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I have to tell you that I love reading Vassar Bushmills’ essays in particular, essays about the roads traveled by Vassar and the people he met.along the way.  Enjoy.

Vassar Bushmills

The Russians and Democrats are not the same. I’ve actually known honorable Russians.

In 1991 I met a man from the USSR named Valentin Suchkov. I was working with a Ukrainian trading company in Cincinnati, headed by a man named Vechilev, from Kharkov. Mr Suchkov was leading a trade delegation from Gorkiy, a well-known “closed city” and the internal exile home of the Soviet refusenik, Andrei Sakharov, who had only died the year before in Moscow. Vechilev only told me that Mr Suchkov headed an oil and gas company in Russia and was using his firm to sign blank invoices for services rendered that would allow them to buy American gifts for family back home.

A short, stocky man, a little disheveled, we shook hands and gnarlier hands I’d never gripped. An engineer I guessed, those hands signified years of handling heavy drilling tools, not the typical executive type you’d expect to see in America. I gave him my card, which was called “Retrotechnology” at the time, and after it was read to him, he asked it meant. He spoke no English, so everything was translated by Vechilov. I explained that I helped developing economies acquire older, retired production processes in the US, where they would be a generation or two more advanced than what were currently used in various countries. I explained there were many opportunities in Asia, with which I was familiar, but there could also be many in the USSR now that Perestroika was in full swing.

He seemed interested, so we shook hands again, and he left to meet his delegation, no doubt for a raid on Home Depot. Next day Vechilov called to say Mr Suchkov would like to have dinner, and could I join him? I met them at the old Rookwood Pottery Restaurant (now closed I’m told) and we had a nice friendly meal over vodka, wine and fine beef. Mr Suchkov quizzed me about “biznez in Amerika”. We talked for maybe two hours.

Then we shook hands, and I drove back across the river, and he winged his way home to the USSR.

Later that year, 1991, one of the silent partners of the Ukrainian firm, a lawyer, offered me the opportunity to spend three months in Ukraine. I would be working with a “red biznez” private bank in Kharkov, (one of Gorbachev’s efforts at private investment) to make contacts for their trading company. A great opportunity, I closed my office and was in the USSR at a very historical time, from December 1991 thru March, 1992. I got to see the Hammer and Sickle taken down all over the empire, and heard them sing “Svoboda Ukraina” a thousand times in Ukraine. I was one of the few unattached private Americans in the USSR at that period of history. It was very heady and frightening for a lot, especially around Leningrad, Moscow and Odessa, where there were always stories of automatic gunfire. I first met Moses Sands there, (who gave me this non de plume) in the then-famous Moscow McDonalds, which began a long friendship until he died. I also had an old friend, a Russian linguist with the Defense Attache’s office, who would keep me up on the diplomatic corp’s worries about the pending breakup of the country.

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Check out books written by our friend Vassar Bushmills here on Amazon Kindle. Good reading and they’ll make great gifts. You won’t regret it.