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Debate: It May Be Flexing Its Muscles, But Is Russia A Marginal Power?

Ian Bremmer (left) and Edward Lucas argue that Russia is failing to play a constructive role in global affairs.
Samuel LaHoz
Intelligence Squared U.S.
Ian Bremmer (left) and Edward Lucas argue that Russia is failing to play a constructive role in global affairs.

In the past year, Russia has been a decisive player in several events on the international stage — often to the chagrin of the Obama administration. It gave asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, blocked United Nations efforts to impose sanctions against the Syrian government and sent troops into Ukraine.

Two teams of journalists and analysts faced off this month to debate the motion "Russia is a marginal power." One side argued that the country is squandering its full potential and its relationship with other world powers under Putin. The other side argued that, even if Russia isn't the most well-liked country in the world, it still has significant economic, political and military might that can't be ignored.

The debate from Intelligence-Squared U.S. took place Oxford-style, with the audience voting on which team swayed them the most. In these events, the team that sways the most people by the end of the debate is declared the winner.

Before the debate, 25 percent of the audience at New York's Kaufman Music Center agreed with the motion, 43 percent disagreed and nearly a third — 32 percent — were undecided. After the debate, 35 percent of the audience agreed with the motion, while 58 percent disagreed, meaning the side that Russia is not a marginal power won this debate.

Those debating were:


Ian Bremmer is the founder and president of Eurasia Group, a global political risk research and consulting firm that provides analysis and expertise about how political developments move markets and shape investment environments worldwide. Bremmer created a global political risk index, has authored several books, including Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World. Bremmer is a contributor for the Financial Times A-List blog and He has a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University and is a global research professor at New York University. His analysis focuses on global macro political trends and emerging markets.

Ambassador Robert Blackwill argues that Russia continues to be a significant international power.
Samuel LaHoz / Intelligence Squared U.S.
Intelligence Squared U.S.
Ambassador Robert Blackwill argues that Russia continues to be a significant international power.

Edward Lucas is the international section editor at The Economist, where he has covered the Central and East European region for more than 25 years. He is the author of several books, including The New Cold War, an account of Vladimir Putin's Russia, and The Snowden Operation, which was published as an e-book. He is a regular contributor to BBC's Today and Newsnight, and to NPR, CNN and Sky News. He's a weekly columnist for European Voice, writes for the Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Foreign Policy and Standpoint, and co-founded The Baltic Independent, an English-language weekly in Tallinn, Estonia.


Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill is the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for strategic planning under President George W. Bush. He also served as U.S. ambassador to India, presidential envoy to Iraq and the administration's coordinator for U.S. policies regarding Afghanistan and Iran, and was special assistant to President George H.W. Bush for European and Soviet affairs. Blackwill was co-chairman of the Task Force on Russia and U.S. National Interests, which produced the report "Russia and U.S. National Interests: Why Should Americans Care?"

Peter Hitchens, an author and journalist, is currently a columnist for the Daily Mail's Mail on Sunday. He also publishes a blog on current affairs and moral, cultural and social issues. He was a resident correspondent for the Daily Express in Moscow and Washington, D.C., and has spent many years as a foreign correspondent, reporting from Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Gaza, South Africa, Venezuela and Cuba. In recognition of his foreign reporting, Hitchens was awarded the Orwell Prize in 2010. He is the author of six books, including The Abolition of Britain and The War We Never Fought: The British Establishment's Surrender to Drugs.

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