By Leonard Novarro
Last weekend I reconnected with my Polish half. In doing so, I have a few words of advice for President-elect Trump: Don’t trust the Russians.
As I listened to the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin’s stirring “Polonaise,” I understood the resolve of Dziadek, my grandfather, to escape the Russian domination and occupation of his homeland in the late 19th century, just as Chopin had done before him. But unlike Chopin, who turned to Paris to nurture his genius, my grandfather, Stanley Kupidlowski, was not as fortunate. Impressed into the Russian navy, he jumped ship in New York harbor, only to be returned to occupied Poland as an illegal immigrant.
Eventually, he made it legally to America, where he raised six children, including my mother, after his wife died in childbirth. Two of his sons, my uncles, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, one in the Atlantic and the other in the Pacific, and Dziadek died an American citizen, never losing his faith in America — and never trusting Russia.
There are many similarities between Russians and Poles. Both are Slavic in origin, their languages close and cultural practices almost identical. But the enmity that separates them goes back a thousand years when eastern and western Slavs, Russians and Poles, respectively, split over religious differences. While Poles remained Catholic, Russia became Eastern Orthodox.
Russia has played a role in every major international historical event since then, including the Napoleonic wars, World Wars I and II, and the Cold War, as well as the partition and occupation of Poland, beginning in the late 1700s, and again after the defeat of Germany in 1945. Tensions between Poland and Russia have mounted since the annexation of the Crimea and Russia’s aggressive posturing against neighboring Ukraine. And now Russia is being blamed by U.S. intelligence agencies for hacking into the Democratic National Committee, as well as other American institutions, and possibly influencing the outcome of the Presidential election. More information is coming out daily.
The amazing reaction of the soon-to-be President is to mock in disbelief the same intelligence agencies who will soon be advising him and instead accept Russian president Vladimir Putin’s interpretation that it’s all a lot of nonsense. While our own intelligence officials are calling these cyber attacks a “major threat,” and while most political leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, view Putin with mistrust, Mr. Trump’s notion is that such claims are exaggerated, while at the same time flattering the Russian president and hailing him as a great leader.
President-elect Trump has also picked for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a man outwardly favorable to Russia, who has built strong ties in his past role as ExxonMobil CEO. In 2013, Tillerson was even awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship by Putin himself. The Washington Post has said that Trump’s position toward Russia can only be “a different view, informed in part through his business ambitions…Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.”
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, organized crime exploded in Russia and eventually found its way to Europe and even Asia. In the early part of this century, it also exploded in parts of Brooklyn, where gangsters pushed out many of the old organized crime groups which had at least kept most murders among themselves. Not so the Russians, whom the FBI called among the most vicious crime elements ever. Organized crime experts concur that thousands of these gangs still operate in and out of Russia and are more and more involved in cyber activity than most other countries, with the possible exception of China. Louis Freeh, director of the FBI in the 1990s, said then that the so-called Russian mafia posed the greatest threat to U.S. national security.
So, Mr. Trump, if you want to be seen by your constituency as tough, you need to explain why you’re not giving one communist country — China– a pass on trade, while giving another formerly communist country– Russia — a pass on secrets.
Leonard Novarro is co-founder of Asia Media America and the Asian Heritage Society.