Galina Timchenko, Mikhail Zygar, and Oliver Bullough talk to Nataliya Vasilyeva.

Nataliya Vasilyeva, Oliver Bullough, Mikhail Zygar.The influence and impact of Russian authority is evident before the session even begins when we learn that Galina has had passport issues and joins the session via a live link from Moscow.

Who is Putin? That’s the question everyone asked when he rose to power and to a great extent that is still the salient question.  When Putin came to power and restored Russian control over Chechnya, he was genuinely popular but he was also ruthless in eliminating opposition; “opponents just vanished” said Bullough.

Putin’s approval rating remains in the high 80% range, but Galina questions the way the polls are conducted and thinks that his real approval is “maybe half of the population”. Bullough reminds us that the opinions polls in the UK haven’t been too accurate of late.

At the beginning of his presidency Putin wanted to join NATO and build alliances with Bush and Blair. He felt rebuffed by both. This was one of a number of blows that included the Orange Revolution in Ukraine that shaped a more hard line approach to Russian foreign policy. The annexation of Crimea was a piece of ruthless opportunism but it was exercised so efficiently that it had probably planned for some time.

Mikhail Zygar runs an independent TV station that in January was effectively shut down by the authorities. The government banned advertising from non state channels in a direct challenge to the continued existence of the station. The viewers responded by raising $2m to keep the station on air.

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