Putin's Russia has turned insular and paranoid—it won't even give me a visaby Thomas de Waal / July 22, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
I am a Russophile. I have spent much of my adult life in Russia. Half the books on my shelves are in Russian, a good proportion of my friends are Russian. I met my wife, another English Russophile, in Moscow. The great Russian authors have shaped my worldview. So I find myself in the curious position of reflecting on how I came to be denied a visa to visit the country I love.
I have good connections in Russia, including in the foreign ministry. In Russia, when one door closes you can always try another. So to be barred for the launch of the Russian-language edition of my book on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict is a blow, but it may not be a permanent one.
My refused entry is, however, a symptom of a much wider trend, which is that Russia is turning in on itself and lashing out at the outside world. Other recent western visa refuseniks include Bill Bowring, a lawyer who has given advice to human rights organisations and counsel on Russian legal reform; several people involved in defending the beleaguered oil company Yukos against the Kremlin’s wrath; Irene Stevenson, an American labour activist who has lived in Russia for ten years; and most bizarrely, William Browder, a major investor and self-confessed fan of President Putin. All, I know, are people who care about Russia, but have crossed the authorities in some way.
Several foreign journalists have been refused accreditation and those working in Moscow are now subjected to the kind of pressure we all hoped had ended in Soviet times. During the last Chechen elections, the BBC Moscow office sent round an internal memo asking BBC programmes in London not to interview Akhmed Zakayev, the exiled pro-independence official now a refugee in Britain, fearful of how the Russians might respond.
My sin, as far as I can tell, is that ever since 1994, when I first saw…