit to Torzhok. Enjoy.

Moscow’s #1 Real Estate Online Platform Goes Public | CIAN Launches IPO.

CIAN is the online platform that offers nearly every available property in Moscow. If a property is available for sale or for rent in Moscow, there is a nearly 100% chance that it will be listed on CIAN. And now CIAN is offering an initial public offering in both New York and Moscow.

In a previous post, I detailed how to use CIAN to find an apartment in Moscow.

Reuters has done a fantastic job of explaining the nuts and bolts of the IPO. In this post, I would like to explain why I use CIAN with my Moscow real estate agency, and also talk about some of the other players in the Russia online real estate space.

There are certainly some juggernauts in the Russian online space. Avito is hands down, Russia’s largest online trade platform. This is the site you would use to buy and sell anything from used furniture to finding a guy with a truck who can help you move. It also offers real estate listings. According to the Russian business news site RBC, Avito has a market value of $4.9 billion. Avito attempted to buy CIAN recently, but that deal was blocked by the Federal Anti-monopoly service with the argument that they would then control more than 50% of the online real estate space.

The Russian real estate market has been white hot this past year, and CIAN is a central player.

The primary online Russian giant is, of course, Yandex. They aren’t just an online search engine like Google, or just a news aggregator. They have merged with Uber to control the booming taxi market, have their own car-sharing service, and also provide home grocery and restaurant delivery, to name a few. Yandex is a smart and powerful company, so when I heard that they were moving into the real estate space a few years ago, I assumed that this spelled the end for CIAN. I couldn’t have been more wrong. CIAN is continuing to raise the rates for posting properties on their site, and agencies and homeowners alike, are paying up.

Looking for an English-language Real Estate Service in Russia?

The other interesting player is Sber, formerly known as Sberbank, that is now successfully diversifying into areas outside of banking. Sber offers a platform where an owner can offer their property, the buyer can organize financing, and all of the legal matters are taken care of in the bank, thus making redundant much of what a realtor offers. With Sber’s muscles, I am also fascinated that they don’t seem to have much of a dent in CIAN’s business.

Avito, Yandex, and Sber are very much national names, used in nearly every nook and cranny around this vast nation. CIAN is more Moscow specific, which makes sense given the enormous economy of the capital city. In my view as a Moscow realtor, the key advantage CIAN has against its competitors is an easy-to use-platform with a strong accountability feature. If I’m looking at an ad on CIAN, I am almost 100% sure that the ad is real. On other platforms, I don’t have this confidence.

Can Foreigners Legally Own Real Estate In Russia?

It will be interesting to see the future of CIAN with the looming IPO, and with their reported plans for expansion around the nation. For Moscow realtors like me, we continue to see CIAN as THE central player in the online real estate scene in Moscow. And it will be fascinating to see what plays Avito, Yandex and Sber have up their sleeves.

And on a personal note, with all of these massive, smart, and nimble companies essentially removing the need for much of what realtors offer, I have seen many of my competitors close up shop. And I am inspired to provide more value than an online platform, through understanding of the local market, knowing what negotiation levers are available and providing comprehensive due diligence throughout the process.

What Will Happen To the US Embassy In Russia?

When a Russian journalist called me in the evening last week to ask what I thought about the US Embassy in Russia closing, I thought it was a joke, and I told him as much.

The idea of the US Embassy in Russia “closing” is an exaggeration to be sure, but there have been difficulties, even for US citizens over the past year.

For example, last spring, we wrote the US Consulate in Moscow that our 15-year old son’s passport was about to expire and that we needed to come in to renew it. We immediately received an automated message that the consulate was only receiving folks like us on an emergency basis and that we should basically give up on ever hoping to grace the premises of the US State Department’s headquarters in Moscow. My wife countered that disconcerting message with a somewhat drily worded dispatch: “A 15-year-old American will be living in Russia without a passport. What needs to happen to constitute an emergency?” To the consulate’s credit, we were in for an appointment about 2 weeks later.

American flag close-up on the beautiful historic building of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow Russia. I’ll never understand why it is perpetually twisted around the pole like this.

It was a strange visit. The State Department seemed to spare no expense when building the new consulate in Moscow. And the glass windows for receiving lines of Russians, eager to visit the “land of the free and the home of the brave” seemed to stretch into the horizon in the gleaming modern interior.

Unfortunately, the queues of eager visa-seekers could only be seen in my imagination, as the whole area was occupied by my wife, me, and an elderly gentleman who seemed to be somewhat lost. Of course, there was the usual security at the front gate with the (how do these people get these jobs?!?) outrageously crabby Russian guard.

When we knocked at one of the windows to announce our arrival, I could swear the echo went off to somewhere just shy of Kamchatka as I watched some tumbleweed blowing through the office in the back. Well, to be serious, it was very odd to see maybe 5 staff working in such a massive office complex.

Off-topic: I just made the mistake of looking up information on the new office building. It cost us $281 million USD, according to this page on the embassy site. On the positive side (if there is any), I have used this particular building as an argument to show my Russian friends that closing up visa service to Russia was most certainly not in the plans of the US State Department.

In any case, we were happy to get our son his passport, and the whole episode was quickly forgotten until I received the call from this Russian journalist.

I tried to diplomatically tell the journalist that he was full of baloney for even suggesting a closing of the US Embassy. He then asked me to say how a US Embassy closing in Russia would affect me hypothetically. And other than needing to renew passports every ten years, I couldn’t think of a single blessed effect on me.

You see, most embassies in Russia have some sort of relationship with their citizens who live locally, creating national holiday events, for example. But not the US Embassy. I’ve lived in Russia for nearly 23 years and can say, except for a dinner in Perm when the US ambassador visited about 20 years ago, the Embassy has made no effort to build a relationship. It’s sort of like the US State Department and Americans in Russia live in parallel universes, our paths never crossing, as we move through space and time. They do send out alarmist e-mails about the dangers of even thinking about Russia, but I unsubscribed from that list about 15 years ago. Too much stress and ado about nothing.

The Russian consulates are currently processing visas for Americans to come to Russia. Meanwhile, the State Department has given Russia “homeless status”, perhaps with the thought that this monicker would improve relations, and recommended that Russians apply for visas to America in Warsaw.

The situation isn’t simple and has to do with a limited number of allowed employees in some sort of squabble between our two nations that Bloomberg can explain better than I can. But it’s also sort of strange that it matters to Russians more than Americans living locally.

My thoughts on the matter, together with some of my fellow Americans’ (where do they find these guys lol?) views can be found here. The article is in Russian, but Google can help you with translation if you need it.

In my humble opinion, the relationship between our two countries has all too often been based on reciprocity, without one country or another taking the lead. That is why I find it refreshing that the Russian consulates are processing visas for Americans. That is good both for the Americans, and for Russia, as literally every American I have met in Russia has stated that it is way better than they had been told or thought before. That is soft power.

And here’s to us putting this spat behind us, and the US Embassy in Moscow returning to normal… at least for the next time one of my kids needs a passport.