Why I am Going to Russia

June 15, 2016

by David Hartsough – Trip Member


The US and Russian governments are pursuing dangerous policies of nuclear brinkmanship. Many people believe we are closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuba missile crisis in 1962.

Thirty-one thousand troops from the US and NATO countries are engaged in military maneuvers o­n the Russian border in Poland – together with tanks, military planes and missiles. The US has just activated an anti-ballistic missile site in Romania which the Russians see as part of an American first strike policy. Now the US can fire missiles with nuclear weapons at Russia, and then the anti-ballistic missiles could shoot down Russian missiles shot toward the west in response, the assumption being o­nly the Russians would suffer from nuclear war.

A former NATO general has said he believes there will be nuclear war in Europe within a year. Russia is also threatening use of its missiles and nuclear weapons o­n Europe and the US if attacked.

Back in 1962 when I met with President John Kennedy in the White House, he told us he had been reading The Guns of August describing how everyone was arming to the teeth to show the “other nations” they were strong and avoid getting embroiled in World War I. But, JFK continued, arming to the teeth was exactly what did provoke the “other side” and got everyone embroiled in that terrible war. JFK said to us in May 1962, “It is scary how similar the situation was in 1914 to what it is now” (1962). I’m afraid we are back in the same place again in 2016. Both US and NATO and Russia are arming and engaging in military maneuvers o­n either side of Russia’s borders – in the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Ukraine and the Baltic sea to show the “other” that they are not weak in the face of possible aggression. But those military activities and threats are provoking the “other side” to show they are not weak and are prepared for war – even nuclear war.


Instead of nuclear brinkmanship, lets put ourselves in the Russians’ shoes. What if Russia had military alliances with Canada and Mexico and had military troops, tanks, war planes, missiles and nuclear weapons o­n our borders? Would we not see that as very aggressive behavior and a very dangerous threat to the security of the United States? Our o­nly real security is a “shared security” for all of us – not for some of us at the expense of the security for “the other”.


Instead of sending military troops to the borders of Russia, let’s send lots more citizen diplomacy delegations like ours to Russia to get to know the Russian people and learn that we are all o­ne human family. We can build peace and understanding between our peoples.


President Dwight Eisenhower o­nce said, “I’d like to believe that the people of the world want peace so much that governments should get out of the way and let them have it.” The American people, Russian people, European people – all the world’s people – have nothing to gain and everything to lose by war, especially nuclear war. I hope that millions of us will call o­n our governments to step back from the brink of nuclear war and instead, make peace by peaceful means instead of making threats of war.


If the US and other countries were to devote even half of the money we spend o­n wars and preparations for wars and modernizing our nuclear weapons stockpile, we could create a much better life not o­nly for every American, but for every person o­n our beautiful planet and make the transition to a renewable energy world. If the US were helping every person in the world have a better education, decent housing and health care, this could be the best investment in security – not just for Americans, but for all people in the world we could ever imagine.



David Hartsough
is the Author of Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist (2014); Director of Peaceworkers; Co-founder of the Nonviolent Peaceforce and World Beyond War; and participant in a Citizens Diplomacy delegation to Russia June 15-30 sponsored by the Center for Citizen Initiatives: seeccisf.orgfor reports from the delegation and more background information.




Vision and Mission


Our world has never faced a more challenging era than today. Massive nuclear arsenals are o­nce again pointed between the United States and Russia. Misunderstandings, fallacious accusations, false flags and demonizing propaganda dominate our print media and television screens.



At CCI, we experienced o­ne other such dangerous period in 1980. We flew in between the two enemy nations and dared to try to understand the challenges o­n both sides…. our citizen-to-citizen programs began to soften the environment between the two Superpowers of that era. Other American groups also got involved. War was averted and good relations began to grow in the 1990s.


Our vision is ….When real people in large numbers get involved, amazing changes begin to happen! If it happened in the 1980s, it can happen again …. Join us! Let’s help reduce the tensions existing today between the two Superpowers.

CCI’s mission is to immediately begin a series of Citizen-to-Citizen initiatives and exchanges, buttressed by official media PR and social media networks across America and across Russia. We will bring the two peoples together, including those in leadership to listen and learn and hammer out ways to cooperate rather than plot war against the other.

Our experience from the 1980s taught us much about working with the type of environment we now face. Fortunately, our very large US government-supported programs of the 1990s and 2000s left us with thousands of grateful Russian peoples in 71 regions across Russia, and in thousands of cities in 45 states across America. They will be called into service to carry our 2016/17 mission.


The Center for Citizen Initiatives (CCI) began its life in 1983 with the hope that ordinary Americans could insert themselves into the nuclear arms race and bring about a constructive relationship with the Soviet Union. Despite receiving feedback that it was a naive and impossible idea–as well as attention and concern from the FBI, CIA and KGB–twenty American travelers and a film crew of four landed in Moscow and began a set of experiences that would change them forever.

After returning home, the trip participants began speaking at every possible venue. CCI formalized itself as a non-profit with a mission of using citizen diplomacy to improve relations between the two nuclear Superpowers. Additional CCI trips brought more Americans to the land of the enemy, where “we found no enemy at home.”

In 1984, a full-blown CCI travel program became a reality with Americans visiting not o­nly Russia, but the exotic Soviet republics. Each traveler was expected to develop new Soviet contacts wherever they found themselves. Thus, an extensive database of Soviet and American participants was developed.

Programmatic work began organically from our intention to develop tens of thousands of human connections between the cold-warring countries. We began learning what Soviet citizens needed in the 1980s. Alcohol-related issues were rampant. Thanks in part to support from the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, CCI began bringing delegations of American AAs to Soviet cities, leading to AA being planted across 11 time zones.

We assisted young irate Soviet environmentalists in their effort to clean up nuclear weapon sites. We also responded to Soviet citizen requests for help with agriculture and the cleanup of the precious Lake Baikal basin.

In 1989 a critical moment came when three young men appeared with the request for a program to teach them the fundamentals of creating small businesses. Soon CCI’s attention was focused o­n how to train Russia’s young entrepreneurs to grow the first businesses in Soviet soil. The results were astounding. CCI developed and ran five different business training programs between 1989 and 2009 for some 6500 Russian entrepreneurs who were hosted pro bono by American civic clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis, etc.) in over 500 American cities in 45 states. Thousands of American companies stepped in and provided training.

By 2010 most of our funding had evaporated. We gave up our headquarters in San Francisco. All that remained was our orphanage program: Angels for Angels. Conditions for Russian citizens were steadily improving, and relations between Russia and the U.S appeared to be stable. CCI president Sharon Tennison wrote her book about the history of the organization, and we assumed our work was through.

But unfortunately, over the last two years relations between the two nuclear Superpowers have deteriorated badly. As 2016 opens we find ourselves again facing the possibility of an unthinkable nuclear conflict. o­nce again it’s time for citizen diplomats from both countries to step in and help guide us back from the precipice at which we’ve arrived.

We begin our new mission armed with the knowledge that our original efforts in 1983 produced magic and miracles beyond anything we could have imagined––and with the belief that 99% of Americans and Russians genuinely yearn for good relations between our two nations. There is no problem between the peoples of our countries.

We o­nly need to overcome our distrust and fears, and rebuild the proper relationships to guarantee security for both nations.


The Power of Impossible Ideas