Andrei Sakharov must be rolling in his grave.
The late Russian nuclear physicist was the most prominent dissident in the Soviet Union. For his warnings against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and in defense of basic civil rights, the Kremlin targeted him with vicious slander campaigns and forced him into internal exile. When Sakharov won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1975, Soviet authorities prevented him from traveling to Oslo; he sent his wife, Elena Bonner, to accept it. In honor of his memory, the European Parliament awards an eponymous prize to activists who embody the spirit of the late Russian human-rights campaigner.
So it was a bit odd to hear Edward Lozansky, president of the American University in Moscow, invoke Sakharov’s name when he called the 35th annual World Russia Forum to order last Thursday afternoon in a cavernous Senate hearing room. The first such confab transpired on May 21, 1981, in honor of Sakharov’s birthday, and at a time when U.S.-Russian relations were at a low point. Ronald Reagan had just entered office, the Soviets were ramping up their intervention in Afghanistan, and both sides were beginning to fight a proxy war in Angola. It was this rise in tensions that prompted Lozansky to inaugurate the forum as a means of fostering dialogue between the rival superpowers.
Whatever noble purpose the event might have served back in the heady days of the Cold War, however, it has since lost its luster. Today, the World Russia Forum is no more than a gathering of Kremlin apologists, conspiracy theorists, and other assorted nut jobs.