Russian Scandals and Investing

10/10/2012 02:29 pm ET | Updated Dec 09, 2012

Russian media coverage of the Pussy Riot convictions and ongoing appeal will likely escalate on persistent rumors that President Vladimir Putin may make a major policy announcement to coincide with his 60th birthday. The scandal surrounding the daring escapades of "Pussy Riot" has not faded and continues to cast Russia as an authoritarian state in the eyes of international political observers and investors. Controversy still rages about who benefited from the conviction, whether it was a mistake or an overreaction, and even about whether it was a test of the Russian government system itself.

Starting with the facts, three young, locally famous singers performed at a major Christian cathedral in Moscow, and intentionally insulted President Vladimir Putin and members of the religious community. Media coverage advanced the perspective on the incident. "If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Gospel of Matthew 6, 14-15)." The most basic Christian fundamental tenets about forgiveness are also called into question by the Pussy Riot case. Debate continues about whether perhaps the Russian government actually likes to every few years send a message to its citizens that free speech and democratic debate can only be so dissenting; otherwise free speech leads to jail.

The Pussy Riot case has often been compared to the Khodorkovky imprisonment. In the case of former billionaire, the Russian president demanded an admission of wrong-doing as a potential way to reduce the length of a prison sentence. Khodorkovky's request to be pardoned from jail will not be considered unless the he admits his guilt. In both high-profile cases, the state justified their decision to punish dissent harshly "to protect the population", but in reality their message was to make the population reconsider any plans to dissent. Pussy Riot had been trying to raise public consciousness through a variety of initiatives prior to the performance that got them arrested. The apparent steady escalation of their message of protest made a showdown, in all likelihood, with Russian justice inevitable.

Russia is about to have elections for several regional assemblies, governorships and mayor positions. It is unclear whether these elections will either make the country more democratic or more attractive for foreign and domestic investment. Recent Putin remarks that Pussy Riot got what they deserved and that "the court slapped them with a pair" seem especially uninspiring for a better business investment environment in Russia, and the country's geopolitical outlook. Russian society is now divided between those who approve and those who oppose the decision to sentence the members of Pussy Riot to two years in prison. Considering all the parties involved, it appears that no one received any benefit, perhaps excepting Pussy Riot's public relations firm.

Civil disobedience, over the course of history, has been met with decidedly uncivil punishment and/or violence. The women of Pussy Riot have husbands and children and families that will all suffer as they serve out their sentences. The hope is that these women's crimes and punishments, like Nelson Mandela's much longer prison sentence, will become a source of steadily louder international outcry and domestic desire for political reform. So long as Russia continues to be controlled in a militaristic rather than a democratic fashion, expect free speech to suffer, and those who advocate it to face punishment. The old saying that military justice is to justice as military music is to music seems particularly apt to the cases of the women of Pussy Riot.