Sharon Tennison of the Center for Citizen Initiatives tells her incredible story of citizen diplomacy in the 1980s, when she made dozens of trips to the Soviet Union hoping to meet and befriend regular Russian civilians. She reminds us that over 90 percent of Russians were not Communist Party members—by and large they were just like the average American, and were eager to get along with American visitors. Although Tennison’s focus was not on Russian politicians, she did meet some, including a young Vladimir Putin long before he became President. Tennison says he was intellectual, introverted, and (unlike most of the politicians and bureaucrats she met) not at all corrupt. She believes he cares deeply about following the laws of the country, and advises us not to believe his portrayal in the American media.

Sharon Tennison focuses on strengthening ties between America and Russia by traveling there and befriending Russians directly. She works with the Center for Citizen Initiatives.

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