Seven quotes to help you understand what life is like in Putin's Russia.


Russian President Vladimir Putin.







With the Winter Olympics kicking off in a week or so, everyone’s talking about Russia. And, alas, the host of Sochi 2014 is hardly receiving glowing press.

But, if all of the criticisms being levelled at the land of cossacks and goulash are going way over your head, never fear.

Have a read through this cheat sheet, inspired by the excellent words of Mr Russia himself; Prime Minister, turned President, turned Prime Minister, turned President, Vladimir Putin.

What does Putin think about democracy?

“We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq, quite honestly.” – June 2005

So, before we start, it’s important to know that Putin’s definition of good democracy is “better than in the country with an electoral process that – at the time – was being entirely facilitated by an external military alliance”.

One of the biggest controversies surrounding Putin is how long he has been in charge of Russia. He has been either Russia’s Prime Minister or President since 2000.

Ultimately, he does this to evade limits on terms of service (which are now a lengthy SIX years). But, you could argue that doing this just gives the public what they want. Putin regularly receives approval ratings exceeding 70% – and that’s a whole lot of Russians who love the Putz.

The question at the end of all of this is: Is Russia a Democracy? Yes and no. Yes, in that people vote, and the person who wins the vote gets elected. But no, in that a lot of the things that we associate with democracy (an independent press, dissenting voices that don’t get thrown into jail etc.) are often compromised in what has basically become a one-party system – but more on that later.


What does Putin think about gay people?

“We do not have a ban on non-traditional sexual relationships. We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia. I want to underline this. Propaganda among children. These are absolutely different things – a ban on something or a ban on the propaganda of the thing.

“You can feel relaxed and calm [in Russia], but leave children alone, please.” – On the application of Russia’s anti-gay legislation at the Sochi Olympics, January 2014

Okay, well now that we’ve got the boring electoral structure stuff out of the way, let’s talk about what you all really clicked on this post for: Russia’s anti-gay legislation.

In June 2013, Russia enacted a series of laws which would ban the promotion of “homosexual propaganda” to minors. Despite the quote placed above, “homosexual propaganda” really does just mean “homosexual things”. So, basically, the laws are about stopping gay people from being gay outside of their houses.

While Russian authorities have said that foreigners will not be targeted, everyone’s still a little on edge.

The laws are quite well supported in Russia – with a reported 90% approval rating – but there is a small but vocal minority who are not keen, on, y’know, fining and imprisoning people on the basis of their sexuality. Members of Russia’s arts community have been particularly strong voices of dissent, with lots of popular musicians and actors speaking out against the legislation.

A lot of these criticisms are framed in light of the upcoming Winter Olympics, because the new laws contain provisions for detaining and deporting – as well as fining – foreigners who are found guilty of these offences.

What does Putin think about America?

“President Obama hasn’t been elected by the American people in order to be pleasant to Russia. And your humble servant hasn’t been elected by the people of Russia to be pleasant to someone either.” – September 2013

Historically, the relationship between Russia and the US has been a bit of a big deal for, well, the collective security of the whole world. And, if you thought that quote sounded a little bit frosty, you are not wrong.

The US and Russian governments butt heads on lots of things. Some that spring to mind are Syria (Russia is substantially more pro-Assad), the role of NATO (obviously) and South Ossetia. (Remember back in 2008 when we thought the US and Russia might go to war? That was fun.)

What does Putin think about people seeking political asylum?

“I’d rather not deal with such questions, because anyway it’s like shearing a pig – lots of screams but little wool.” – On NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, while he was seeking asylum in Russia, June 2013

What is shearing a pig like? Probably a lot like being pissed off when a western guy has sought asylum in one of your airports, and you just have to sit there letting him buy Duty Free vodka while the world figures what they’ll let you do. (Possibly a bit of creative license in that last sentence.)


In all seriousness, what we can learn from this quote is that Putin doesn’t love having to clean up other countries’ mess. “Lots of screams but little wool,” you guys.

“Lots of screams but little wool.”

What does Putin think about cultural diversity in his country?

“If you want to become an Islamic fundamentalist and be circumcised, come to Moscow. We are multiconfessional. We have very good specialists. I can recommend one for the operation. He’ll make sure nothing grows back.” – On Middle Eastern terrorism, November 2002.

In this quote, Putin was comparing the Islamist terrorists responsible for 9/11 with those who performed terror attacks in Russia’s Chechnya.The situation in Chechnya is a really hard and complex conflict. So let’s put a word limit on it:

Chechnya in 60 words:

Chechnya is a place in Southern Russia. It wanted to split from the USSR, and thought that its collapse was its chance, but then-PM Yeltsin killed their leader. In 1999, Terrorist/freedom fighting (#subjective) group the Islamic International Brigade crossed the Russian border. This resulted in a war that Putin fought for all of his Presidency. Chechnya’s new leader is pro-Moscow.

And, no. None of that explains why Putin loves a good phallic metaphor.

What does Putin think about transparent security policies?

“There is no such thing as a former KGB man.” – May 2000

Via Putin looking at things on Tumblr

This comment was made in relation to former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, but Putin was in the KGB – Soviet Russia’s secret service – too, and he often fulfils the stereotype of a creepy pale man in a trenchcoat.

For example, often his enemies just disappear. One of his most outspoken critics, Mikhail Khodorkovsky (an oil tycoon), was arrested on fraud charges and was the lost in what the BBC termed a “secret prison” for most of 2011.

Or, if they don’t disappear, they just receive outrageous sentences for small crimes. Like the women from Pussy Riot, who were sent to perform labour in isolated penal colonies for holding an anti-Putin protest in a church.

What does Putin think about his personal life?

“I do not remember. But I remember exactly when it did the last time. I can identify up to a minute.” – When asked about the first time he had sex, July 2006

Oh, Putin.