The three words of "I can't breathe" have been asked to carry a lot of weight. Anyone who's been online in the past year knows that the final statement of Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer, has come to serve as a rallying call for the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement, dedicated to calling out systemic racism and police mistreatment of people of color.

Now, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the Russian performance-art collective Pussy Riot want those words to take on yet-greater meaning. Their first English-language song and video is called “I Can’t Breathe,” and its creators say it's “for Eric and for all those from Russia to America and around the globe who suffer from state terror—killed, choked, perished because of war and state-sponsored violence of all kinds—for political prisoners and those on the streets fighting for change."

The track features members of various bands, both American and Russian, performing an “industrial ballad” that climaxes with punk legend Richard Hell saying Garner’s final words—not only “I can’t breathe,” but also his pleas that cops stop harassing him. In the video, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova wear Russian police uniforms as people off screen bury the two women alive.

"In December 2014, we were recording an anti-war song cycle in studios in New York, and when the protests started there demanding a trial for the police officer who strangled Eric Garner, it didn’t take us too much time to decide to join in," the two explained to Pitchfork's Jenn Pelly. "We have to demand responsibility from our governments and we can never stop reminding government bureaucrats that they exist for our sake, and not the other way around. We gave those protests our support, even though we live in Russia, because police violence and death have no nationality."

So it's a case of famous activists being inspired by a new cause and acting in solidarity. But it's also possible to see it as something less admirable. Kelsey McKinney at Vox wonders whether “Pussy Riot is taking the life and struggle of one man—and a culture they are not a part of—and using it as a publicity stunt.” At Fusion, Arielle Castillo says the work “appears to uncomfortably shift the narrative back onto Alekhina and Tolokonnikova’s own experiences.” And on Twitter, the writer Craig Jenkins calls the video “moving and supremely draining at the same time … It sorta very neatly encapsulates how people with honorable intentions have tipped toward hijacking this protest movement the past 6 months.”

With their stylish, well-directed video and contributions from famous musicians—including Hell, the Yeah Yeah Yeah's Nick Zinner, and Miike Snow's Andrew Wyatt—Pussy Riot have managed to make a lot of headlines (though not, it appears, money) with the song. And a second “I Can’t Breathe” video they released just features images from the Garner protests. But in the interviews they gave with various publications for the rollout of the song, they don’t really talk about the specific circumstances of the Garner case, nor the racial inequality that the movement around him seeks to spotlight. Instead, they skip over most everything that makes this American cause American, and speak instead about a universal struggle against state-sanctioned violence, and about Russia.

That’s not surprising, given that Pussy Riot are Russian dissidents who have been attacked by Russian cops and spent time in Russian jails for protesting Russian policies. But it does complicate the idea that this project is about Garner, and could even turn attention away from what he's come to symbolize here in the U.S.

The optics of who's participating are notable, too. "It felt weird to speak the words of a black man killed by the police, when I'm this privileged white guy," Hell told Pitchfork, adding that the band's credibility convinced him go along with it. When Pelly asked Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova why they decided “to work with white male artists on a song/video about systemic racial oppression,” they described how they met the various musicians involved and said that that they “realized that when it comes to freedom, protests, and the value of a single human life, people from different continents can all speak the same language.”

Whether you think it's amplifying Black Lives Matter or diluting it, the song’s a reminder that American protest movements never can, entirely, belong to America. In something of an inversion of the Pussy Riot dynamic, during the Cold War the Soviet Union often used the American civil-rights struggle for propaganda, as Julia Ioffe wrote last year in a TNR essay about how the world saw the events in Ferguson:

In the 1950s and 60s, the White House was painfully conscious that the civil-rights movement was going to either be a boon or a thorn for their foreign policy when it came to grappling with the Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R, after all, was about equality, at least on paper. The now sacred Russian tactic of “whataboutism” started with civil rights: Whenever the U.S. pointed to Soviet human rights violations, the Soviets had an easy riposte. “Well, you,” they said, “lynch Negros.”

And in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, some commentators have urged activists to look abroad for help. “Given ongoing white resistance and the sad realities of America’s current partisan politics, African-American leaders and civil rights activists cannot continue to rely only on change from within,” Moshik Temkin wrote for The Nation in October. “As Malcolm X once urged them to do, they might have to find support among, and make common cause with, the international community—as he put it, ‘human rights are a precondition for civil rights.’” Whatever else they've done, Pussy Riot have contributed to that effort.