Alex Sternberg
A Jewish Activist

Biden emboldens Putin to kidnap more Americans

Vladimir Putin, the former Soviet KGB operative, is using the old Soviet playbook to free Russian spies incarcerated in US prisons. During the Cold War, prisoner exchanges involving Soviet spies for innocent American citizens detained on legitimate visits to Russia, were the “go to” methods preferred by the KGB.

Apparently, Putin believes in the old adage that “if it worked once it will work again”.

Brittney Griner was just such a victim. Victor Blout a Russian arms dealer was convicted of illegal arms trafficking and sent to a US prison. So when Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays on both US and Russian basketball teams was caught with a minuscule of medically prescribed hash oil, the Russians charged her with “drug smuggling”. After a secret trial and conviction, Griner was swapped for the arms smuggler, Blout.

Griner was not the first or last victim of such aggression.

In 1986 an American journalist Nicholas Daniloff was imprisoned and ultimately swapped for Gennadi Zakharov, a Soviet physicist arrested in NY for espionage.

And now the latest American kidnapped is Evan Gershkovich, the Russia correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Evan, a much decorated journalist, was a convenient and available target for Putin. Although the Biden government is making moves to obtain Evan’s release, they are going about it the wrong way.

In order to entice Putin to release the improperly detained Gershkovich, Biden is offering sanctions relief to the Russian tyrant.

Rather than reward Putin for his reckless and illegal actions by reducing sanctions,  Biden should be turning the screws on him even more. Putin must learn that kidnapping Americans can have serious and drastic consequences for him and his country.

As Tom Rogan of the Washington Examiner writes: “This arrangement would only encourage Russia to conduct more extensive hostage-taking of Americans in the future. According to Rogan “The Russians keep kidnapping Americans because the Biden administration keeps rewarding them for doing so. It really is that simple.”

In the early seventies, the Soviet Union held three million Jews as hostages. Many wanted to leave and go to Israel. But when they dared to apply for an exit visa, many were imprisoned on trumped up charges. Some were sent to the harsh Gulag concentration camps as an added deterrent to stop the ever-increasing exit applications.

My friends and I were determined to free the Soviet Jews from their “communist paradise” and enable them to emigrate. We decided to mount a propaganda campaign to “Free Soviet Jewry”. We targeted the Soviet campaign of cultural exchange. The Soviets sent the Moscow Ballet, the Moiseyev Dancers, world renown musicians such as violinist David Oistrakh and others on tours of America to publicize the great culture of the Soviet Union.

This propaganda tool was very important to the Soviet rulers, many primitive, uneducated thugs who rose to prominence through their brutal and cruel tactics. They were proud of the Soviet culture of ballet, music and arts and wanted to showcase them in the USA.

But to us the Soviet culture included torture, kidnapping and false imprisonment. It also included antisemitism and repression. We were determined to publicize the real face of their culture by calling attention to the less savory details that they denied publicly and wanted to hide from international scrutiny.

At first, we picketed the performances and handed out flyers. We explained that by supporting these performances, the Soviets  had no incentive to ease their the regime of repression. They were winning the all important propaganda battle.

When our peaceful demonstrations did not produce the desired effect, we picked up the ante. We began to disrupt the performances by stepping up onto the stage thereby disturbing the concert and asking the audience to not support the Soviets. In performance after performance our young activists were successful in disrupting or halting the show. Using such tactics, we managed to publicize the plight of Soviet Jewry in the media. Each disruption resulted in significant headlines in the papers and on the nightly news. Eventually, audiences became accustomed to the inevitable disruptions. The Soviets didn’t like that.

We demanded that they “let our people go”. But just like Pharoah of Egypt, they needed some more convincing. So, we upped the ante once again. This time we released smoke and ammonia in the audience that brought the performance to an end. This got the Soviet attention we desired. They protested to the State Department and became apoplectic as they demanded that the US clamp down on the anti-Soviet “Zionist hooligans”.  The State Department, in turn, encouraged them to release the Soviet Jews who wanted to leave and thereby end the disruptions.No cultural exchange programs were immune from our campaign to free Soviet Jewry. After several years of such frustration, the Soviets terminated their cultural exchange program.  But shortly thereafter, they opened the Iron Curtain and allowed millions of Soviet Jews to emigrate.

They blinked and we had won!

While such drastic actions worked for us years ago it may not be appropriate to free Evan today.  History however shows that only determined and resolute actions by the Biden administration will deter Putin from future hostage taking. Russian goods  of all types, such as Vodka, caviar and many others, are  a source of much needed hard currency for Putin.  Closing the loopholes for such embargo should be the goal  not promising to ease them.  Lowering the pressure should only come after demonstrated good behavior and not as a reward for bad behavior.  Bad actions should be met with a painful and punishing response.

As history shows appeasement of dictators and bullies only emboldens them. We learned this lesson from Neville Chamberlin. As Tom Rogan so eloquently states, weakness only results in future kidnapping.

Dr. Alex Sternberg

Former Jewish community activist and author “Recipes from Auschwitz-The Survival Stories of Two Hungarian Jews with Historical Insight” Amazon

About the Author
Born in Hungary, emigrated to the US in 1961. USA Karate Champion and sensei. Jewish activist, and leader of JDL. Doctor of Physiology and Public Health (SUNY College of Medicine), was the Director of the Pulmonary Function and Exercise Physiology Lab at Downstate Medical Center. President Center for Hungarian Holocaust Education. Author and teacher of Zionism, Jewish history, and the Holocaust MaccabiUSA Karate Chair over 40 years, “Legend of the Maccabiah” recipient 2018. Inductee Jewish Sports Heritage Ass. 2024 USA Karate Federation Hall of Fame inductee 2015 Author of "Recipes from Auschwitz-The Survival Stories of Two Hungarian Jews with Historical Insight". Amazon. Author: "The Toughest Jew in Brooklyn" in progress