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The Threat from Russia: Can Putin Be Stopped?

Intelligence brought together some of the world’s top Russia experts to examine the West’s complicated relationship with Russia and what actions should be taken.

Is Vladimir Putin the most powerful – and dangerous – man in the world? With Putin in the Kremlin, we have returned to an era where former Russian spies are mysteriously poisoned on British soil and where Russia feels emboldened to roll its tanks into an eastern European state. The Kremlin uses deadly force to wipe out opponents and stifle dissent at home, while overseas it props up Bashar al-Assad, the butcher of Damascus, who slaughters civilians with barrel bombs and chemical weapons. And that’s not to mention Moscow’s alleged meddling in the US election, which may have played a decisive role in the rise of Donald Trump. Tensions have increased so much in recent months that the UN secretary general António Guterres has warned of a ‘full-blown military escalation’ between Russia and the West.

So what should we do? Some argue that the West has been appeasing Russia for too long, and that it’s finally time to get tough. Putin’s crimes in Syria and Ukraine – and allegedly on the streets of Salisbury – can’t be allowed to go unchecked, so we need to start ramping up the military pressure. Others claim, however, that the West is culpable for the new Cold War. After all, it was NATO’s decision to expand eastwards and take in former Soviet states that kick-started this new era of conflict. So should we instead show some humility and try to rebuild trust and fresh channels of communication with Russia?

And what about the billions of pounds of dirty Russian money being laundered through the London property market and financial system? Much of Putin’s power stems from Russia’s kleptocratic economy, where his cronies control vast swathes of the nation’s wealth and hoard it overseas. By allowing the oligarchs to stash their cash in the City, are we not bolstering Putin’s grip on power?



Jonathan Freedland

Guardian columnist, author and broadcaster

Guardian columnist and former foreign correspondent. He is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s contemporary history series, The Long View, as well as two podcasts, Politics Weekly America for the Guardian and Unholy, alongside the Israeli journalist Yonit Levi. He is a past winner of an Orwell Prize for journalism. He is the author of twelve books, the latest being The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World.

Anne Applebaum

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whose latest book is Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends (Remote)

Historian and political commentator. Her books include Gulag: A History, which won the Pulitzer Prize, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, which won the Cundill Prize and Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine which won the Lionel Gelber and Duff Cooper prizes. She is a columnist at The Atlantic and a senior fellow of the Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. She divides her time between Britain, Poland and the USA. Her latest book is Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Russian dissident who was imprisoned by Putin

Founder of Open Russia, a movement committed to promoting democratic rule in Russia. Khodorkovsky was head of YUKOS, Russia’s largest private oil firm, where he established international management codes of practice and substantially increased production. At a televised meeting with President Putin in early 2003, he criticised endemic corruption. He was later arrested and jailed on charges of tax evasion and fraud, charges which he denied and vigorously defended. He was sentenced to fourteen years in prison, declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, and finally released in December 2013. Today, Khodorkovsky advocates an alternative vision for Russia: a strong and just state, committed to observing human rights, free and fair elections, and the rule of law.

Ivan Krastev

Academic and European politics expert

Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna. He is a founding board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. He is currently the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress. His books in English include After Europe and In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don’t Trust Our Leaders?.

Michael McFaul

Former US Ambassador to Russia

US Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, and former special assistant to President Obama and senior director of Russian and Eurasian affairs on the US National Security Council. He is now a Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. He is the author of From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia.