Recent interactions between the United States and Russia are a study in, well, incongruity.
Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry hastened from Moscow’s airport to the Kremlin bearing the Obama administration’s latest proposal for U.S.-Russian military coordination against Al-Qaida-linked guerrillas battling the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. In the days leading up to this meeting, Russia had exhibited its contempt for Washington by harassing U.S. diplomats and expelling Jeff Shell, chairman of the board of a U.S. agency that oversees Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.
Shell, the Russians explained, was on a blacklist they had put together in retaliation for U.S. sanctions targeted at Moscow figures culpable for Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea — an attempt at moral equivalency whose falsity is underscored by the fact that Shell was visiting Vladimir Putin’s realm not on government business but in his capacity as chairman of NBCUniversal’s movie-production division.
Beyond these highly publicized events, Russia’s recent treatment of Americans has gotten arguably even uglier.
Consider the story of Jim Mulcahy, 72, the Ukraine-based pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church, a 48-year-old U.S. institution founded as an alternative Christian organization for gay men and lesbians who feel excluded from traditional churches. MCC boasts 43,000 followers in 22 countries and campaigns — nonviolently and openly — for gay rights around the world.
This month, Mulcahy, MCC’s program officer for Eastern Europe, visited Russia, as he has done annually since 2012. Traveling on a tourist visa, as per usual, he met with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups in several locations, apparently without incident. However, during a July 10 gathering with about a dozen people at a gay community center in Samara, the country’s sixth-largest city, Mulcahy suddenly was accosted by police, who arrived unannounced, accompanied by a TV crew.
They arrested, interrogated and fingerprinted him and brought him before a judge — without any access to the lawyer his Russian friends hastily hired for him. At midnight, eight hours after his arrest, and without having had an opportunity to call witnesses, Mulcahy was convicted of violating his visa by conducting religious activity. He was sentenced to a 2,000 ruble fine and ordered out of the country. Mulcahy tells us he later learned that this result was announced on television a few hours before the court actually ruled.
Four hours later, Mulcahy left Russia, having been further vilified in the media. His Russian lawyer later informed him that an anonymous tipster had told police that he was going to perform a same-sex wedding at the Samara meeting — a false allegation, Mulcahy tells us, although it would have been unobjectionable if true.
In Putin’s Russia, same-sex marriage is banned and hostility to homosexuality is official doctrine; official and unofficial harassment of gays is a common occurrence. Indeed, Mulcahy says police pressed him for the names and phone numbers of his friends in Samara, which he refused to divulge. No doubt he knew that, as badly and as brazenly as Putin’s Russia may trample the rights of visiting U.S. citizens, the regime reserves the harshest treatment for its own.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST