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Why I left Russia after five years as an expat in that country

The only appropriate thing a foreigner should do when living in a country but disagrees with the way things work in that country, is to leave.
Why I left Russia after five years as an expat in that country
After leaving Russia, we took a short vacation trip to Egypt and later, Jordan.

In the fall of 2016, just weeks before the presidential election, I left the United States without any intention of returning. I disapproved of the direction of the country, was skeptical of both political parties, had lost faith in our ability to affect change through the political process, and had no hope for its future. Hillary Clinton was the personification of these problems and my voluntary expatriation to Russia was a better option than bearing this albatross of disillusionment which only got heavier with each passing day.

Russia has a plethora of problems and shortcomings. I knew that sitting at the gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York that Monday afternoon in September of 2016 waiting for my flight to Moscow. I knew about its problems firsthand because I had previously studied and worked in Russia.

For instance, I knew I was headed to a country where the minimum wage was less than $200 per month and those retired on social security lived on about half that. I knew, infrastructurally speaking, that Russia was far less developed than what I was accustomed to in the United States. I also knew that Russia had a shorter life expectancy than the global average, which spoke to the substandard level of healthcare available in that country.

I had personally experienced the frigid winters, living without heating in my apartment in the first weeks of fall before city workers turned the radiators on, and went for days, sometimes weeks without a hot shower each summer when they turned the hot water off across the entire city to check for damaged water pipes.

I made peace with the fact that I would not have access to many of the food products I enjoyed, especially when it came to high-quality fruits and vegetables which could not be grown in the tundra and had to be imported. Coming across good oranges and other citrus fruits was always a problem. Finding certain products like meat tenderizer and grape jelly proved to be impossible and I didn’t expect to find them time time, either.

Nevertheless, Russia had some things going for it and for me they were enough to counterbalance the scales in her favor. Most importantly, the political culture. Political culture does not speak about the political system or the government. It speaks to the attitude of the people towards politics. Russian society, on that September afternoon, was in many respects a politically apathetic, libertarianesque society, in which I had hoped to live without politics or culture wars. Considering the strong disapproval I had of America’s political situation and system, and the sense of disillusionment that weighed on me as a result, this was a very attractive alternative.

Just as attractive to me was the level to which people with my work experience were in great demand in Russia. I knew as a native English speaker, even without any additional qualifications, that I would always be able to find a good-paying job, that employers would be competing for me, and that this type of job market would allow me to live comfortably, have access to quality healthcare, and bypass many of the other troubles of daily life that the average Russian faces. In addition to that, I knew I would never have to work another 8-hour day at the office, as native English teachers in Russia often earn their salaries working a few hours in the evening.

These two points alone were enough to entice me to expatriate to Russia as a way to escape the cancel culture and woke politics of the left that were metastasizing like a cancer in the United States. In Russia I knew I could say what I wanted to say about race or issues regarding human sexuality without offending some ultrasensitive hipster in his fedora, or make off-color jokes to feed my dry sense of humor without being scheduled for reprogramming through “sensitivity training” like I’m some clone waiting for a chance to go to the island.

The right to free speech exists specifically to protect speech some do not want to hear, yet the leftist Cultural Revolution underway in America would have that fundamental right significantly curtailed to prohibit speech they deem offensive. That is not to say Russia is a bastion of free speech. The country has leaps and bounds to make when it comes to protecting political speech and the freedom of conscience. Yet in expatriating to Russia, I firmly believed that it would not be my place as a guest in Russia to engage in political activity there, let alone criticize the very same government which granted me permission to live and work there in the first place.

Meanwhile, Russian society is not confused about basic biology, nor do individuals there feel the need to clarify by which pronouns they should be referred, nor can someone find themselves in trouble for making the grave mistake of referring to a human with male genitalia as he, and female genitalia as she.

At the same time, Russian society is not obsessed with word games of political correctness, nor are there efforts to rewrite history by erasing it through the removal of historical statues. The best way to learn from history to study it and understand it, in order to avoid repeating it. Yet those behind the leftist Cultural Revolution in America believe that by replacing names attached to public schools and removing statues from the public square, the country can heal some from abstract pain nobody was feeling from those names and statues. I respected the aim of the Russian people to preserve their history, culture, and traditions, as should every country on Earth.

Hillary Clinton was the embodiment of this Cultural Revolution. The very notion that she could feel any sense of entitlement to the presidency is in and of itself antithetical to democracy. That she made the political calculation to remain married to her adulterous husband in exchange for a seat in the United States Senate only to be asked to yield to newcomer Barack Obama in 2008 in exchange for her nomination as Secretary of State certainly makes it possible to understand why she might have felt entitled to the nation’s highest office, but it does not justify that entitlement.

Yet she was put before the voters as the forborne conclusion of the 2016 presidential election and the Democratic Party rigged the primary to make sure she was the nominee. After all, the leftists are more concerned with checking boxes than anything else. That is why electing the first American American president was more important than who that particular man was. That is why electing the first female president was more important than who that particular woman was. That is why Joe Biden appoints people to positions in his cabinet based on their race, gender, or other identity traits, instead of their qualifications or proven ability. We can see the result of that today with the utter failure of his administration in its first year.

With all evidence pointing towards a well-oiled machine that would install Hillary Clinton as president of the United States to, above all else, check the box for the nation’s first female president, I decided it was time to leave. But what happened in Russia that made me reverse that decision and set my family on a course that would have us return to the United States?

Unfortunately, while the Russian people have not changed and have always demonstrated great hospitality and friendship towards me, the Russian government has taken a much more aggressive approach to stifling dissent and silencing opposition figures. This coming just shortly after laughable amendments to the Russian Constitution were adopted that allow President Putin to run for president again in 2024 by “annulling” his previous two terms. Putin has already served twice as president, each time for the maximum of two consecutive terms, for a total of twenty years now. It is laughable not only because the clock has been magically reset, but that these most recent constitutional amendments were the second time under Putin that amendments to presidential term limits were adopted - the first extended the presidential term from four to six years.

It is tragic when you consider Mr. Putin’s own words about extending presidential terms or serving for more than two terms. In 2003 he said he is against such an idea; in 2012 he said the Russian Constitution is very clear that nobody can be president for more than two consecutive terms and that he refused to amend the constitution to fit his own needs; and in 2014 he said that the worst and most dangerous thing is when a politician grasps onto his seat with his hands and teeth and is concerned only about keeping his power. Now for the abstract sake of “stability”, Mr. Putin will run again.

This is a mockery of constitutional government and I say that as someone who acknowledges that the United States itself is in a post constitutional era. Neither the United States nor Russia follow the rule of law laid out in their respective constitutions, but at least in the United States I can express political thought without fear of persecution from the government, organize a peaceful protest, or just stand alone somewhere along the road with a sign expressing my thoughts. That is not the case in Russia and to an increasing extent I found myself having to resist the urge to violate my principle of not criticizing the government of a foreign country in which I was a guest. In fact, one time I did violate this principle by attending a rally in support of the freedom of the press when the local police tried to frame an investigative journalist who was reporting on corruption. I was temporarily detained while standing and filming this protest, released only because I was an American citizen. I got lucky that time but luck eventually runs out.

Another area of increasing concern is related to the pandemic and the Russian government’s approach has increasingly been one I staunchly disagree with. Although Russia has stopped short of outright mandating the vaccine, they are soon to implement a QR-code requirement in order to participate in daily life activities such as using public transportation, shopping in malls, and dining out. Thee QR-codes can only be obtained from the government once you show proof of vaccination status with one of Russia’s homemade vaccines, as they do not yet recognize the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, or Moderna vaccine, as far as I recall. For now, it appears Russians will also be able to get a QR-code upon showing documentation that they have recovered from COVID-19 and/or have antibodies for it.

Nonetheless this is a gross violation of privacy and civil liberty. My position is simple. The vaccines against COVID-19 may do a great job at protecting people from suffering severe symptoms that may lead to complications which may be fatal. Elderly people, as well as vulnerable groups or people with pre-existing conditions that have been demonstrated to cause fatality amongst those who have contracted the virus ought to get the vaccine. However, these vaccines do not protect you from acquiring the virus or spreading it to others. Therefore, getting vaccinated is at the end of the day a personal choice one must make after weighing the risks. I staunchly oppose vaccine mandates that require anyone to inject a foreign substance into their bodies just to be able to fully participate in society. Some states or localities in the United States may have already or will soon go in this direction, which is why I have decided to establish my roots in a red state like Arkansas, where I believe my civil liberties will be protected regardless of vaccination status.

Finally, it seems as if the government is trying to make Russia life difficult for foreigners who want to live in Russia. First, they make it difficult to obtain a residence permit, a difficult process I had been going through more than six months. I stress the phrase "more than six months" because according to Russian law an application for a residence permit must be processed within that time period, but to this date my application, which I applied for to be able to secure my legal right to live and work in Russia and provide for my family while there, remains pending.

This is not a complaint. After all, I have already left Russia, so I don’t need a residence permit anymore. But the fact that it take so long to grant the father of a Russian-born child and the husband of a Russian citizen the legal right to live and work in the country to provide for his family is beyond my ability to comprehend. Had I not worked unofficially (illegally), we would have been on the streets. But that is Russia... unless you are from Donbass or a former Soviet republic. These immigrants get the legal right to live and work in Russia (and send their salary back home) very quickly. I’m happy for anyone who wanted Russian residency and got it in a speedy manner. I am just venting my frustration with the Russian bureaucracy, which I only encountered for real when applying for a residence permit, and I consider this bureaucracy an important part of my decision to leave Russia.

Second, the government now plans to require all foreigners staying in Russia for more than 90 days to undergo a full medical exam every four three at their own expense. There must have been some bad news about public health situation in Russia. Whenever there are domestic problems at home, the Russian government points the finger at foreigners. The level of this absurdity is unmatched. Here are some ideas for protecting public health and safety: take better care of the environment and ecology, increase funding for public hospitals, make other changes in society so that your most educated citizens do not immigrate to other countries to become doctors, scientists, and inventors abroad, and by the way, set a minimum wage for everyone else that is actually a livable wage.

No, I’m not going to have my blood drawn for an HIV test every three months. Nor am I going to have some nurse stick her cotton swab up my nose four times a year, nor will I be covering my genitals with an iron pad while they shoot x-rays through my lungs as part of a tuberculosis exam every 90 days… just so I can live in Russia.

These recent encroachments on civil liberty and privacy, as well as the worsening crackdown on political opposition in the leadup the the 2024 presidential election in Russia have shifted the scales, resulting in my decision to leave Russia. I emphasize that these are problems from my point of view and if the people of Russia are ready to tolerate this then that is their prerogative and it would not have my place as a foreigner to try to change their way of life. The only appropriate thing a foreigner should do when living in a country whose government poses a threat to their personal liberty is to leave the country and that is what I have done.

However, there is also a personal aspect to this decision. I became a father this year and my daughter turns ten months old this week. I can no longer make decisions about where I am going to live based on my own personal disagreements with the political culture in my home country. Without doubt, the standard of living is higher and the opportunities are greater in the United States and I want to allow my daughter to have these important benefits.

I also want her to grow up closer to family, whereas in Russia her family would be largely limited to mom and dad. In America, she she has and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. My mother came to visit Moscow this past summer and her visit made very clear to me how great it would be for her to have family nearby.

Having said all that, I want to thank the Russian government for giving me so many visas which allowed me to live in Russia all these years. My American passport has more Russian in it than English. There is a difference between the people of a country and its government, and so I want to separately thank the people of Russia for their hospitality.

Russia will always have a place in my heart, and a piece of Russia will always be with me, and this "piece of Russia" is named Polina and she will grow up as a citizen of both countries and become the personification of the unbreakable bond between Russia and the United States that now exists through my family.