Beneath the glimmering chandelier and the elegant Greek Revival pediments of the Oxford and Cambridge Club – and a thoroughly delicious meal – Luke Harding offered a fascinating and engaging talk on Putin and the New Russia. We heard insights into what life was like as a foreign correspondent, living with his wife and children in Moscow. He gave us some thoughts on the nature of political life in Russia today, and with that background, helped us reflect on the character and consequences of British political decisions in relation to Russia. Our newspapers ensure we are all familiar with the strange mix of policy and ambition, territory and ideology that so complicate relationships with Russia under President Putin; Luke’s address gave us a fresh appreciation of quite how complex the issues are, with a mix of insights which carried us from the domestic to the disturbing, while ending in a way that encouraged us not to lose hope.
The questions were wide-ranging and thoughtful. These covered topics as disparate as Russia’s economic crisis, relationships with President Trump, cyber-attacks and defence spending. We wondered, too, about the Russian Orthodox Church and its links to the Kremlin. Sanctions came up in another question, both their effects and their consequences, along with thoughts about the merits of abandoning or extending them. Varied the questions may have been, but the underlying mood conveyed many similar themes. The session concluded with an appropriate question about the “ordinary” people of Russia, what life is like for them and what the future feels and looks like from their perspective. International issues always have a human face.