Scholar vacuum cleaner
Russia is still different. Political reporting for diplomats as for journalists, still essentially means scouring the local press for a nuance here, a snippet there, a strange omission here, an absent signature there. The real information is tightly concealed within the Kremlin and known only to some 300 Central Committee members, none of whom has anything like close relations with a foreigner. The KGB oversees most contacts between diplomats and Russians. Leaks are usually intended.
Effective Kremlin-reading takes a good cadre of specialists. That means two things: money, and a readiness to keep experts watching the same esoteric topic for years. Unlike the science of watching many other large but more open societies, Kremlinology is not something that can be picked up in a year. Diplomats need at least two years’ intensive training in Russian before coming “on stream” in Moscow.
The Americans have the resources to do that. Apart from their band of well-informed politicos, they have a whole team watching macroeconomic developments, a trio watching agriculture, at least two people whose sole job is to monitor and cultivate links with dissidents, and a large consular section that keeps close tabs on the thousands of Jewish refuseniks, Armenians, ethnic Germans and others trying to emigrate. It has space-watchers, Afghan-watchers, Soviet Central Asia watchers, Sino-Soviet watchers, Middle East watchers, ballet-and-poetry-watchers. Behind all that stands a massive array of computer-equipped filing, technical and academic experts, all pumping in or sucking out the information.
No other country has a comparable vacuum cleaner in Moscow. The Japanese come close to it, but even biggish embassies like Britain’s have trouble keeping up-especially as the Soviet Union can now be monitored in all its vastness, from Armenia to the Baltic and across to Vladivostok. Penny-pinching embassies keep their people stuck to their seats in Moscow. Good diplomacy needs lots of travel.
As the Soviet Union half-opens up, specialists become more important. Speaking Russian has become essential, because of the increasing volume and variety of printed material, and also because of the relatively easier accessibility of less-than-top-rank Russians.
Here Sweden does well. Its military attaches are all highly trained, often from the start of their careers, in Russian language and strategy, and know about snow on their boots. The Stockholm people believe in specialist economists, sensitive culturatists, and thorough political analysts. Despite their neutralism, they have a healthy scepticism of Russian aims, fostered by Soviet submarines in the western Baltic and bugs in their Moscow embassy. They also have useful contacts with some good Scandinavian journalists and tough, entrepreneurial businessmen.
The contest between specialist Swedes and numerous Americans is decided in the realm of entertainment. In Moscow this, too, is different. The Soviet Union is still monolithic enough to freeze out, socially, an embassy whose country is out of favour. After all, a Soviet citizen cannot even get through those embassy gates if the authorities do not want him to: the guards simply turn him away.
Yet contacts can be made, especially by embassies with handsome architecture, dinner table or ambassador. The French are probably still best at that, though the Italians and Dutch deserve honourable mentions. Too many Americans suffer from a sort of siege mentality, preferring their own embassy’s well-appointed canteen to the strain of trying to “make Russian friends”. Still, America being what it is, the leading lights of glasnost like to know its representatives. This keeps the residence alive-and earns the Americans our prize. https://vacuumlands.com/things-to-consider-when-buying-the-best-vacuum-for-hardwood-floors/