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Veterans’ Tales by Vassar Bushmills

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. Mr Suchkov was leading a trade delegation from Gorkiy, the famous “closed city” and the internal exile home of the Soviet refusenik, Andrei Sakharov, who had only died the year before in Moscow. I was told that Mr Suchkov headed an oil and gas company in Russia and using the trading company to sign blank invoices that would allow them to buy American gifts for family back home. A common form of “collusion” even in Cold War days.

A short, stocky man, we shook hands and gnarlier hands I’d never gripped. An engineer for sure, those hands signified years of handling heavy drilling tools, not the white collar 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. I explained that I helped countries acquire older, retired production equipment in America, where they would still be a generation or two more advanced than what were currently used in the Soviet Bloc. I explained there were many opportunities in Asia and the USSR now that Perestroika was in full swing.

He seemed interested, and we shook hands good bye, and he left to meet his delegation, no doubt for a raid on Home Depot. Next day Vechilov of the trading company called to say Mr Suchkov would like us to join him for dinner. We  met them at the old Rookwood Pottery Restaurant (now closed) 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, with Vechilov translating.

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

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