Russian editor heckled at Oxford University

A senior Russian editor attracted a large audience at Oxford University today to hear her view of Putin’s Russia as seen from London, but found herself harangued by a couple of Russians with decidedly anti-British and pro-Putin views.

Irina Demchenko, Deputy Editor-in-Chief and UK Bureau Chief of RIA Novosti news agency criticised anti-Putin coverage of British media as superficial. But she herself was clearly none too enthusiastic about the prospect of another 12 years of Putin either. “Maybe he will still be there when I am taking my teeth at night and putting them in a glass,” she remarked gloomily.

She recalls the collapse of Communism when she was 30, and the subsequent years when she and her peers put politics aside and devoted themselves to ensuring a good education for the children with the possibility to meet people from other nations.

Now the young Russian intellectuals (average age 31) are out on the streets against Putin demanding political reform. He needs them to modernise Russia, but they have gone into opposition against him. “The government can’t do anything with them, nor without them,” she says.

When it comes to questions, up jumps a Russian with a speech about how well Russia is doing, how viciously anti-Russian the British government is, and how British newspapers editors are given orders about coverage by MI6 – the spy agency.  What was the question? Not much. Shortly afterwards, another Russian in the audience delivered a similar diatribe.

The atmosphere grew a little tense, and one participant asked Irina if she felt at risk because of her views about Putin.

An apt question. The wild allegations and latent menace in the interventions of the two Russians reminded me of my time as a Reuters correspondent in East Berlin and Prague before Gorbachev. I asked a question too, for which I was berated by one of the visitors as “a Cold War dinosaur.”

When somebody asked them who they were, they replied that they were research fellows. Mmm.

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