For the amount of interest in Vladimir Putin and his politics, there is a surprising lack of academic events held on campus dealing with the topic.
Realising the absence, the ANU International Relations Society hosted an academic panel to discuss “The World According to Putin”, with distinguished guests Kyle Wilson, Stephen Fortescue, and Kirill Nourzhanov providing insight as to why Putin acts as he does and where he wants to take his country into the future.
The panel was chaired by society president Simon Papagiorcopulo in the China in the World Auditorium, which was filled just shy of capacity by interested staff and students.
In the first part of the talk the speakers together gave an overview of the mentality of Putin, as well as the domestic politics and economic situation of Russia. Immediately, the picture painted of the Russian leader became Rembrandtian in detail, fitting for a complex man trained as a KGB officer, transformed into President, and adept at reading the behaviours of others, sometimes deceiving them, and sometimes drawing them into his political influence.
It was also explained that life had indeed gotten better (in terms of economy) during the reign of Putin and while his rule was characterised as dictatorial it was made clear that the Russian people – informed, rational individuals, not propagandised zombies – overwhelmingly support their President. Inevitably, the discussion turned to liberal Russians, on which their potency and presence was adroitly debated between the speakers.
The conversation then moved to other pressing issues, the most salient of which was Ukraine, and what was described as de facto Russian territory in Crimea. Again, the speakers brought a range of perspectives to the issue, where it was illustrated that Russia moved into Crimea because Putin saw it, like many states bordering Russia, as critical to his idea of national security. During the question time that followed, difficult questions were posed to the speakers from members of the audience which resulted in lively, informed, and necessary debate.
Yet with the conclusion of the panel, the discussion did not stop. Refreshments were served to the guests in the foyer and speakers stayed behind to talk with the students, addressing their questions. Nevertheless, Russia is not the world, and other areas of interest certainly do exist, and can be analysed in a manner similar to how the ANU IR Society did so on the night of Tuesday 5th May.
Miguel is the 2015 Treasurer of the ANU International Relations Society.
‘The World According to Putin’ was held under Chatham House Rules.