On the 27th of February, the Milestone Institute had the privilege to host Mr Peter Nagy, a diplomat at the Australian Embassy in Budapest, for a discussion entitled ’What is going on in Russia? An Australian perspective’.

Co-organized by the Milestone Debating Society and the Nemzetközi Kör (International Circle of Hungary), the aim of the discussion was to give members of the debating society and others an understanding of the complex historical, political and economic processes currently shaping the Russian Federation. The discussion was moderated by Dénes András Nagy on behalf of the International Circle of Hungary, and the event was introduced by Viola Fur, President of the Milestone Debating Society.

Peter Nagy, relying on knowledge and experience gained while serving as the Australian First Secretary in Moscow, talked first of all about Russia’s history. He informed the participants about key moments in 20th century Russian history, and how these contribute to President Putin’s popularity today. He also explained the effect 75 years of communism had on the Soviet Union, one of the superpowers of the post-WWII bipolar order, and how this past remains unforgotten for Russians.

Responding to a question from the audience, Mr Nagy also explained the process of Crimea’s annexation and its effect on the current situation in Ukraine – again, all this based on his personal experience, as he had also served in Kiev for a shorter period of time.

Moving to Russia’s economy, Mr Nagy talked about how, in response to the annexation of Crimea, embargos were imposed against the Russian Federation, and how these were followed by retaliatory sanctions, as Moscow in turn placed limits on food imports from the West. He detailed his view about the effects these sanctions will have on Russia, and whether the economic backlash resulting from the sanctions and the subsequent capital flight will lead to any kind of public unrest. In his opinion, this won’t be the case, mainly due to the overwhelming support Putin enjoys and a welfare system that guarantees that average Russian citizens probably won’t feel the sanctions in their everyday lives.

Mr Nagy then proceeded to talk about Russia’s role as a superpower in the 21st century, especially with regard to its gas reserves – which are vast, but due to harsh weather conditions, their geographical location, and the poor infrastructure, not easily accessed. Answering a question from the audience, he also talked about the recent China-Russia gas deal, and how this will affect the countries’ foreign policies towards each other. While he felt that China benefited more from the gas deal, it was definitely in Russia’s interest as well, especially to balance the lost trade resulting from Western sanctions. What’s more, Mr Nagy said that Putin possibly fears the creation of a new bipolar world – only that this time, the superpowers would be China and the U.S. In order to prevent this, he wants to establish Russia’s role as an economic superpower and strengthen relations with China, by creating a precedent for future trade cooperation.

Finally, returning to the subject of domestic policy, the diplomat talked about journalism and the press in Russia: the challenges it faces, especially arising from the fact that most media are state-funded and have no real competition. On the subject of domestic policy, he also talked about the oligarchs, in answering a question about who the country’s second most powerful person is.

All in all, the audience learned a lot during this two-hour discussion about Russia, about its history, domestic and foreign policy, and economy. The participants found the discussion interesting, especially Mr Nagy’s personal insights on many of the topics.

The Milestone Debating Society cordially invites you to its following discussions – there is still a lot to talk about!