Why has Russia blocked tougher sanctions against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad at the United Nations, laying itself open to accusations that it is propping up a dictator and thwarting efforts to stop the violence in Syria?

Communication is often not Moscow’s strong point. But Alexei Pushkov, the smooth chairman of the Russian Duma’s foreign affairs committee, gave a lengthy and combative answer to that question at a London briefing this week. Read more

Police officers detain an opposition activist during a banned anti-Kremlin protest in St.Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, May 31. AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

Police detain an opposition activist during a banned anti-Kremlin protest on May 31. AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

Soviet-watchers called it “whataboutism”. This was the Communist-era tactic of deflecting foreign criticism of, say, human rights abuses, by pointing, often disingenuously, at something allegedly similar in the critic’s own country: “Ah, but what about…?”

As several former Soviet republics drift back towards authoritarian ways, whataboutism is making a comeback. For a Briton, it is difficult to talk to Ukrainian officials about the questionable seven-year jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko without getting a lecture on the prison terms meted out to several British MPs for expenses fraud.

Now, it seems, Dmitry Peskov, the wily press secretary of Russian president Vladimir Putin, has succumbed. Read more

A still from the BBC Panorama documentary Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate. BBC/PA Wire

A still from BBC Panorama's 'Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate'. BBC/PA Wire

These are sensitive times in Poland.

Polish media spent most of Tuesday in hand-wringing outrage over a BBC Panorama documentary highlighting the problems of football-related racist violence in both Poland and Ukraine – little over a week before they host the Euro 2012 championships. Read more

The pro-democracy protests since December’s disputed parliamentary elections are hopeful for Russia’s long-term future. Here, at last, is an economic middle class finally demanding a proper say in their country’s governance, legal protections for their families and property, and an end to pernicious corruption. Sociologists have forecast this for years – sometimes more in hope than conviction.

But in the shorter term, the shifts under way in Russia that the demonstrations highlight do not bode well for economic policy and stability. Vladimir Putin’s return as president after Sunday’s election will usher in Russia’s most uncertain period since before his first presidency in 2000. Read more

A Russian Channel One undated television grab shows a man identified as Adam Osmayev, one of the suspected militants alleged to have conspired to kill Russian PM Vladimir Putin. Photo AFP/Getty

If you’re planning to bump off a world leader, then doing so in the middle of an election campaign is a good guarantee of maximum impact. But in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s case, assassination “plots” seem to crop up so regularly around election time there is reason to be suspicious. Read more

A pro-Putin rally. Photo AP

One round or two? For all the protests against Vladimir Putin, that has long been the only real question surrounding Russia’s presidential election, now just 10 days away. Will he get more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round on March 4, with or without a little “massaging”, or will he be forced into a run-off with another candidate three weeks later? Read more