Winter in Russia

Ruslana shakes her glass and gazes at the band playing just a few yards from us. She finishes her drink before saying: ‘I cannot go to jail. I have two children.’ We talk about the state of play in Russia and the options for citizens who want change, such as her. She is an attractive woman, and several men seek to grab her attention by clumsily placing their drinks nearby or interrupting us on some vague pretext. Ruslana works for an NGO in Saint Petersburg and is drawn by Europe, but she says the EU seems very bureaucratic. She asks me if it has a future.

The nightspots in these parts are ideal for talking about politics. Ruslana’s hopes are invested in the media-savvy opposition leader and blogger Alexei Navalny, whose popularity was boosted by his revelations of corruption against the prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev. But systematic restrictions and foul play deployed against opposition groups, together with the extent of state control within the media, neutralizes any real political competition. To some, however, Navalny is the first real politician Russia has had since Yeltsin, even though he is obliged to play the populist card.