Rights in Russia Interview with Jens Siegert, journalist and political scientist

This month Mary Page talks with Jens Siegert, a journalist and political scientist who has lived in Moscow since 1993 where he worked initially as a radio correspondent. A German national, from 1999 to 2015, he headed the Russia office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. From 2016 to January 2021, he headed the EU project ‘Public Diplomacy. EU and Russia’ at the Goethe-Institut in Moscow. Siegert was also an advisor to the board of the Memorial human rights organization until its closure in 2022.

Jens has published numerous articles, as well as two recent books (in German):111 Reasons to Love Russia (2018) and Russia ‘In Principle’. An Encounter in 22 Terms (2021). This October his latest work will be published, Russia After Putin.

This interview was recorded on 9 May 2024

Mary’s questions:

  • Today is Victory Day in Moscow. Could you start by explaining why is victory over Nazi Germany marked in Russia on 9 May and by the other allies on 8 May? What has been happening on Victory Day in Russia today? What is the significance of Victory Day, both in terms of public attitudes and the official government view?
  • You have been living in Moscow for many years now. How would you describe life in Moscow at the current time in the third year of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? To what extent have the lives of Russians been impacted by sanctions?
  • What are public attitudes towards what the government calls the ‘special military operation’?
  • How would you describe public attitudes towards Ukraine and Ukrainians? To what extent do friendships and familial ties continue across the border?
  • We are talking to you today in Moscow. What kind of restrictions are there on freedom of expression for the ordinary citizen these days?
  • Your friend Oleg Orlov, for many years a leading figure in Memorial, who is 70, is now serving a two and a half year prison term for expressing his views on the ‘special military operation’. Could you briefly summarize the case against him? What do we know about his health and state of mind? How is he bearing up?
  • On 7 May, Putin was inaugurated for the fifth time as president of Russia. To what extent did the result of the recent presidential elections reflect public views towards President Putin and the ongoing war?
  • As a citizen of an EU country, how do you perceive different attitudes towards the war among EU member states? How did the Russian public perceive the long delay, and recent delivery, of US aid to Ukraine?
  • To coin a phrase, one can probably say that every ‘special military operation’ comes to an end at some time. How will this ‘special military operation’ end, in your view?
  • Your forthcoming book (out in German in October) is called Russia After Putin. Could you tell us something about this book and why you wrote it? Can you share with us some of the main ideas you put forward in the book about Russia’s future?