Russia remains foreboding despite a friendly visit in 1997

Almost 20 years ago, I spent two weeks in Russia with three couples who were adopting Russian orphans. We spent a week in Blagoveshchensk, near the Amur River on the border with China. The city has a population of about 219,000.

Dr. Darwin Olson and his wife Barbara spent more than a year in Blagoveshchensk after Russia opened up to U.S. missionaries. Back then, the minister of education, who was an atheist, wanted the children of Russia to learn the Bible so that they could appropriate Biblical values, the traditional values of the Russian Orthodox Church that had been swept aside during the period of the USSR.

Dr. Olson had a great concern for the orphans of that city and before he left, he made arrangements to send American couples back to adopt. He managed to help dozens of orphans to find new homes in America – many in Tulsa – before the Russian government put a stop to his charitable work. It seems the Russians started to get embarrassed because the plight of their orphans was bad for the country’s image. Instead of doing what was best for those poor children, they stopped a wonderful Christian work.

I speak about three or four words of Russian. But I was astounded at how many Russians know at least some English. English seems to be the international language of commerce and if you want to advance, you study English. While in Blago, we went to a high school class and gave a talk in English.

While waiting for transportation one evening, a group of Russian teenagers approached. The girls were very friendly but the boys apparently had learned some curse words in English and they were tickled to try them out on some real Americans.

Back then, the food in Blago was terrible. You couldn’t drink the tap water without filtering it. There were no restaurants.

Things have improved. My oldest son went there several years after I did with a church group. And if you look up Blagoveshchensk on the Internet, it looks much better than what I remember.

One fascinating part of my trip was a 300-mile ride on the Trans Siberian railroad. It was an 18-hour overnight journey that I will never forget.

After a week in Blagoveshchensk, we flew to Moscow. This is a huge city. We stayed in a modern hotel that supposedly was built especially for the Americans for the 1980 Olympics. Of course, President Jimmy Carter had America boycott those Olympics because Russia had invaded Afghanistan.

The food was much better in Moscow but you still couldn’t drink the tap water. There was a snack shop in the lobby of our 10-story hotel and I got sick from eating a pastry from that shop.

I was impressed by the Moscow Subway. It was as clean as a whistle. It was very organized and every stop had an easy-to-read color map that didn’t require you to read Russian. And every stop had marvelous art, just like a museum. It was extraordinary.

I pretty much grew up during the Cold War. Even though Russia was an ally during World War II, the level of distrust was sky high. The Russians I met in Blagoveshchensk and Moscow – particularly the Christians – were warm and compassionate. They were poor but extremely generous.

One exception was a man who walked up to me on the street in Blagoveshchensk and yelled something in Russian. He knew I was an American because I was dressed differently than the Russians. I asked our translator what he said and she replied, “You don’t want to know.”

Now Russia is up to their old tricks. People keep asking me if I think we are going to war with Russia.

My answer is that Russia only understands strength. President Barack Obama is seen as weak by the Russians and most of the world.

Ronald Reagan once said that nobody attacks a nation because they are too strong. America is a strong nation but Obama and John Kerry have made compromise after compromise and that projects weakness.

Russians are smart. They see the mismanagement of our foreign policy and they will take complete advantage in dealing with Obama’s weakness. By the way, electing Hillary Clinton would broadcast to the world another message of a weakening America.

I grew up believing that Russian would not attack America with nuclear weapons because we had more missiles than they did and we would wind up destroying each other.

Now the dynamic has changed.

Russia and China both are making moves that would not happen in the presence of a strong America. Obama is soft with our enemies and indifferent with our allies. And the world is watching.

There’s no reason why we can’t get along with Russia. But we must understand that their government is run by ruthless sharks who will strike where they see weakness.

That is painfully evident in Syria and other parts of the world.