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Putin's Russia | Munk Debates

SEASON TWO - EPISODE #27

Putin's Russia

Be it resolved, the West should isolate, not engage, Putin’s Russia.

Guests
William Browder
Matthew Rojansky

About this episode

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s paramount leader for almost two decades, is facing mounting pressure at home and abroad. His ally in Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko, is facing widespread opposition since claiming re-election last year in a widely condemned election. Russian diplomats have been expelled from the US, Czech Republic, and Poland, along with new a round of economic sanctions by Western powers. At home, mass protests are springing up across the country in support of jailed Putin critic and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny. Putin’s response has been a show of force; the President moved 100,000 Russian troops to disputed areas of Ukraine, deployed warships to the Red Sea, cracked down on protesters, and warned the West it would cross Russia’s “red lines” at its peril.

Some experts believe that the only way to de-escalate tensions with Russia is through open dialogue on issues of mutual interest. Negotiations will reduce the risk of conflict and advance common goals that benefit both parties, such as arms control, Middle East stability and the Arctic. Others see isolation and increased sanctions as the only answer to Putin’s regime. The Russian President is a dangerous actor whose efforts to destabilize the West are a clear and present danger. Appeasement of any kind will only encourage more bad behaviour and increase the risk of an open conflict.

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Guests

William Browder

“We have to think of dealing with Putin like we're dealing with a criminal enterprise....we have to contain him and not give him any latitude for bad actions.”

William Browder

“We have to think of dealing with Putin like we're dealing with a criminal enterprise....we have to contain him and not give him any latitude for bad actions.”

William Browder was the largest foreign investor in Russia until 2005, when he was denied entry to the country and declared “a threat to national security” for exposing corruption in Russian state-owned companies. 

In 2008, Mr. Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered a massive fraud committed by Russian government officials that involved the theft of US $230 million of state taxes. Sergei testified against state officials involved in this fraud and was subsequently arrested, imprisoned without trial and systematically tortured. He spent a year in prison under horrific detention conditions, was repeatedly denied medical treatment, and died in prison on November 16, 2009, leaving behind a wife and two children. 

Since then, Mr. Browder has sought justice outside of Russia and started a global campaign for governments around the world to impose targeted visa bans and asset freezes on human rights abusers and highly corrupt officials. The United States was the first to impose these targeted sanctions with the passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Accountability Act in 2012, followed by the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act in 2016. Since then, Canada, United Kingdom and the European Union have passed their own versions of the Magnitsky Act. Mr. Browder is currently working to have similar legislation passed in other countries worldwide.

Matthew Rojansky

“Strategic stability between the United States and Russia is absolutely critical. Arms control doesn't happen without dialogue.”

Matthew Rojansky

“Strategic stability between the United States and Russia is absolutely critical. Arms control doesn't happen without dialogue.”

Matthew Rojansky is Director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.  An expert on U.S. relations with the states of the former Soviet Union, especially Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, he has advised governments, intergovernmental organizations, and major private actors on conflict resolution and efforts to enhance shared security throughout the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian region. 

Previously, Rojansky was Deputy Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  There, he founded Carnegie's Ukraine Program, led a multi-year project to support U.S.-Russia health cooperation, and created a track-two task force to promote resolution of the Moldova-Transnistria conflict.  He also served as an Embassy Policy Specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, and as a Visiting Scholar in the Research Division at the NATO Defense College. 

Rojansky is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS, and serves as U.S. Executive Secretary for the Dartmouth Conference, a track-two U.S.-Russian conflict resolution initiative begun in 1960.  

Rojansky is frequently interviewed on TV and radio, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Foreign Policy. He holds an A.B. from Harvard College and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

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