I traveled to Moscow next. I visited the apartment of a woman who lived in the metro area. I was shocked to see that every single mailbox in the lobby had been jimmied open, probably with a crowbar. The woman explained that this was normal, with people retrieving their mail at the post office. In her apartment, she kept a large bowl of Soviet coins which became worthless after the incompetent government of the 1990s unceremoniously switched to the new Russian currency, leaving the life savings of many people behind.
When I visited Red Square, a experienced tour guide walked over and introduced herself. She asked if I wanted to visit Lenin's mausoleum, but I countered by pointing out that I had a camera, with signs warning that cameras were not allowed into the building. She simply inserted my camera into her bag and told me to walk with her, with the guards not paying us any attention. The mausoleum was only open three days each week with no line to speak of, even though Soviet-era photos of the area from my Russian textbook showed that the line stretched for blocks.
I was in Moscow on 9/11. I stopped by a display of televisions in a department store and watched for a while. When some twenty-something Russians heard my American accent, they turned and looked at me in the same sympathetic way people would after recognizing a guy whose daughter had been kidnapped, raped, and murdered.
I was staying in a Russian hotel, one where only Russian was spoken. The next morning, I found a printed sheet in English on my door stating that the management was in solidarity with me due to the catastrophe that had occurred to my country. I might have been the only American in the hotel, which they would have known from my passport being registered as required by law.
I traveled to an Internet cafe to read the news in English. As soon as the young woman renting PCs heard my American accent, she switched to English and blurted out that she was so sorry for what had happened to my country.
I bought an even number of roses at a flower shop -- in Russia, one only gives an even number of flowers at funerals -- and traveled to the US embassy, but there were already too many flowers to count just outside the fence.
Not many months later, George W. Bush and the neo-cons invaded Iraq under false pretenses, erasing much of that goodwill. We had another chance to square things with Russia ten days less than three years later, when Islamists held hostage over 1,100 teachers, children, and their relatives at School No. 1 in Beslan in southern Russia. At the end of the siege, over 330 hostages lay dead, including 186 children, making Beslan Russia's version of 9/11, though Russia's incompetent, brutal military was largely to blame.
Russia's tactics left much to be desired the Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow, with the latter's October 2002 death toll being high because authorities neglected to notify first responders and hospitals that the toxic gas used by the military rendered people unconscious and nauseous, with them drowning in their own vomit after being left on their backs.
I visited the Baltic States a few years after my trip to Moscow. English was spoken by just about every young person and many older ones. An Estonian tour guide told me that the first time she had ever seen bananas was during the 1980 Moscow Olympics, though they disappeared soon afterward. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania became NATO partner countries in 1991, five days before the official dissolution of the USSR on Christmas Day 1991, because they had lived with the aftermath of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact since 1939, as well as British apathy regarding them (contrary to popular belief in Washington, Canada is our best friend in the world). Soviet troops did not completely leave Eastern Europe until 1994, to which photos at the Budapest House of Terror Museum and other museums remembering the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe can attest. NATO has no intentions of invading Russia, but the Baltic States and Poland have good, historical reasons for being wary of Russian intentions. Russia has no more historical ownership of the Baltic States than the previous rulers: Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Livonia, and Poland, depending upon the era.
Russia has a serious fear of invasion. The Mongols, Napoleon's army, and the Nazis all raped and pillaged their way through the country. Stalin's incompetence and paranoia exacerbated the Nazi invasion, to be sure, though many Russians idolize him today because he is a symbol of a time when their country was feared throughout the world. Americans want the world to remember the 3000 victims of 9/11, but the Soviet Union lost well over 20 million people during WWII, albeit after Stalin and Hitler divided Eastern Europe between them in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Many in the US laugh at Russian President Vladimir Putin's shirtless adventures, but the reality is that many Russians admire a strong leader, with that being not much different from the millions of Americans who idolize either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, not to mention the many Americans who watch the breathless adventures of shirtless Kardashians and Jenners. Would Putin have invaded Georgia and Ukraine, killed 298 souls on MH17 and then destroyed the evidence, ordered the murder of Russians living in Britain via radioactive polonium and nerve agent Novichok, and ordered his military aircraft to disable their transponders and play chicken with civilian airliners if Bush the Younger had offered to work together to fight Islamists? Putin probably would have done it anyway, but we might have slowed him down.
Some people believe that North Koreans would remain the obedient zombies they are today if North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un were to disappear, but my experience in Russia suggests otherwise. They are currently kept in the dark via extreme censorship and the threat of having their entire family imprisoned. North Koreans would quickly adjust to the new reality. We'd want to arrange for employment for scientists and engineers working in weapons development to prevent them from working freelance.
That said some North Koreans would need to be prosecuted after an implosion, especially labor camp managers and guards given their extreme cruelty to prisoners, even children. They have standing orders to execute everyone in the camps to prevent them from testifying later. And it would be necessary to pass legislation protecting Koreans against these thugs, similar to how former East German Stasi harass people in the former DDR.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that the US government would not provide aid, but US corporations might be allowed to invest in the DPRK, but that's similar to telling a homeless person that you will drive him to a shopping mall where he can buy anything he likes -- without you offering to pay. If Kim were ever deposed, his replacement would be well-advised to counter that all contracts with corporations have escape clauses for the DPRK. As long as the government of the country in which the corporation resided continued to give aid, the contract would remain in force, but if the aid stopped, North Korea would be within its rights to cancel the contract and assign it to a corporation of a different country.
If Kim was really serious about peace, he would release the South Koreans, Japanese, and others kidnapped by the DPRK over the years. He would invite UN and Red Cross agencies to distribute food aid directly to families outside the elite bubble of Pyongyang to prevent it from being diverted to the military or resold in markets as happened in the past. He would allow South Korean agencies to rescue the many orphans around the country who are dying from lack of food and exposure. And he would apologize for the murder of 115 people aboard KAL Flight 858 in 1987.
Kim is employing a warmed-over ploy to get US forces to leave the Korean peninsula so he can reunify Korea by force and impose songbun -- his grandfather's profoundly cruel division of the population into core, wavering, and hostile classes -- on South Koreans, tripling the size of the labor camps in the bargain. His hand-holding with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the DMZ was a charade.