Swimming the Volga is a personal eyewitness account of day-to-day life in a provincial Russian city during a remarkable period in world history just before the dissolution of the Soviet Union and before the names Putin and Russia became inseparable.
After seventy years of tyranny and oppression under a series of iron-fisted regimes, Russia turned away from its failed social and political experiment. It took its first steps toward adopting a democratic and free-market system under perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness).
During Zwack’s regular visits to Kalinin, he witnessed firsthand ordinary people’s lives turned upside down by forces they had little or no control over. In the Wild West of the ‘new’ Russia, a few enterprising Russians quickly figured out how to make vast amounts of money-usually illegally. A nascent mafia mastered the art of bringing necessary and desirable goods to market and extracting ‘protection’ money from new businesses. Most Russians, however, watched their life savings disappear in two massive devaluations of the ruble in the 1990s.
Written in the days just before the names Putin and Russia became inseparable, Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack (Ret)’s Swimming the Volga is a unique time capsule of a remarkable period in world history. The final chapter of the Cold War ended with the hijacking of Russia’s future by rapacious financiers, pyramid schemes, and a new criminal element setting the stage for Putin’s arrival, and with it, a more assertive and revanchist Russia. Along the way, the cast of memorable characters in the story reveals their very human dreams, ambitions, fears, missteps, cynicism, resilience, and disillusionment.
What will make Swimming the Volga stand out in the marketplace is the author, who lived and experienced Russian culture firsthand. His many accomplished years of high-ranking military authority, extensive knowledge and grasp of the language and culture, and brilliance as an educator, speaker, and writer. Former Attaché to the Russian Federation, Zwack is a current Global Fellow at The Kennan Institute for Advanced Russia Studies at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. No one is more qualified to write and speak on this subject than him.
In an interview on your show Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack (Ret.) will discuss:
- The current Russia/Ukraine Conflict and whether Putin will invade
- His first impressions of the USSR, provided by locals in Kalinin, Russia
- How as a young US Army Captain he was able to attain both Soviet and US Passports while being a Military Intelligence officer.
- How he was able to hold his own in political discussions with new friends with a rudimentary grasp of the Russian language
- How swimming in the Volga River actually solidified his interest in writing this book, giving the book its title
- What the significance of being in Tver, formerly Kalinin, is for him and why he’s returned multiple times
- How an unlikely character named Alex became his window into the pulse of life in Tver through the years
- and much more!
“One of the great joys of serving as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation was working with General Peter Zwack. Every day, he
demonstrated a deep commitment both to serving our great nation and to understanding Swimming the Volga* shows just how deep into Russian society, history,
and culture Peter dug. Jumping from the analytic to the person with ease, it’s a brilliant story.”
—Ambassador Michael McFaul U.S. Ambassador to Russia 2012–2014 Author of Cold War, Hot Peace; An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia
“Loaded with great insights and stories from his days before serving as U.S. Defense Attaché in Moscow and from his deep involvement
with Russia, Brigadier General Zwack brings the past alive to help us understand what Putin is doing today. It is very rare to have pages filled
by someone who really knows Russia and knows how to write about it.”
—Leslie H. Gelb President Emeritus, Council on Foreign Relations
*Swimming the Volga is a lively, short memoir of life in the small Russian city of Tver (110m from Moscow) as seen through the eyes of a young captain in the U.S. Army during a summer program
on Russian culture and language in 1989. “Over a ten-year period, Zwack continued his visits to Tver, even as he rose in rank and responsibility. In return, the city provided him
with a unique window into the upheavals of Russia in the 1990s. Through Zwack’s stories, we meet a set of Russian friends he met at the start of the difficult days in the Soviet Union, through the changes
of today’s Russia in their lives—as well as the eternal characteristics of the Russian people. An informative and entertaining account by an unusually perceptive visitor.”
—Suzanne Massie Personal advisor on the U.S.S.R. to President Ronald Reagan Author of “Land of the Firebird:” The Beauty of Old Russia and
Trust but Verify: Reagan, Russia, and Me – a memoir of the years 1984–1988
“This warm and evocative memoir of a Russia addled by change post-1989 is a remarkable chronicle of a U.S. Army officer’s disarming empathy for the young Russians he befriended as they sought to find
their place in a new world. Never judgmental, the author captures the rich humanity of the successes and failures of unlikely friends and acquaintances observed during the tumultuous decade between
Gorbachev and Putin. Moving and haunting.”
—Ralph Peters Author of Red Army, Cain at Gettysburg, and Looking for Trouble
“This ‘coming of age as a Russian Foreign Area Officer’ memoir is a phenomenal, warm and provocative story told by retired Brigadier Peter Zwack. Peter and I are friends and fellow soldiers; we served together
in Germany during the Cold War and I was honored to observe his magnificent performance as the Defense Attaché in Moscow during the start of what is now the ‘hot peace.’ During the years in between, Peter’s
professional demeanor, Russian acumen, and informed insight evolved, in part, as he swam the Volga every summer for a decade. This work provides a unique understanding of that part of the world.”
—Lt. General Mark Hertling (Ret) Former Commander U.S. Army Europe Author of Growing Physician Leaders CNN national security and military analyst
“Few Americans understand Russians better than Peter Zwack. As a traveler, student, observer, and head military attaché to Moscow, he has come to know them in the many aspects of their lives. This memoir,
seen through the prism of Zwack’s experiences with the people of one city, Tver, is a sharp-eyed view of a complex, contradictory and—yes, extraordinary—nation.”
—Robert Cowley Founding Editor, MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History Author of the upcoming The Killing Season
About the Author
Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack (Ret.) is a U.S. Army veteran, having served over 34 years as a Military Intelligence and Foreign Area Officer in diverse command and staff postings such as Afghanistan, the Balkans, South Korea West Germany, and Russia. He served in Moscow as the Senior U.S. Defense Attaché to Russia during the pivotal years of 2012 – 2014 including the Russian invasion of Ukraine and is one of our nation’s leading experts on Russia. Check out his website @ https:///peterbzwack.net and get social with Ret. General Zwack on IG | FaceBook | Twitter!
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