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IN OUR VIEW: RUSSIAN CHILL
Aug 16, 2002 - Columbian
Author(s): Columbian Editorial Writers
Peace Corps visa flap just one symptom
Micah Rice evidently is no longer welcome in Russia.
Halfway through his two-year Peace Corps commitment, the idealistic former sportswriter for The Columbian has become a pawn in what may be a Russian relapse into Cold War psychology.
Rice and 63 other Peace Corps workers learned over time that there might be some delay in getting their visas approved for a second year of work as English teachers and in other capacities. Then, on Sunday, the Russian government abruptly said it would grant visas to maybe half the applicants, no more. Furthermore, officials said, there would be no additional visas available for the next class of volunteers for service in Russia.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell called his counterpart in Moscow, Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov, to ask about the difficulty. He made no progress. The Foreign Ministry hinted that the Education Ministry was behind the chill. The Education Ministry hinted that regional officials had been complaining about the teaching credentials of Peace Corps volunteers.
Nikolai Dmitriyev, head of the ministry's international cooperation department, explained the situation to the independent Russian news service Interfax. "The authors of the complaints argued that representatives of the Peace Corps who gave English language lessons to secondary school students had no teaching experience and spoke very little Russian or did not speak Russian at all," he said.
Similar negative talk was percolating last summer. Moscow and Washington, D.C., were busily expelling each others' diplomats a batch at a time in a goofy game of spy vs. spy and had reached triple digits when 9/11 hit. Then and for months after, Russia and the United States were friendly in a common cause. Now the chill may be on again. The Cold War was mean and debilitating. The world should know better than to relapse.
Rice wrote, in a column for The Columbian shortly after 9/11: "The stereotype of Russians as cold and noncaring was almost gone before that day. Now it was obliterated. Americans were crying, and Russians unreservedly offered a shoulder to soak up the tears." That's the right spirit.
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Special Reports; Speaking Out; Peace Corps - Overseas Programs; COS - Russia