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July 2018

Baltic Countries: Winds and Currents

My wife Sally and I travelled via a small cruise ship to six Baltic locations in June 2018, including Copenhagen, Denmark, Gdansk, Poland, Tallinn, Estonia, St. Petersburg, Russia, Helsinki, Finland, and Stockholm, Sweden.

We learned a great deal from outstanding experts provided by Williams College, Dartmouth, Duke, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Smithsonian Museum, and the University of Southern California, as well extraordinarily accomplished guides in each city.

In addition, on-board personal conversations with Sergei Khrushchev, the son of Nikita Khrushchev, Former Premier of the Soviet Union, provided keen insights ranging from the Cuban missile crisis to today’s Russia and the foreign policies of President Vladimir Putin, reportedly the richest person in the world with a net worth estimated well in excess of $60 billion.

  • L'Hermitage Throne Room

    In response to my question as to whether his father chose not to trigger tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba confident that President John Kennedy would remove United States’ strategic nuclear weapons from Turkey, Sergei pointed out that in reality there is no difference between launching tactical or strategic weapons since launching either would trigger world-wide devastation.

  • President Putin of Russia continues focused on short-term economic and social policies designed to preserve his power tied to oligarchs, with little effort toward vital longer-term needs of creating a middle-class or reducing widespread corruption.
  • Incidentally, by the traditional metrics of gross national product and military spending, Russia is not a Super Power, as both measures lag far behind China and the United States. Putin’s push to restore Russia’s standing in the intermediate term depends largely on capabilities for asymmetrical warfare, disruptive intervention, and robust oil prices.

An intimate on-board discussion with Lech Walesa, Former President of Poland, and founder of Solidarity, the first trade union in a Warsaw Pact country that was not controlled by a communist party, brought his transformative courage to life.

Here are a few random observations from this valuable and memorable journey enjoyed with such an inclusive group of accomplished people:

  • The most vivid memories, pictures, and legacy of the region stem from casualties inflicted by Nazi Germany of 6 million in Poland (20% of the population), and 4.5 million in the Siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) from 1941 to 1944, along with the ruinous looting of palaces, churches, buildings, homes, etc.
  • There is growing disillusionment with the socialism of the European Union in countries such as Sweden, where tax rates have increased to 60%, medical care is diminished and less prompt, pensions are reduced, and immigration has swelled pressuring many services, housing availability and costs, etc. Conversely, Poland has welcomed Common Markets and new trade opportunities to replace the loss of industries such as shipbuilding.
  • A sign in downtown Copenhagen points out that its citizens bicycle a distance equivalent of 35 times around the Earth every day. The number of bicycles, accompanied by designated paths, is stunning in this environmentally astute city of 600,000 (2 million in the larger metropolitan area).
  • Estonia, with 500,00 of its 1.3 million citizens living in Tallinn, is an independent unitary parliamentary republic, and one of the most digitally advanced societies anywhere. Elections are conducted over the Internet, while e-registry enables company formation, banking, payment processing, taxation, and location-independent residency, especially for entrepreneurs.

In short, while the United States certainly continues as a work-in-progress, this trip serves as a multi-dimensional reminder that America is enormously blessed with resources of all kinds, clearly fortunate at times to be separated by oceans, and generous in our past defense of European countries.