Drawing the Line: Declaring Putin Illegitimate as a Step towards Future-Russia

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Drawing the Line: Declaring Putin Illegitimate as a Step towards Future-Russia

12 March @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

It is already clear that Russia’s presidential elections in March are set to deliver Vladimir Putin another 6-year term. A new report by Dr Stephen Hall for the Henry Jackson Society, to be launched in the run-up to the vote, will argue that this moment should be a turning point. Without international observation or true opposition and with the result assured before the election happens, Western states must act. This should involve declaring Putin’s rule as illegitimate, thereby opening the door for intensified efforts towards fostering a democratic future in Russia.

The report sets out the justification, implications, risks and strategic benefits of declaring Putin an illegitimate president. It details how this process has increasingly been used by Western states in the past and the possible pitfalls. It argues that, planned well, declaring Putin illegitimate can have a significant effect on the ability of the Kremlin to function and continue its war on Ukraine. This bold move would also provide a new rallying point for Western support towards Ukraine, and help splinter the Russian elite. A new initiative should in parallel establish an elected Council-in-Exile as the legitimate voice of the Russian people.

The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to this fascinating discussion to explore the findings of the report.



Dr Stephen G F Hall is an Associate Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. He is a specialist on Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Central Asia, and the South Caucasus and on authoritarian regions. He received his PhD from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, UCL and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge. He has published extensively in Europe-Asia Studies, Problems of Post-Communism, East European Politics, Post-Communist Economies, Russian Politics, and the Journal of Eurasian Studies.

His book entitled The Authoritarian International: Tracing how Authoritarian Regimes Learn in the Post-Soviet Space came out in 2023 with Cambridge University Press. In the past, Stephen taught at the Higher School of Economics – National Research University, St. Petersburg. Stephen speaks English and Russian and is trying to get better at Ukrainian.

Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephengfhall
or on his personal website: https://www.sgfhall.co.uk/



Lisa Haseldine is the Assistant Online Editor at The Spectator. She covers foreign affairs, with a focus on Russia and Germany. She is also a fluent Russian and German speaker.


This photo is a property of https://khodorkovsky.com/


A successful businessman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was head of YUKOS, one of the world’s largest oil producers, where he established international management codes of practice, and substantially increased production.

As a pioneering philanthropist, he established the Open Russia Foundation in 2001 with the aim of building and strengthening civil society in Russia. Having been one of the earliest supporters of democratic change, Khodorkovsky criticised endemic corruption at a televised meeting with President Putin in early 2003. Later that same year he was arrested, and jailed on charges of tax evasion and fraud, charges, which he denied and vigorously defended. Khodorkovsky was sentenced to fourteen years in prison. He was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International; and finally released in December 2013.

In 2014, the Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that the Russian Government had violated international law by taking YUKOS from its shareholders, for political purposes, described as a “full assault on Yukos and its beneficial owners in order to bankrupt Yukos and appropriate its assets while, at the same time, removing Mr. Khodorkovsky from the political arena.”

As the leader of the Russian opposition and the founder of the Open Russia movement, Khodorkovsky advocates for an alternative vision for his country: a strong and just state, based on a parliamentary republic model and committed to observing human rights, free and fair elections, and the rule of law while campaigning for building a strong civil society in Russia.

Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney covered Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s life story in his latest film Citizen K which is currently featured on Amazon Prime.



This photo is a property of Chatham House


John Lough is an associate fellow of the Russia & Eurasia Programme.

He began his career as an analyst at the Soviet Studies (later Conflict Studies) Research Centre focusing on Soviet/Russian security policy. He spent six years with NATO, and was the first Alliance representative to be based in Moscow (1995–98).

He gained direct experience of the Russian oil and gas industry at TNK-BP as a manager in the company’s international affairs team (2003–08). From 2008 to 2016, he ran the Russia & CIS practice at BGR Gabara, a public affairs and strategy consulting company.

Alongside his work with Chatham House, John is a consultant with Highgate, a strategic advisory firm.


This photo is a property of https://members.parliament.uk/member/4681/portrait 


Bob Seely is the Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight. He sits on the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Dr Seely writes academically and journalistically on foreign affairs as well as more generally on non-conventional and new forms of conflict. Prior to his election in June 2017, Dr Seely served on the Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and ISIS campaigns as a member of the Armed Forces. From 1990 to 1994, Dr Seely lived in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet states. His academic and foreign affairs writing is available online at: https://kcl.academia.edu/RobertSeely. Dr Seely has written one of the few peer-reviewed definitions of Contemporary Russian Conflict Strategy available in the West and holds a PhD in Russian military strategy.


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The Henry Jackson Society was pleased to host the report launch event with Dr Stephen G F Hall, Lisa Haseldine, John Lough and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chaired by Dr Bob Seely MBE MP. Dr. Hall began the discussion by asserting that the Russian regime is attempting to destroy the international order and that now is the perfect time to formally declare Vladimir Putin illegitimate. He emphasised that the British government can take the lead on this issue and exemplify its commitment to democratic values. Lisa Haseldine supported Stephen’s opening statement whilst highlighting that there is a strong possibility Putin’s successor will be a similarly dangerous leader. Ultimately, conflict with Russia will not end when Putin goes. The discussion turned to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who explained that Russia’s highly centralised political system needs – and constantly looks for – an external enemy. Crucially, a deep federalisation of Russia is necessary to gain credibility from all regions and squash the craving for an external enemy. John Lough then questioned whether we are already treating Putin as illegitimate and a pariah, stating that rulings such as those by the International Criminal Court in March 2023 have positioned him as a leader beyond the pale. In the following Q&A session, questions were raised on the possibility of Putin using nuclear bombs, the lessons we can learn from declaring other leaders illegitimate in the past and whether declaring Putin illegitimate bolsters his image as a pariah and a target for the West.






12 March
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm


Committee Room 16, House of Commons
London, SW1A 0AA United Kingdom
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Dr Stephen G F Hall, Lisa Haseldine, John Lough, Mikhail Khodorkovsky


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