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Putin: How much opposition is there in Russia?

This is a digital-only ThinkInIs Putin’s nostalgia for the Soviet Union and obsession with Ukraine shared by fellow Russians? For months, Russia has been sending troops and equipment to the Ukrainian borders. The original stated aim was to limit the expansion of Nato, but after weeks of outfoxing western countries with performative diplomacy, Vladimir Putin finally ordered his troops into Ukraine.Countries around the world are turning to increasingly tougher sanctions. And sanctions are likely to hit the poorest the hardest: Russia’s average annual per capita income is around one fifth of that in the U.S. So how will Putin’s actions, and the West’s economic responses play out locally? Does the invasion of Ukraine mark the beginning of the end of the Putin presidency, or is this the start of an aggressive new chapter? editor and invited experts Giles WhittellSensemaker Editor Melinda HaringDeputy Director, Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Centre Professor Sam GreeneDirector of King’s Russia Institute & Professor of Russian Politics Sir Roderic LyneFormer UK Ambassador to Russia


Sensemaker Live: What does Russia want?

“Just days after the International Criminal Court accused the Russian president of war crimes, a major show of support from the leader of the world’s second largest superpower. President Xi calling Putin his dear friend, praising his firm leadership, predicting he’ll win election next year, Putin promising to discuss a Chinese peace plan.”NBC News It is, perhaps, the world’s most powerful bromance. Xi Jinping is president of China, by some measures the world’s largest economy and the second great power alongside the USA. Vladimir Putin is president of Russia, which for the last year has been trying – and failing – to conquer Ukraine by force.  For much of the 20th century, China and Russia were fierce rivals. They even came to the brink of war. But after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the two countries became friendlier. At the turn of the millennium, they signed the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, a strategic treaty that marked their growing alliance. And when Xi Jinping met Vladimir Putin on his first foreign visit as China’s president in 2013, he said they, quote, “always treat each other with an open soul”. A year later, Russia annexed Crimea… and a Chinese government spokesperson said the country understood the challenges Russia faced. From there Xi and Putin’s relationship went from strength to strength. They even celebrated birthdays together. “Putin chose to make Xi’s day special in his own trademark style. The leader was ready with a special treat: some ice cream flown in all the way from Russia.”WION Their countries grew closer too. In 2019, China and Russia announced a five-point strategic partnership based on, quote, “win-win cooperation”. And in February 2022, they met at the Beijing Winter Olympics. “President Putin of Russia was the star guest, meeting President Xi Jinping before the official opening.”BBC News They signed a limitless partnership with, quote, “no forbidden areas of cooperation”. A few weeks later, Russia invaded Ukraine. Since the invasion, Xi Jinping has performed a delicate balancing act. China has continued to trade with Russia, and implied that Nato was at fault for the war rather than Vladimir Putin. But late last year, President Xi had a warning for the Russian president. “China’s Xi Jinping met with Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz today in Beijing and he used the occasion to send a message to Vladimir Putin. Xi told Scholz he opposes the use of nuclear force in Europe. Those were his most direct remarks yet on the need to keep Russia’s war in Ukraine from escalating.”Bloomberg Quicktake On 20 February of this year, the US said that China might provide weapons to Moscow. “Some further information that we are sharing today and that I think will be out there soon indicates that they are strongly considering providing lethal assistance to Russia.”Anthony Blinken, US Secretary of State But soon after, China called for a political settlement to end the war, making no mention of its limitless partnership with Russia. So what happened on President Xi’s recent visit to Russia, and what does it tell us about what President Xi wants from the war? “The Chinese president’s gigantic plane touches down in Moscow, where he’s met, slightly strangely, by one of Russia’s deputy prime ministers. Not the most senior government figure for such a key diplomatic moment.”Sky News During President Xi’s three day visit to Russia, Vladimir Putin was in full flattery mode.  President Xi’s motorcade drove to Moscow past billboards that read: “A warm welcome to Russia for the leader of China.” He was welcomed to the Kremlin with a military band. [Fanfare greeting President Xi in Kremlin] He stayed in a hotel featuring a replica of Beijing’s Forbidden City. And he had a sumptuous dinner with Vladimir Putin, featuring quail blinis, venison with cherry sauce and pavlova. But there was also business to attend to. China and Russia agreed to work towards a more just world order and expressed concerns about Nato. President Xi said the two countries were deepening their strategic partnership. But still, there was no outright support of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Nor was there any progress made on the 12-point peace plan proposed by China. The proposals reiterate that nuclear weapons shouldn’t be used, but many Western leaders think the overall plan lacks the specificity to be taken seriously. The trip – showy but somewhat superficial – goes some way to explaining China’s aims for the war in Ukraine. China would like to see the West become weaker.  And because Russia has become so reliant on China, it wants to use the war as a moment to extract concessions from the Kremlin. Whether that’s cut price energy or a promise for support if China invaded Taiwan. But China also wants the war to end as soon as possible, foreseeing the political and economic dangers of a lengthy conflict.  And offering full throated support for the invasion would risk economic sanctions – and alienating major trading partners, like the EU. So what are the main takeaways from the visit? Russia has deepened its dependence on China.  And China has given the impression – especially to the Global South, where it wants to become more influential – that it can play a role as a peace broker, with President Xi as a statesman. This visit was designed for China to show that, in the great power struggle of the 21st century, it is a worthy adversary to the USA. The trip may not hasten the end of the war, but by and large President Xi Jinping has got exactly what he wants. This episode was written and mixed by Xavier Greenwood.


Sensemaker Live – What’s in the Russia Report?

Make sense of this week’s major news stories in a live editorial conference with Tortoise editors. Our daily digital ThinkIns are exclusively for Tortoise members and their guests.Try Tortoise free for four weeks to unlock your complimentary tickets to all our digital ThinkIns.If you’re already a member and looking for your ThinkIn access code you can find it in the My Tortoise > My Membership section of the app next to ‘ThinkIn access code’.We’d love you to join us.If there’s one document that seems to represent the Tories’ questionable taste for secrecy, it’s the report on alleged Russian interference in UK politics prepared by the Intelligence and Security Committee during the last parliament and still not published. Why not? Boris Johnson says he’s cleared it and it’s up to the ISC – but the ISC hasn’t sat since the election. Now it has a new Tory chairman and a Tory majority. Will they do the right thing and publish? Or does the government have something to hide on interference, or Russian money?Chair: Giles Whittell, Editor and Partner, Tortoise Sensemaker Live is hosted in partnership with Santander.Our special guests include:Edward Lucas, a writer and consultant specialising in European and transatlantic security. His expertise also includes energy, cyber-security, espionage, information warfare and Russian foreign and security policy. Formerly a senior editor at The Economist, he is now a senior vice-president at the Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). He writes a weekly column in the Times.In 2008 he wrote The New Cold War, a prescient account of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, followed in 2011 by Deception, an investigative account of east-west espionage. His latest print book is Cyberphobia. He has also written two e-books on espionage: The Snowden Operation and Spycraft Rebooted. He has contributed to books on religion, on media ethics and on the significance of Andrei Sakharov’s legacy.Marina Litvinenko, a public speaker and a campaigner for justice. Following the murder of her husband, Alexander Litvinenko, in November 2006, Marina began a decade long fight to get at the truth behind his assassination which resulted in the publication of a comprehensive public inquiry report in January 2016. Through this tragedy she found her own compelling voice, one that speaks with strength and conviction. Appearing in newspapers, magazines and on television screens, Marina has appealed to the public to heed the warning of her husband’s death. In her own way, she uses her public platform to continue what her husband started. In 2007 she co-authored ‘Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB’ with Alex Goldfarb. In 2011 the two also published an updated version in Russian, ‘Sasha, Volodya, Boris: The Story of a Murder’. She attends and speaks at international seminars and conferences in the UK and abroad, participates in roundtable discussions and is involved in human rights causes.Bill Browder is founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, Head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign and author of Red Notice: How I became Putin’s No 1 enemy. Browder was the largest foreign investor in Russia until 2005, when he was declared “a threat to national security” for exposing corruption in Russian state-owned companies. Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered a massive fraud, testified against state officials and was subsequently arrested, imprisoned without trial and systematically tortured until he died in prison a year later. Browder has sought justice outside of Russia and started a global campaign to impose targeted visa bans and asset freezes on human rights abusers and corrupt officials. He is working to have similar legislation passed across the European Union and countries worldwide.How does a digital ThinkIn work?A digital ThinkIn is like a video conference, hosted by a Tortoise editor, that takes place at the advertised time of the event. Digital ThinkIns are new to Tortoise. Now that our newsroom has closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, we feel it’s more important than ever that we ‘get together’ to talk about the world and what’s going on.The link to join the conversation will be emailed to you after you have registered for your ticket to attend. When you click the link, you enter the digital ThinkIn and can join a live conversation from wherever you are in the world. Members can enter their unique members’ access code to book tickets. Find yours in My Tortoise > My Membership in the Tortoise app.If you have any questions or get stuck, please read our FAQs, or get in touch with us at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.comWhat is a Tortoise ThinkIn?A ThinkIn is not another panel discussion. It is a forum for civilised disagreement. It is a place where everyone has a seat at the (virtual) table. It’s where we get to hear what you think, drawn from your experience, energy and expertise. It is the heart of what we do at Tortoise.How we work with partnersWe want to be open about the business model of our journalism, too. At Tortoise, we don’t take ads. We don’t want to chase eyeballs or sell data. We don’t want to add to the clutter of life with ever more invasive ads. We think that ads force newsrooms to produce more and more stories, more and more quickly. We want to do less, better.Our journalism is funded by our members and our partners. We are establishing Founding Partnerships with a small group of businesses willing to back a new form of journalism, enable the public debate, share their expertise and communicate their point of view. Those companies, of course, know that we are a journalistic enterprise. Our independence is non-negotiable. If we ever have to choose between the relationship and the story, we’ll always choose the story.We value the support that those partners give us to deliver original reporting, patient investigations and considered analysis.We believe in opening up journalism so we can examine issues and develop ideas for the 21st Century. We want to do this with our members and with our partners. We want to give everyone a seat at the table.


Tortoise Festival of ThinkIns – Democracy: Zuckerberg and Putin, partners in crime?

Democracy: Zuckerberg and Putin, partners in crime? Facebook didn’t intend to trash western politics, but it’s certainly been an enabler for those who have tried to do so; what started as a digital prank by Harvard students has become the arms manufacturer that unwittingly weaponised Russia’s information wars. Our democracies urgently need protection from bad actors and foreign interference: immunisation against the virus of fake news and post truth. There’s a growing consensus that we must regulate social media –  and a growing clamour to break up the big tech companies. But will such measures be enough to address what is increasingly becoming a crisis of national security? Our special guests for this ThinkIn included: Peter Jukes, author, screenwriter, playwright, literary critic and blogger. Orysia Lutsevych, research fellow and manager of the Ukraine Forum at Chatham House. Rowland Manthorpe, technology correspondent, Sky News. The Readout  Technology and Democracy: Putin and Zuckerberg, partners in crime?  Deliberate disinformation is in a category of its own. It’s intentional, often criminal, and, as proven by the experience of Ukraine and the evidence of the Mueller report, international. It raises questions about the effectiveness of police powers (the legislation was passed pre-Facebook) and the competence of Government cyber-authorities. As the databases governing health, land and education are digitised, we are more open to disinformation attacks.   Disruption to democracy – polarisation, exaggeration, false promises, alternative politics conspiracy theories and victim politics – is pervasive, but much harder to moderate. It’s all very well to point the finger at Mark Zuckerberg and ask him to restore trust, but what, exactly, are we asking of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram? We got to the beginnings of an answer: to take responsibility for content on the platforms. That means a version of the kind of legal liability that now covers established media to cover new media. It means authentication of the data it collects and then uses to sell advertising. It means self-reporting on the information paths that algorithms send us down. And it means meeting a public standard – i.e. a standard of accuracy, safety and accountability – for content.    The social media landscape is deliberately being redrawn by Facebook. The emphasis on groups or private social networks is giving many people what they want – a room of their own to chat with family and friends, fans and fellow travellers, neighbours and colleagues. But it will also make it much harder to regulate a private, fragmented, clustered internet for lies and extremism online. The pivot to groups is the next challenge to the health and safety of democracy.     What next?  –       Huawei – we took a long look at it earlier this year; we should look again –       China social credit system – data, who owns it, what government does with it –       Replacement theory and other conspiracies – how prevalent are they and where?  –       Fakes – data analysis on fakes, deep fakes, where they are and who runs them


Has Putin won?

Twenty years ago Vladimir Putin became Russia’s sixth prime minister in two years. Political chaos was the norm. The economy was on its knees. Internationally, the rump of the former Soviet Union was humiliated. In the generation since, Putin has ruthlessly consolidated power, co-opted the economy and harnessed the media to his message of Russian nationalism. He has invaded two neighbours, disrupted western democracies and suffered only the pin-prick of commercial sanctions. Russia is a world power while Europe argues with itself. Has he won? He certainly hasn’t lost. Special guests include: Sir Andrew Wood, Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme; British ambassador to Russia from 1995 to 2000 Dr Samuel Greene, Director of King’s Russia Institute & Reader of Russian Politics What is a Tortoise ThinkIn? A ThinkIn is not another panel discussion. It is a forum for civilised disagreement. Modelled on what we call a ‘leader conference’ in the UK (or an editorial board in the US), it is a place where everyone has a seat at the table. It’s where we get to hear what you think, drawn from your experience, energy and expertise. It’s where, together, we sift through what we know to come to a clear, concise point of view. It is the heart of what we do at Tortoise. Drinks from 6.00pm, starts promptly at 6.30pm. If you are late to a ThinkIn you can ‘SlinkIn’! If you would like to contribute to this ThinkIn, let us know by emailing thinkin@tortoisemedia.com We film our Thinkins so we can watch them back, edit the best bits and share them with members who weren’t there in person. Members can find their ThinkIn booking code in My Tortoise, under My Membership.