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By kind invitation of The Rt Hon. John Whittingdale MP, the Henry Jackson Society was delighted to welcome the Russian politician and former independent deputy of the State Duma Dmitry Gudkov and former Financial Times and Wall Street Journal correspondent on Soviet affairs David Satter. Mr. Gudkov was one of the leaders who led the protest movement that swept the country following the contested Duma elections of 2011 and was on the front lines of the Bolotnaya Square in 2011-2013. He also participated in the peace march for Ukraine that was organised in Moscow in 2014 as a reaction to the Russian government’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. Mr. Gudkov is expected to be running for mayor of Moscow in September 2018.
The gentlemen discussed prospects of the upcoming presidential election and the role and strategy of the opposition. They agreed that in the current political environment in Russia Vladimir Putin stays unchallenged. However, there is a hope that the election could become a platform for open and free discussions on democracy, corruption and political prosecution. Such a platform would help in bringing international attention to these issues and in aligning the Duma’s agenda with the pressing interests of the Russian population. Mr. Gudkov thought the opposition did not have access to major media and state television in the country but through recruiting volunteers the opposition could succeed in informing the larger public about the fairness of the election process and in raising awareness about the most important issues. Mr. Satter noted that the opposition’s attention should be focused on stories such as the killing of Mr. Putin’s critic Boris Nemtsov and the explosions in St. Petersburg’s metro station last year, as well as on the Beslan school tragedy in 2004. According to Mr. Satter, those are the debates that are going to determine Russia’s democratic future if were held openly. Mr. Gudkov argued that the Russian population is well aware of those tragedies, which was demonstrated by the memorial march held in the honour of Mr. Nemtsov. At the same time, the majority of Russians have access only to state television. When discussing corruption and foreign assets of Russian oligarchs, Mr. Satter noted that stealing was something Russians got accustomed to and that is how the system works, therefore efforts to expose corruption, such as Panama Papers, have had no significant impact or indeed a resonance within the Russian society. He reminded that both Gorbachov and Yeltsin talked about state corruption in the past. Mr. Gudkov, in his turn, suggested that selective approach of applying sanctions had certain effect. He expressed his hope for the opposition to be able to unite in the upcoming presidential, as well as municipal elections. The next important step for Mr. Gudkov would be to take part in Moscow’s mayoral elections in September. Mr. Gudkov believes the Russian government wants to restore relations with the West and if the opposition manages to succeed, the Russian society could gradually be able to depart from the authoritarian nature of the Russian state.