An American friend wrote to me about the current Russian spy scandal in America: "Not good PR for you and [your friend] if he decides to go to Harvard... this is all hilarious... I'm loving all the coverage of a bunch of Russians getting paid to befriend Americans. I wish the U.S. had a program like this, I'd totally do this! Can you imagine?! I'd get my rent and tuition paid just to blurt out stuff that you can automatically look up (in even more depth) on the internet."
This ordinary American summed it all up in the brief four lines: this is funny, embarrassing, wasteful, and - most importantly - hurtful to many Russians like me--to those who honestly fight through American immigration hurdles, challenge the financial crisis to earn income, pass application tests and study hard to get American college and graduate degrees, make new life-long friends, fall in love with America's culture and natural beauty, and by default share their knowledge (and income) with Russian and American friends, families, businesses, and government agencies.
Someone like me--who spends most of the year in the U.S. yet proudly carries a Russian passport--feels cheated twice. Actually, given my public-policy work for Discovery Institute and my graduate studies at the Vanderbilt University, I feel cheated three times. Thousands of Russians in my situation in America pay their own living and tuition expenses. They also have families back home who pay taxes or receive rather insignificant government pensions to preserve the funds in Russia's budget coffers. All of us travel between the two countries frequently, and would love to host an open event at any Russian university to tell Russian students, government officials, and the rest of the world what American academic and policy circles actually think about Iran, nuclear problems, or even what kind of cereal is most popular with 6th graders, and what type of a brew is selling best at the Starbucks in the Pike Place Market.
All Discovery Institute events are open to the public, and if someone feels like they didn't get enough information from internet publications (including nearly 1,500 articles on this website and thousands of articles on www.discovery.org) -- they are welcome to attend! If a "spy" or an "agency" is short on money, well - just nail it all in one trip. Also attend the Heritage Foundation's Annual Resource Bank (last one held on April 22-23, 2010, in Miami, Florida with over 500 attendees from 30 countries and hundreds of think tanks and government agencies). To save in travel and housing, stay an extra couple days and hit'em all: Atlas Foundation's annual Liberty Forum and Philadelphia Society's annual dinner. Tell them you're with the Russian (British, German, French, whichever!) diplomatic mission and they would put you up at a VIP table and maybe even ask you to share your point of view with the audience. You would also end up with hundreds of business cards and honest friendships. After all, it is 2010, not 1968 out there.
"This betrays people like me, who are Russian patriots and care about Russia and its long-term growth," commented Sergey Sirotenko, the Co-Chairman of the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters Russia and the Vice President of the New Generation Rotary Club in Moscow. "We are doing global projects in Russia and internationally, and see global travel and education as logical steps on the way to becoming true global leaders. Recent Russian government's activities do not only jeopardize our personal growth but also delay Russia's long-term achievements."
"This hurts Russia's image. Aside from harming private international business for Russian entrepreneurs, they [Russian government] also rely on unreliable data and reports, which just cannot be good for Russia," said Andrey Dudkin, an entertainment entrepreneur and music producer from St. Petersburg, Russia.
"I don't think this hurts Russia's image at all. If nothing else, this hurts the image of American intelligence services. None of the presented accusations are proven or make sense, including the ones against Anna Chapman who is a well-known entrepreneur in Moscow's professional circles," commented Anton Verstakov, Moscow producer for British SkyNews.
Spies and intelligence are vital to a survival of any country. After all, how else does one prevent the next 9/11 or Moscow subway tragedy? Furthermore, American spies in Russia and vice versa probably can come across information that would be of value to the government they are spying on. One would hope they would share it with each other. Russians have given Americans Soviet intelligence on Afghanistan and Russian shipping routes for American military supplies. Hopefully it has helped to save hundreds of American lives. However, is it really necessary to waste taxpayers' money, hurt the relationships and jeopardize personal experiences of millions of honest expatriates in order to learn something that can be discovered within a 10-minute Google search or two brief phone calls? I believe the answer is "no."
On behalf of many Russian expatriates, I hope that the recent spy experience will only improve the U.S.-Russian relations. Sometimes, something bad needs to happen in order for the good to emerge. Maybe now, those in charge in Moscow will discover the new ways to harvest information and understand the cultural differences. In Russia, people always assume that there is a story behind a story and they find it hard to believe that an American think tank's work is independent and can be of real value. In America, it is a crime to receive money without paying taxes, especially delivered in a plastic bag at a train station, and no - not every Russian is a spy.
Yuri Mamchur, currently in Moscow, Russia, is the Director of Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project (Seattle, Wash.), editor of the Russia Blog, the Executive Director of the World Russia Forum (Washington,D.C.), and the President of MBA class 2011 at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management (Nashville, Tenn.).