In conversation: Russia

Sunday 20 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Pit Theatre Wrestling with the World

Russia’s ‘managed democracy’, with the all-powerful president, Vladimir Putin, dominating an allegedly emasculated parliament and obsequious media, and overriding the rule of law, has come in for a lot of criticism in the West. The controversial punishment meted out to punk group Pussy Riot; the introduction of a ban on the ‘promotion of non-traditional sexual relations’; and the all-too-palpable presence of the security services - it all creates the impression of an oppressed nation.

But is this view fair? Many polls continue to suggest that the majority of Russians support government policies. A slim metropolitan stratum may actively resent the illiberalism of Putin’s regime, but civil unrest is minimal, and political opposition to the status quo has consistently failed to gain popular support. Why is this? Some suggest that since Putin’s rise at the turn of the millennium, Russia has got rich, and health, education and security have all improved considerably: is this the price Russians are willing to pay for a lack of democratic accountability? Others suggest political and social life in Russia is determined by something unique to the Russian soil, something inherent in the national character. Polling by the Levada Center has even suggested that, from Ivan the Terrible to Joseph Stalin, the Russians have always gravitated towards a ‘vozhd’ - a chief. But is it really possible to view an entire people as destined for a form of dictatorship? Are there not other reasons - historical, economic and cultural - for the way Russia is now?

And what of the role of the West? Economic relations may be tight, given Western reliance on Russian gas and oil supplies, but political relations are at an all-time low, with Moscow frequently accusing the West of meddling in its internal affairs – and many Western campaigners planning to use the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year to highlight human rights abuses. So does the Russian government have a point? Does the West have a tendency to treat Russia not as an equal, but as a bad guy? And, if so, is it justified?


Lucy Ash
foreign affairs correspondent, BBC

Mary Dejevsky
columnist and former chief editorial writer, Independent; leading commentator on Russia, EU and US

Mikhail Epstein
professor of Russian and cultural theory; director, Centre for Humanities Innovation, Durham University

Edward Lucas
international editor, Economist; author, The New Cold War and Deception: spies, lies and how Russia dupes the West

Will Vernon
producer, BBC News (speaking in a personal capacity)

Produced by
Will Vernon producer, BBC News (speaking in a personal capacity)
Recommended readings
Russia - One Way to Silence a Critic

No one will be surprised at today’s guilty verdict against the Russian political opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch, 18 June 2013

Russia passes law banning gay 'propaganda'

Law will make it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships and to distribute gay rights material

Miriam Elder, Guardian, 11 June 2013

BOMBSHELL: US Caught Meddling in Russian Elections!

Putin compares US funded NGOs to Judas the betrayer

Tony Cartalucci, Global Research, 6 December 2011

A Threat to Putin’s Big Plans

Russians seemed fine giving Vladimir Putin great power, if they could live well. Enter an economic crisis.

Clifford J. Levy, Telegraph, 31 January 2009

What is the truth?

"I have never enjoyed being disagreed with so much."
Stephanie Calman, writer and broadcaster; founder, The Bad Mothers’ Club

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