WASHINGTON -- Back in the days when George H.W. Bush resided in the White House, he told me rather cryptically that I would be getting an invitation to the White House. A few days later I had luncheon with his head of the CIA, Bob Gates, one of the brightest lights that I have ever known in government. Bob wasted no time getting down to business. He told me of his concern that the Russians, who were friendly with us in those days, were not going to have enough time to implement their economic reforms. He also spoke of the Russians' ardor to be recognized as part of the West. A few more days passed and my invitation from the White House arrived. I was invited to dine at the White House and the guest of honor was Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Federation.
Well, I thought back on my luncheon with Bob Gates and whether by accident or by Bob's plan, I concluded that this was an occasion for me to play diplomat. When I met Mr. Yeltsin in the receiving line at the White House, I told him what an honor it was for me to meet the representative of a great Western nation. The home of great writers, of great composers, of great cultural figures, and the nation that had partnered with us in beating the Nazis in World War II. That did it. Boris was my friend for life or at least for the evening. I did not even have to mention that 10 months before, he had stepped down from a Soviet tank, which was my trump card.
In those days the Russians were our friends. The only sign of lingering hostility was that Boris's young aides that night did not wear black tie. Possibly they thought it was still too bourgeois. Possibly they did not own black tie. In those day the Russians were pretty down-at-the-heel. Not so today. President Vladimir Putin's contemporaries are all pretty snappy dressers, particularly his Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov. Yet the war in Ukraine is going no better this week than it was in the recent past, and there is alarming news from the home front, alarming news for Mr. Putin.
Last week I suggested that Putin's domestic support is going to become impatient if his casualties continue at the catastrophic rate of 500 a day. Well now, they have. Moreover, there are attacks on his air force and there is talk of attacks on his navy and there is news that saboteurs have struck his forces in Crimea. It seems to me that there is hardly any good news out there for Mr. Putin.
Now there is evidence that the educated classes may be slipping away. Russians who work in IT are showing increased impatience with his war. The young are tiring of it and the educated classes such as IT workers who are mobile and can leave Russia are leaving, and at an alarming rate. They and other Russians are leaving the Motherland for places such as the former Soviet state of Georgia. International corporations are making use of their services.
The Wall Street Journal reports from Tbilisi, Georgia, that some 35,000 Russians have settled in the small Caucasus nation where they would rather pay their taxes than pay in rubles for Putin's war. Twenty-eight-year-old Irina Soloveva left her home in Russia two weeks into the war, and now she volunteers at a food bank in Georgia for Ukrainian refugees. “All I want to do is help Ukraine,” she says. “Maybe this will help me atone.” Atone? This sounds like a dedicated Russian opponent of the Moscow regime.
The number of people who share Soloveva's views is growing in Georgia and throughout the region. Said another woman, “It's soul-saving work” at Soloveva's food bank, and she prefers the work she does there to her previous job. She had worked in Russia for Russia Beyond, an English-language website promoting Russian culture. It was owned by RT, the Moscow-funded TV network. She explained further, “At the food bank people tell you about Mariupol, about everyone who died. You feel the tears coming down your face, and all you can say is, 'Here's some buckwheat.'” Yet hope is not lost. Said Viktor Ramin, a recent Russian emigre to Georgia, “The main thing I can do is stop paying taxes in Russia.” Viktor has been relocated to Georgia by an international IT company.
Glory to Ukraine!