When journalist Arkady Mamontov aired his television exposé on Pussy Riot last week, the central question was who was behind their riotous performance? Mamontov’s investigation yielded two culprits: oligarch-in-exile Boris Berezovsky, and “some Americans” who hired Pussy Riot and choreographed their act in order to corrupt the souls of Russian youth. Mamontov didn’t need to spell out who those Americans were; everyone watching got the message anyway.
On July 26, the heads of two of the most famous human rights groups in Russia sent President Barack Obama an open letter with a pressing issue: were they, or were they not his spies? It was a strange move, but also quite a clever one. In May, in the last week of its session, the Russian parliament kicked into overdrive and passed a raft of measures widely seen as trying to pull the rug out from under the increasingly vocal and increasingly numerous opposition.
At two separate events in Washington recently, Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, insisted that it should be a “total no brainer” for Congress to end the application of the Jackson-Vanik amendment—which denies normal, unconditional trade to non-market economies that restrict emigration—to Russia. The waning utility of Jackson-Vanik, McFaul claimed, was entirely exhausted by the completion of WTO negotiations.
In 1981, Andrei Sakharov wrote an essay titled “The Responsibility of Scientists.” His argument was that scientists, who “form the one real worldwide community which exists today,” had a special obligation to speak out in defense of human rights. In part, his essay was directed to fellow Soviet scientists, whom he implored to take risks on behalf of principle—to “muster sufficient courage and integrity to resist the temptation and the habit of conformity.” Yet Sakharov did not let his colleagues in the free world off the hook.