Should I Visit Russia in 2015?

The Hermitage seen from Palace Square in Saint Petersburg, Russia
The Hermitage seen from Palace Square in Saint Petersburg, Russia. © Lew Deitch

Many people who had planned a Baltic Sea cruise for this summer are now reconsidering and asking, “Is it right to spend some of my money in Russia?” The question is in response to the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russian rebel forces that are believed to have the military backing of the Russian government. Western powers have placed strong economic sanctions against sectors of the Russian economy in hopes of persuading President Putin to withdraw his support for the rebels. Many people living in the West now feel that it would be disloyal to their governments if they were to visit Saint Petersburg as part of a Baltic Sea cruise, as this adds income to the Russian economy.

I take a different view on the issue of whether or not to cruise the Baltic Sea this year. There are many aspects of the long and often painful relationship between Russia and the Ukraine that are not discussed by Western media. This is not to say that war is the answer to solving the long-standing difficulties.

  • In 1654, Ukraine sought union with Russia to protect their land against Poland
  • In 1783, Russia took the Crimean Peninsula
  • During the 18th century many Russians settled in eastern Ukraine
  • In 1921, Ukraine became a Soviet State after the Russian Revolution
  • In the 1950’s Soviet Premier Khrushchev gave Crimea to the Ukraine
  • In 1991, the Soviet Union broke apart and both Russia and Ukraine separated, but Russians felt that Crimea belonged to them

The long history of Ukraine being a part of the Russian Empire and later Soviet Union has encouraged the Russian majority to think of the territory as a part of their nation. Russians feel the move by Ukraine toward stronger ties with the West as a threat to their national interests.

Cruising the Baltic Sea is a great personal experience. All of the countries you visit are rich in history, architecture and cultural traditions. And Saint Petersburg is the jewel in the crown of such a cruise.

  • Why deny yourself the pleasure of fulfilling a wish to see this part of the world and especially to visiting the elegant city of Saint Petersburg?
  • Why punish the people of Saint Petersburg by hurting their local economic base that is so dependent upon tourism?
  • The people of Saint Petersburg have no animosity toward us, and they welcome us as visitors.
  • Will a tourist boycott of one innocent city cause the Russian government to change its views regarding Ukraine?
  • By cancelling a booking or deciding against a Baltic Sea cruise you also hurt the economies of Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden, as summer tourism is a vital part of their livelihood.

The politics of the relationship between Ukraine and Russia must be worked out by the leadership of the two nations involved and with the backing of their citizens. The roots of the conflict are centuries old and we cannot begin to understand the depth of feelings held on both sides. So take that Baltic Sea cruise and enjoy each and every port, leaving the political decisions to world leaders.

Submitted by, Dr. Lew Deitch

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  • Ralph…I’m a bit surprised that you chose to publish Dr. Deitch’s
    article about the Ukraine in The Avid Cruiser. His article is a political
    commentary and sides strongly with one party in the debate. His comments
    surmises, and not very delicately, that Ukraine deserves what is happening to
    them. I think that many people, would disagree especially in the wake of
    Russia’s blatant deception and recent lies about non-support for the
    pro-separatist rebels. If Russia eventually attempts to reclaim the Baltic
    States, I’m quite sure that Dr. Deitch’s opinion will be much that same as it
    was about the Ukraine as the Baltics have a long history of being dominated by
    the Russian Empire, but is it also not plausible that countries should have the
    right to seek their autonomy, especially from governments that oppress not only
    their neighbors, but also their own internal minorities. However…that too is an
    opinion, neither of which, I believe, belongs in your highly respected online
    publication about very non-political topics…travel and cruises.

    I agree with you that travelers should not shun St. Petersburg,
    and that they should experience modern Russia, good or bad. However,
    basing support for travel to Russia on one man’s, possibly misguided opinion,
    may have upset some readers of The Avid Cruiser.

    I respect what you do for our industry and I look forward to learning so
    much more from you about ships, destinations and cruise life!

    • Thanks for sharing your point of view Casey. You’re not the first who has written me about the topic today. This is the kind of conversation that folks might have at the dinner table on a cruise, but then, as you point out, maybe there are better things to discuss, the joy of travel, for example.

      It is interesting that in Russia on Silver Discoverer this past autumn, our Russian guide shared viewpoints that also might offend others. He did win around of applause from an American audience in showing his support of Putin to make a stronger Russia. I listened but wasn’t among those who applauded. It is a complex world, especially over there it seems.

    • Casey _ Sorry you felt I was supporting Russia. I am Ukrainian-American. My father and his six brothers emigrated from Ukraine. No I do not support Russia. But I also do not favor people boycotting Russian travel, as that serves no purpose. And if people cancel Baltic Sea cruises, they hurt all the other countries who depend upon summer tourist income. With regard to what is happening in Ukraine, the history runs very deep. Ukraine joined Russia voluntarily in the 17th century, but then was never able to reclaim its independence. Both the Tsars and later Communists kept it part of the greater whole until 1991. But there are several hundred thousand Russians living in eastern Ukraine who decided to rebel because they want closer ties to Russia. Naturally Russia saw an opportunity to exploit the situation. This is a conflict over 300 years in the making. We need to understand both sides, not that I favor what Russia is doing militarily. I am sorry you saw my attempt at explaining the situation as being biased toward Russia. And by the way, the Baltic States were blatantly forced into Russia by the Tsars, and then again by Stalin. I would NEVER support any Russian action against them. I doubt if Russia would try any move against the Baltic.

  • I am disappointed that you published an apologist’s message justifying travel to Russia. Today, Russia is a nation that does not recognize the rule of law, supports terrorist that shot down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine sovereign territory and continues to threaten the peace and stability of Eastern Europe. It is no wonder that former Warsaw Pact nations are seeking entrance to NATO given Russia’s bellicose treats to “protect Russian speaking people”.

    While I believe that travel embargoes are usually wrong headed ( that is why the U.S. has not employed an embargo against Russia), the explain action given by an uninformed professor regarding the death, destruction and strong arming by Russia on not only Ukraine but other nations with Russian speaking peoples is pathetic. If you wish to justify cruising to the Baltic and Russia, do not base it on incomplete and flawed political and historical information. Further, you neglected to state that Russian guaranteed Ukraine’s independence and security when Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons in 1991.

    Further, I find it interesting that most cruise lines have stopped ports of call in the Crimea. So why are you not advocating cruising to the Crimea. Quite frankly, the Crimea is a very beautiful part of the Black Sea. It has lovely sand and stone beaches, beautiful churches and even wld horses grazing alone the roads.

    Walter Raheb

    Leesburg, Va

    • Walter – I am the son of a Ukrainian father and I have been raised with the culture of Ukraine as a part of me. But I am also a professor of geography and history and I believe in looking at fact in a non emotional manner. I do not support Russian military action, but I do understand what is motivating Russia to behave as it is. My post was intended to bring to light the three century old conflict between Ukraine and Russia. The Ukraine sought refuge under Russian protection from Poland in the mid 1600’s. They then found themselves trapped. After the Revolution of 1917, Ukraine was forced to remain as a Soviet state. So in 1991, they had their chance to break free. But unfortunately there are several hundred thousand Russians living in eastern Ukraine who have not been happy about the break. When Ukraine started to look westward, a rebellion began and Russia unfortunately supported it. I do not approve of their actions. But at the same time I am not in favor of travelers boycotting Saint Petersburg. If too many people cancel their Baltic cruises, as many are doing, it will hurt the other Baltic countries as well as Russia. And people deny themselves the pleasures of exploring a great destination. What is needed is more pressure to be brought to convince Russia that it has an obligation to honor its 1991 commitments. At the same time, the Ukrainian government needs to attempt to get the rebels to accept some compromise of internal autonomy in their region, but still remain a part of Ukraine. By the way, I am not an uninformed professor. I have dedicated my whole career to specializing in Eastern Europe. As for why cruise lines cancelled their Crimean ports of call, here we have a territory that is still unstable. No nation recognizes Crimea as a part of Russia, so to have cruise ships stop there would be accepting Russian rule. Crimea is under Russian control and the cruise lines would have to deal with Russian companies, laws and regulations when the governments of the countries the cruise lines represent do not accept Crimea as Russian. The Baltic region has no such situation.


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