Log in
updated 2:54 PM UTC, Jul 28, 2018

FlynnsHarp logo 042016

Aggression in Ukraine ends 30-year ties between Washington State and Russia

Ukraine_Flag
Watching Russia in a warlike and aggressor role in its unprovoked war on Ukraine has likely brought a mix of sadness and regret for those who recall the time in 1994 that Boris Yeltsin, first president of the Russian Federation, stood before a Seattle luncheon audience of 800 that included ambassadors from many nations and shared his vision of a special relationship between this state and his nation’s Far East.

The unlikely but real relationship between a state and one of the world’s most powerful nations that began to develop more than 30 years ago and reached a high point in the ‘90s came to a sad but necessary end last week as both the state of Washington and the non-profit Council for US-Russia Relations ended ties with Russia because of its military aggression against Ukraine.

carol vipermanCarol Viperman - Founder, Foundation for Russian-American Economic CooperationGov. Jay Inslee last week ordered state agencies to cut ties with Russian institutions and the Council for US-Russia Relations condemned the “military aggression by the Russian Federation against the Ukrainian sovereign nation and people,” adding ‘We call for the earliest cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of Russian Federation forces from Ukraine.”

Derek Norberg, President and Founder of the Council of U.S.-Russia Relations, and Executive Director of its subsidiary Russian American Pacific Partnership (RAPP) said in advising me of the council’s action last week: “We are unable to continue, given the current situation.”

Although there was a trio of important events in that special relationship, mainly an economic one, for Washington State and the Russian Federation, the relationship was guided over two decades mainly by the Seattle-based Foundation for Russian-American Economic Cooperation and its founder and president, Carol Vipperman.

The first of those special events was the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle, which were never envisioned to be held in Seattle when media mogul Ted Turner, troubled by the political boycotts of the Olympics by the U.S, in 1980 and by the U.S.S.R. in 1984, decided to sponsor an international sporting event. The first games were held in Moscow in 1986 with the second destined for the U.S. four years later.
 
Even before the Moscow games opened, sports promoter Bob Walsh created the Seattle Organizing Committee to bring the games to Seattle. On June 19, 1986, the Committee won the bid from Turner for the 1990 games, outdoing five other cities that had hoped to be selected, and Walsh began putting together a $180 million production.

Seattle hosted those second Goodwill Games in July and August of 1990. Thousands of athletes from nearly a hundred countries competed at local venues, including the UW, the Tacoma Dome, and Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center that was built for the games. By then the U.S.S.R., was mid-way through its three-year dissolution that resulted in the emergence of 15 independent republics, including Russia.

The Games’ keynote address, a very brief welcome, came from Ronald Reagan, who had finished his second term just 18 months earlier. The Cold War was then almost over with what President Reagan had once described as “the Evil Empire” on the brink of collapse.

It was actually the year prior to the Goodwill games that Vipperman, a Seattle marketing consultant, was invited to join a U.S. group invited to go to Moscow and Leningrad to look in on newly formed cooperatives designed to pursue U.S. business approaches. She returned and launched the Foundation.

 
Derek NorbergDerek Norberg - Founder, President Council of US-Russia Relations“Remember April of 1989,” Vipperman replied when I asked her what her expectations were informing the foundation. “It would be seven months before the wall fell. We felt if we could do business together we’d be less likely to go to war.”

Derek Norberg, founder, President Council of US-Russia Relations
 
And so for the next 22 years, FRAEC would be a leader in the quest to build economic ties between the two nations.

Ralph Munro, then-Secretary of State, actually went to Russia on a people-to-people mission in 1983, a time when the tensions in the relationship between our two countries were at a peak.

“The Russians thought we were going to wipe them out,” Munro recalled. “All they seemed to want to talk about with an American was how we were going to kill them. Then I ran across people who thought there was hope.”

Then a year following the Games, as business relationships were being pursued both in the Russian Far East mainland and on Sakhalin Island, Alaska Airlines decided to commence summer service to the port town of Magadan, and Khabarovsk, the largest city in the Far East. Alaska eventually extended its service to five cities in the rugged Far East of Russia.

It's worth noting that Seattle is 500 air miles closer to Magadon than Moscow is. Vipperman said, “The Alaska flights were meaningful to both sides.”

Munro recalled taking eight to 10 trips to the Russian Far East, including one on which he “took the first boxes of Washington State Pears to that region and they went crazy for them.”

In 1992 the new Russian Republic opened its first consulate office in the U.S. in Seattle, with what was described as “jubilation.” Chicago, with a large Russian population, had expected to be selected, but it was Seattle.

“We got the consulate, and they gave us a consul general, Georgiy Vlasken, a visionary guy who wanted to make things happen,” Munro said.

Vipperman recalled that Vlaskin was “a vegan vegetarian and never drank,” which brought back an amusing memory of my encounter with him when Vlaskin invited me and three of my editorial people to come to his Capitol Hill home for a get-acquainted lunch.

As the four of us sat down, Vlaskin poured a vodka for each of us and offered a toast. As he drank down his vodka, I did the same. Then he poured another and drank it down, so I did as well.

It was a day on which I had to drive to the airport for an afternoon flight to Spokane so I was a bit edgy when he poured a third vodka for both of us and drank his down. I carefully downed mine and told him that was all for me.

When I later related the incident to Vipperman, she laughed and informed me he always had water in his vodka glasses.

Washington State’s relationship soon grew to include most West Coast states and several in other parts of the country.

“The vision was originally for Washington State and we led states by a long way in trade and commerce,’ Norberg of the Council of U.S. Russia Relations told me. “And we had the only operating joint U.S.-Soviet joint venture company, Marine Resources Co. International,” a company with which Norberg held a variety of management positions in the 1990s.In the late 1980s, Norberg worked on Soviet fishing joint-ventures in U.S. waters off Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

Ralph MunroRalph Munro - Former Secretary of StateNorberg’s Russian-American Pacific Partnership held its 26th annual meeting last July, a bilateral gathering that attracted 90 participants from both Washington, D.C., and Moscow as well as representatives from seven states and seven eastern Russian regions. Among presentations was one by John Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation, who said there are now some 1,100 U.S. companies operating in Russia.

Sullivan noted that “during times when our two governments do not see eye to eye on many issues, annual meetings like RAPP assume even greater importance. Such meetings between businesspeople, entrepreneurs, academics, and students, and regional and civic leaders serve to explore the many avenues for potential cooperation and provide ballast when the bilateral relationship is strained.”

Then came the Ukraine invasion. And that has left little but reflection.

“We have no interest in having anything to do with Russia now,” said Norberg. “I don’t think there’s going to be much return to anything normal. There’s no path for Russia to return, except without Putin.”

Alaska Airlines’ service to the Russian Far East was driven by both the pursuit of a business opportunity as well as our interest in building cultural ties between regions of the Far North,” said Joe Sprague, president of Horizon Air who was Alaska’s senior vice president for external relations when I did a column a few years ago recalling the Russian Far East service.

Alaska had to discontinue the connection in 1998 when the Russian economy collapsed. In an email to me for this column, Sprague said: “Regrettably, the business opportunity did not fully materialize and there were significant logistical challenges. It’s unfortunate because, as we see today, those bridges of understanding are more important than ever.”

Alaska’s innovative outreach to the Russian Far East actually went back almost two decades earlier, in the early ‘70s, when the Seattle-based carrier began charter service to the Soviet Union’s Siberia as a result of what has been described as “secret negotiations” between the airline and Soviet Authorities.

When the U.S. Department of State learned of the deal, it decided not to block the plan, indicating it didn’t want to create a negative response from the Soviet Union. It might also be assumed the agency wanted to avoid a negative response from Washington State’s two U.S. senators, Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson, then among the Senate’s most powerful members.

Joe Sprague - Horizon Air PresidentJoe Sprague - Horizon Air PresidentI have my own Russian memories since part of the Goodwill Games involved conferences and hosting Russians. Thus as the publisher of the Business Journal, I agreed to host a journalist. So Mikail (Misha) Bonderenko, a 39-year-old journalist who was actually the president of the young journalists of Europe, became not only part of the PSBJ staff for a couple of weeks, but also my family’s house guest.

Through him my wife and three kids had the unique experience of learning first hand about Russia and Russians since later Misha asked me if we would host his wife and 9-year-old daughter, Masha, and Dasha, who lived with us for a time as we introduced to the growing Russian community in the Seattle area.

Meanwhile, Misha and I created a Russian newsletter with the intent of keeping interested business people informed of developments in Russia.. But we couldn’t generate enough newsletter sales to keep him interested, in part because he had a career to build and I lost track of him.

Vipperman recalled for me winding down her organization in 2011 because funding, primarily from government sources, was winding down as relations between the two nations were deteriorating.

She recalled, “getting the most touching emails from people all over the world” when word of FRAEC’s closing spread.

But she said she remained hopeful about the future until returning from a photo workshop on Mt. Rainier “I turned the radio and the top item on the newscast was that Putin was going to run for president again in 2012.”

"I was glad no one was around to hear the four-letter words that spewed out," she chuckled.
 
Continue reading
  467 Hits
  0 Comments
467 Hits
0 Comments

National Women's History Month: recalling women reporters in Viet Nam

kwebb_auspost_stamp

It seems appropriate for National Women’s History Month to reflect on a group of women who have never gotten their due, even though they eagerly went where all but the bravest men feared to tread?

I’m referring, of course, to the Vietnam War and the group of brave women reporters who decided this was their war too, in fact, their first war, and that they were going to a place where shared peril would be the equalizing factor.

In fact, Dickey Chapelle, a writer for the National Observer, became the first female war correspondent to be killed in Vietnam, as well as the first American female reporter to be killed in action.

That was on November 4, 1965, mere months after the first wave of U.S. forces had arrived in Vietnam when she was struck in the neck by shrapnel from an exploding land mine while on patrol with a marine platoon.Tracy WoodTracy Wood

A handful of those women journalists of that era were fortunate to work for a news organization, United Press International, whose top management recognized that talent and competitiveness were all that mattered. If women reporters could fight to be the best in UPI’s on-going battle with the AP for journalistic preeminence, why should they be denied the opportunity?

But sometimes the women needed to evidence a bit more ingenuity to get the Vietnam assignment.

So it was with my late friend Tracy Wood, who was a reporter in UPI’s Sacramento bureau in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s while I was running UPI’s Olympia bureau. So we knew each other’s names though we didn’t meet and become friends until a decade ago.

As Tracy once explained to me, "Of the more than 2,200 journalists who were accredited by the U.S. military to cover Vietnam between 1965 and 1975, only 70 of them were women and most of those went in only for a short time to cover specific stories, such as someone from their town."

"It was hard for women to cover the Vietnam War," said Wood, who was an investigative reporter for Voice of Orange County at the time of her death from cancer in late 2019, after years in the investigative reporter role with the LA Times.

"The military would give you credentials, but the leaders of the top news organizations were opposed to sending women reporters to cover combat. Magazines would use women reporters, but not the wires or big news organizations like The NY Times or WA Post."

Wood didn't get to Vietnam until 1972 when she was 24 and it took careful planning for a young woman who was a political writer for UPI in Sacramento to get to the New York bureau where her lobbying would be closer to the decision-makers.

Her immediate boss on the UPI cables desk didn't think a woman should cover wars. But Wood had the good fortune to work for UPI, whose top editors Roger Tatarian and H. L. Stevenson believed in the ability of women to report just as well as men, and dispatched several high-visibility female correspondents to the war zone. So it was soon Wood's turn.

One of the best-known correspondents of that war, male or female, was Kate Webb, a New Zealand-born Australian who began as a freelancer in Vietnam at 24 and so, as Wood explained to me of Webb, “her credentials were so strong UPI couldn't fail to hire her."
 
Kate WebbKate WebbThat was in 1967 when she was 25. Webb quickly proved her mettle, becoming the first wire service reporter at the U.S. Embassy on the morning the Tet offensive was launched in January 1968.

That spring she survived an American rocket attack on a Saigon military building that killed everyone around her, including the South Vietnamese police chief. She brushed herself off, ran back into the rubble to aid the wounded, then wrote a stirring account of the incident.

And Kate made news herself when in 1971 she was captured by North Vietnamese troops operating in Cambodia. Premature official reports that a body discovered was Webb's prompted a New York Times obituary, but she emerged from captivity 23 days after she was captured, having endured forced marches, interrogations, and malaria.  Of Wood’s getting to Vietnam, she explained to me: "I had to go over my boss' head to get sent to Vietnam and, once there, covered combat only after colleagues quietly showed me what I needed to do.”
 
Wood played a significant role involving coverage of the first public release of prisoners of war.  "I was able to cover the end of combat and was the only U.S. reporter to cover the first public release of the POWs from Hanoi," Wood recalled for me for one of my columns on her.

Perhaps it took a woman to figure out the quickest way to get approval to go to Hanoi at a time when every news agency and reporter was trying to figure out a way to get there. She merely sent a request to the North Vietnam government asking permission.
 
"Later, I was able to negotiate with the North Vietnamese for UPI to lease a plane and bring in about 30 reporters, photographers, and TV crews to cover the final POW release." Those POWs included John McCain.
 
Both Webb, who died of cancer in 2007, and Wood have chapters in "War Torn, Stories of War From the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam." It's a book whose contents are touted as "nine women who made journalism history talk candidly about their profession in deeply personal experiences as young reporters who lived, worked and loved surrounded by war."

A year after her death, Australia issued a postage stamp to commemorate Webb.  In reflecting on the conversations with Wood, and recalling the book in which both she and Webb had chapters of their recollections, it occurred to me they would have provided an interesting segment of Ken Burns’ Viet Nam documentary. Too bad.

When I asked my friend and one-time UPI colleague, Joe Galloway, one of the most respected Vietnam correspondents over his several tours there for UPI, about the women reporters, he summed it up thusly:

“Met and worked with Tracy Wood on my subsequent tours in Vietnam. Worked closely with Kate Webb and Betsy Halstead. Also knew Francis FitzGerald and Cathy Leroy,” Joe said.

“I had the greatest respect for the women who came to cover the war. They had different eyes and covered different stories...and that broadened everyone’s coverage of the war,” Galloway added.

“The ones I knew were fearless in combat and determined to get the story. I raise my Stetson in salute "
Continue reading
  1364 Hits
  0 Comments
1364 Hits
0 Comments

52°F

Seattle

Mostly Cloudy

Humidity: 63%

Wind: 14 mph

  • 24 Mar 2016 52°F 42°F
  • 25 Mar 2016 54°F 40°F
Banner 468 x 60 px