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
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.
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.