"It seems that what is important to certain human rights structures
and media outlets is not so much the fate of these young women as the
opportunity to create yet another scandal on anti-Russian grounds,"
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
Ironically, the Russian government is itself responsible for turning
the group into an international cause célèbre. Scarcely known before
their blasphemy trial, the band members (two of whom have young
children) are now garnering sympathy at home as well as abroad.
Of course, many Russians fault the group for offending Russian Orthodox Christians and recent polls have shown widespread disapproval
of the band's actions. But the overreaction of the Russian state to the
small provocation is overly harsh and the mounting international
attention and criticism has worried the regime.
Thus the Russian government's resorting to claims of demonization and
victimization by the West. "This situation, without a doubt, has
elements of a clash of civilizations," Lukashevich said in his
A clash of civilizations? More likely a clash of old vs. new,
tradition vs. modernity, intelligentsia vs. the masses, and oppression
vs. freedom in Russia itself.
Indeed, on the same day the Russian government was condemning the
West, Russia formally joined the WTO after years of negotiations. This
development, resisted by Russia for decades, means that the country will be
more closely integrated into the international economy.
It may seem paradoxical, in light of the Putin regime's authoritarian
tendencies, but such inclusion is to be welcomed. The Obama
administration was right to criticize the disproportionate punishment of
Pussy Riot, and it also should press for Congress to approve permanent
normal trade relations with Russia and repeal the dated Jackson-Vanik
law (which restricts imports and exports). Now that Russia is in the
WTO, normalized relations would allow increased U.S. exports and better access to Russian markets.
Importantly, increased trade and investment would also permit more
influence and leverage over Russia. Closer links to the West would also
be beneficial for the Russian people, opening the Russian economy and
As Secretary Clinton noted in an op-ed,
"By extending those trading relations, we can create new markets for
our people and support the political and economic changes that Russia's
people are demanding. These reforms will ultimately make Russia a more
just and open society as well as a better partner over the long term for
Engagement with Russia, and criticism when merited--especially
regarding human rights and freedom of expression--can and should go hand
in hand. If Russia drifts farther away from the West, then the clash of
civilizations that the Russian foreign ministry darkly alluded to may
become more of a reality.
This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.
The country's harsh treatment of performance art group Pussy Riot has created tensions with the West, but the World Trade Organization might be an avenue for cooperation.