Next Year in Moscow

The Economist

Arkady Ostrovsky, born and raised in Russia, left the country when the Soviet Union fell apart to study and live in Britain. For years, he has written books and articles for The Economist about Russia growing more authoritarian. In the Next Year in Moscow podcast, Ostrovsky interviewed people from all walks of Russian life in exile following the start of the Russia/Ukraine war: Andrei Babitsky, a writer and grandson of a prominent Soviet dissident who left Russia after the war started.; Marina Davydova, a theatre-maker, playwright and producer, who published a petition against the war and was forced to leave Russia; Sania Galimova, who left her home alongside her husband, children and dog after the war started, ending up opening a bookshop in Istanbul.

Through personal stories, the 8-part series illustrates how Vladimir Putin first expelled vocal opposition prior to the invasion of Ukraine, and then constructed a police state, to try and crush the smallest acts of rebellion. Even calling the invasion "a war” was deemed illegal and punishable by arrest. The Kremlin imposed strict media laws that criminalised any reporting of the truth. Independent journalists working abroad provided an alternative to the powerful narrative that is broadcast 24/7 on state television.

An example of this is Galina Timchenko, Russian journalist and the executive editor and owner of Meduza. Meduza is a Russian- and English-language independent news website, headquartered in Riga, Latvia. While Meduza has become an essential reading for many independent minded Russians, Timchenko told Ostrovsky that she’s always prepared for the worst. “I am a big fan of a book by the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. He’s an evangelist of the idea of negative thinking. His main thought was - if you’re in the open space, you have to predict what next could kill you. 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 weeks…”.

Sooner or later, Vladimir Putin’s most formidable opponents end up in jail. In the podcast we hear from oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky whose wealth and power made him a target. He was arrested in 2003 after making a risky return to Russia. When opposition leader Alexei Navalny flew back to Moscow in 2021, he never made it through passport control.

Next Year In Moscow is a patchwork of intricate stories, of those who have left and those who remain in the country, asking one fundamental question: can Russia ever be a place that these exiles can, once again, call home?

The quality of the production caught the attention of critics. The Sunday Times’ Patricia Nicol wrote: “This eye-opening, moving and humane series is expertly and atmospherically produced by John Shields and Sam Colbert, the team behind one of my 2022 listening highlights, The Prince, about China’s president, Xi Jinping. Weidong Lin’s subtle, cinematic scoring is particularly effective.”