While doing research for my book Flamethrower Troops of World War I: The Central and Allied Powers, I came across the Website of Colonel Mikhail Vasilyevich Supotnitskiy, Ph.D., Army of the Russian Federation.
A microbiologist and expert on defense against biological and chemical weapons, Colonel Supotnitskiy had posted an online version of the Russian book Chemical Weapons at the Front During the World War, 1914-1918, by Aleksandr Nikolaevich De-Lazari. Colonel Supotnitskiy had added his own commentary and supplementary material. He’s a prolific author of books and articles on bioweapons, plague, AIDS, and chemical warfare.
I found the colonel’s work by searching for the word “flamethrower” in Russian. I don’t speak or read Russian, but using online translation Websites, I composed a message to Colonel Supotnitskiy, asking if he could help me obtain information on Russian flamethrowers. He responded in Russian, telling me that he read English but preferred to write in Russian so that there would be no danger of him choosing the wrong words. His input was absolutely vital to the chapter on Russian flamethrowers, and when the project was finished, we continued to correspond.
Over the past five years, we’ve developed a close friendship, even though we’ve never met. As a patriotic Russian, he disagrees with me on geopolitics, and we also don’t see eye to eye on most social issues. Our workaround is that we try to discuss only our mutual love of music, art, photography, absurdity, “safe” political topics, and our families. We’ve had a few misunderstandings, including the one that resulted in him writing to me, “I’m glad I’m not there in person, because I think you’d shoot me with your carbine.”
With the Colonel’s permission, I’ve created these galleries of his photos. He agreed to let me post them because wants westerners to know that Russia isn’t only a nation of bears and vodka. Our friendship has survived Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the South Ossetia Conflict, and the Syrian Civil War. We’ve promised each other to never let our loyalties impact our relationship, and so far it’s worked.
I expect our friendship to endure. He’s taught me a lot, and he tells me that I’ve taught him a lot too. Maybe the two of us can in a small way teach others.