Steamboat Springs As our delegation pulled out of St. Petersburg/Leningrad in late July, 1991, we glanced off at the ships on the Neva river with sailors of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet standing at attention. It was prescient, though we surely didn't know it at the time.
At breakfast the following day in Riga, Latvia, we prepared to meet with their Supreme Soviet. The Kremlin had only recently ordered a mini-invasion of Latvia and Lithuania, killing seven in Riga and 13 in Vilnius while taking over their radio and TV stations. Was this only a rehearsal?
Suddenly, one of our hosts exploded at our good-natured banter. "Oh, yes, you can sit here, laugh and talk without consequence while YOUR PRESIDENT is over in Kiev exhorting the Ukrainian people to 'Stay with your president' as his friend Gorbachev is sending his black berets to Lithuania to kill their border guards!"
We were stunned. Yet he had just informed us of what would later be termed the Chicken Kiev speech of George H.W. Bush. Less well known was the concurrent Gorbachev action giving the order to murder gangland-style the hapless eight border guards symbolizing the attempt to establish Lithuania as an independent nation. The following day, silence reigned as we drove past the burned-out shack where the Soviets had done their vicious work. Talk mainly concentrated on what our group could do to assist if a major invasion materialized.
Approaching the presidential palace of President Landsbergis in Vilnius, Lithuania was a foreboding site. A six-foot high chain fence surrounding the bland modern building was decorated with tens of thousands of letters, notes and pictures proclaiming aspirations for freedom from the Soviet yoke. Submachine gun carrying guards emanating a mixture of bravado and fear manned the strategically spaced sandbag mounds. We were escorted past them to his office.
The President, a former music professor whom fate had chosen to lead his country at such an auspicious time, projected an amazing serenity considering the circumstances. The usual formalities followed, but we pressed to discern just how imminent a Soviet invasion might be as we had just toured the city and witnessed the tanks pointing outward from the radio and TV stations. As ominous as it was, surrender seemed to be out of the question.
Astoundingly, less than two weeks later, the old-style communist cadres kidnapped Gorbachev while he vacationed in the Caucasus, but the three-day revolution fell apart in Moscow. Instead of the expected jackboot Soviet invasion we foresaw within a month, all three Baltic countries were free for the first time since 1940. Such are the vagaries of history.
With the brutal invasion of Georgia, we see that former KGB man Putin is the personification of the Russian Bear. From my subsequent travels in the former USSR, I can tell you multiple anecdotal stories of the typical "man on the street" badly missing the prestige of their lost world power. It is no surprise to me that his regime maintains a 70 percent approval rating. We simply must stand up to this aggression, or we will be facing Russian hegemony for most of their border countries in the near future.
It also is obvious that the stratospheric price of oil is the primary reason for this resurgent military adventurism. Oil-rich Russia's Kremlin-controlled private sector and, even more important, falling demographics, dictate that this is a country in decline. Anything and everything we can do to lower the price of oil will be a step toward eliminating future wars in this region of the world. DRILL, DRILL, DRILL!
Gary Hofmeister is the owner and operator of Hofmeister Personal Jewelers in downtown Steamboat, a company he founded in 1973. He is a Director of the Conservative Leadership Council of Northwest Colorado and a former Republican nominee for Congress in the 10th District of Indiana. He made 18 trips to the former USSR to teach democratic-capitalism during the 1990's.