Historically strained relations between the U.S. and Russian governments have come under a new spotlight in the last two years with the 2016 presidential election and the Trump presidency. Reports of alleged election hacking by the Russian government into the emails of U.S. citizens and political organizations, including the Democratic National Committee (DNC), surfaced in June 2016 in the midst of the presidential election.
Just a month later, in July 2016, the FBI opened an investigation into links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Many speculated that the two parties, working together to manipulate the election to a Trump victory, orchestrated the hacks during the election. In October 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement formally accusing Russia of interfering with the election. In retaliation to the hacks, just weeks before President Trump’s inauguration, President Obama imposed a new set of sanctions against Russia, expelling 35 Russian diplomats.
President Trump took office in January 2017 amid the ongoing investigations. The president’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign just 24 days after the inauguration for his failure to disclose a meeting with Sergey Kislyak, a Russian ambassador. Shortly after, President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, presumably over the FBI investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. Comey later testified before Congress that President Trump pressured him to drop the allegations against Michael Flynn, which President Trump has since denied.
Currently, the Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller has resulted in charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for meddling in the 2016 election. On April 20, the DNC filed a lawsuit against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization over an alleged conspiracy to hack into DNC computer networks and spread stolen material that influenced the election. Meanwhile, new revelations involving the Russia probe remain central to national media coverage of politics and of U.S.-Russia relations. A narrative of Russian conspiracy has unfolded, inviting American perception of Russia as the enemy and Putin as a cold, calculated mastermind.
To investigate how media coverage and current events influence our perception of Russia and its citizens—and how these perceptions compare to those of our Russian counterparts—The Vanguard interviewed a variety of community members and the school’s Russian exchange students and teachers, who arrived on campus last week and will return to Moscow tomorrow after a 10-day stay. We hope to gain a more nuanced understanding of Russia from other high school students to complement the single-sided perspective we see in American media.
The Vanguard interviewed US students who do not take Russian and have no affiliation with Russia to see how American media has influenced their perceptions on Russian current events.
What do you think of the U.S. media’s portrayal of Russia?
“I don’t really know how much evidence there is suggesting that they did have something to do with the election, but paying for ads on Facebook isn’t technically illegal. They’re influencing views, and we can be mad at them for that, but they’re perfectly in their right to do that… We all assume the worst, but I would like to be an optimist about it.” —Abigail Rabieh ’21
“There are a lot of questionable things that happen [in Russia] with gay rights, their attacks on the election, doping scandals at the Olympics, and attacks in Britain on former agents, so I don’t think they’re a friendly country.” —Harry Golen ’19
“I think the portrayal of Vladimir Putin in the media is accurate… However, the media paints the Russian people as somehow complicit in his power moves. While they may support Vladimir Putin, they don’t have much of a choice.”—Jayanth Uppaluri ’20
From Russia with Love
This year’s Russian exchange with 12 students from Moscow School 1232 marks the 30th anniversary of what began as a “friendship program” between the United States and the Soviet Union. The program was initiated in 1988 under General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev and United States President Ronald Reagan, Moscow School 1232 English Teacher Anna Pavlova said.
Ms. Pavlova added that she believes the exchange is necessary to maintain peace between Russia and the United States, and she hopes the program continues.
“Children are our future generation, and they must keep the peace between the countries; they must be friendly and very polite to the nations, and we must not quarrel, and we must think only about peaceful cooperation between nations,” she said.
To complete the exchange, 10 students taking Russian at the Upper School—Isabelle Baily, Harriet Ferridge, Lana Tilke, Harrison Druker, Nicholas Vanasse (all ’19), Aaron Rasin, Elizabeth Savage, Julie Klingenstein, Jackson Ward, Ryan Loughran (all ’20)—will travel to Moscow and live with students from the host school from June 10 to 22.
The Vanguard spoke with the Russian exchange students currently visiting about their views on the the two countries and their media.
How would you compare Russian and U.S. news media?
American media is more free and has a lot of different kinds, which is good. Then people can choose what they want to watch or believe. —Georgii
What do you wish U.S. students knew about Russian students?
Our history [in the] middle of twentieth century—World War Two [and] the space situation in the ’60s. —Yegor
They think we have bears on the street, but we don’t. It’s a really great country, very modern. You should come and visit sometime. —Masha
How is the U.S. talked about in Russia?
There is not information in Russian mass media that we hate America [or] that we hate its politics—it doesn’t exist. Most people understand and like America because they know that politics and people, [they are] different things. —Suzanna
I think the situation between our countries is very bad. There are a lot of Russian media that punish Americans and all their people. They tell that America is a bad country. I don’t really want another Cold War between us because the political situation doesn’t matter. The main thing [is it’s] very important to communicate between Russians and Americans. —Alex
What do you think of Russia’s portrayal by the U.S. media?
I don’t think they really like us. —Masha
I don’t know what to say because situations are really hard between these countries. [For example,] Syria right now. —Yegor
Do you have any strong feelings about president Trump?
I don’t think he matters so much because I like American people, and politics is in second place. —Suzanna
I like that he is a president because he is a businessman; he is clever. He knows how to rule the country, it seems to me, and besides that, I believe his helpers will help him…He is old enough, and he is wise. —English Teacher Anna Pavlova
At school, we are teachers. Our pupils must learn the necessary political knowledge… but we are not politicians. We would like to live in peace, to keep school separate from politics. —English Teacher Anna Pavlova
My friends love [the U.S.]. I think they want to move here someday. —Masha
I like the atmosphere of the United States, and especially I like the people. I’ve noticed a lot of differences. You have another culture, you have another architecture and another character of people. —Alex