Okay, kids, that was fun, but now I have to go write another story on the Olympics in Sochi. Follow me at @juliaioffe for the latest!

I've been covering Russia for years, now I'm at TNR where I've just written a story about what it's like to be gay in Russia. Go 'head and ask me anything! Proof: https://twitter.com/juliaioffe/status/368031956425924608


Comments: 243 • Responses: 56  • Date: 

uberlad34 karma


JuliaIoffe45 karma

Speak up when you know you're right.

BrunetteCreeper25 karma

I'm a black college student and am wondering if it would be safe for me to study in Russia. I'm sure on a day to day basis I may be fine, but what i'm worried about is the one time something goes wrong. What would be your advice as a Russian-American?

JuliaIoffe33 karma

Hmmmm, that's a tough one. I think that, for the most part, you'd be okay -- if you consider people glaring at you and cracking racist jokes okay. (Russians are, er, not the most tolerant bunch.) There's quite a bit of violence against people considered to be black, which includes, in the Russian mind, people from Central Asia and the Caucasus. My advice is go, but stick to the city center and try to go to a bigger city like Moscow. (St. Pete is crawling with skinheads.) Be extra, extra careful and make sure the American Embassy knows you're there. They have a special unit to deal with threats to American citizens, so you should report anything that happens immediately. You should ask, btw, Jelani Cobb, who spent time teaching in Moscow, if he has any advice.

BrunetteCreeper16 karma

Wow. Thank you for the detailed advice.

JuliaIoffe13 karma

No problem. You should definitely go, but talk to Jelani first.

ij_reilly24 karma

Do Vladimir Putin and the Russian government have complete, total, absolute control over this AMA?

JuliaIoffe22 karma

Oh, you bet.

CoreyD422 karma

How serious of a threat is Islamic radicalization in Russia via both the Caucasus and the quickly growing Muslim population in other regions?

Will Putin's often times heavy hand lead to instability via this particular demographic?

JuliaIoffe21 karma

It's a pretty serious threat, and I can't say that the Russians are doing a good job fighting it. For one thing, they've installed a guy named Ramzan Kadyrov to run Chechnya (once torn up by war) and he's running a pretty Islamist ship. (If you want proof, look at his Instagram account.) And Putin, who is in many ways hostage to him, can't do much about it.

raunaqsingh15 karma

where did you pick up your voice or your writing style? best advice you would give to aspiring journalists or your 18 year old self?

JuliaIoffe18 karma

My best advice is, read a ton of good writing, especially before you sleep, but, when you write, don't try to imitate it. Just write as yourself.

zeblackhand13 karma

What is the biggest misconception Americans have about Russian politics?

JuliaIoffe20 karma

That Putin thinks ahead.

Megalo_11 karma

Hi Julia, we, who are not particularly knowledgeable about Russia, still think of it as having a pretty sexist culture. Are women treated more inferior there than in other more 'westernized' countries?

JuliaIoffe8 karma

Yes! Omg, yes, yes, yes. Russia is still extremely sexist. I can write volumes on this, but, good lord. Basically, it's a matriarchy parading around as a macho patriarchy. That said, the wage gap between men and women is smaller in Russia than in the U.S. And once a year, on International Women's Day (March 8) Russian women get tons and tons of flowers -- I guess to make up for being treated as cooks/strippers with uteruses the rest of the year.

Megalo_1 karma

Thanks for answering! Any awful experiences in your work you'd want to share?

JuliaIoffe20 karma

Once, I had coffee with a political analyst. Then I made the mistake of trying to pay for the coffee, which confused him. He said, "What are you doing?" and "Why?" And I said, "Because that's the rule: the journalist pays." And he said, "But you're not a journalist. You're a woman!"

volta121010 karma

Hi Julia,

What are your thoughts on 2014 Olympics? Should gay athletes not attend, attend but protest?

JuliaIoffe18 karma

I think gay athletes should absolutely attend, kick ass, and show Russia and the rest of the largely homophobic world that they are an athletic force to be reckoned with.

Frajer10 karma

Do you think Putin is really this homophobic or is he just making a statement?

JuliaIoffe14 karma

I don't think Putin is any more homophobic than most Russians, which is pretty homophobic -- Russians, like I said, are pretty ignorant about homosexuality and think it's abnormal). I also don't think it was his initiative. This law, unlike many, came up to the federal level after being introduced in cities around Russia, and Putin signed into law what the Duma gave him, which obviously signifies his approval: if he hadn't approved, it would've never made it out of the lower chamber of the Russian parliament. That said, the law reflects a tone set by Putin by bringing the Orthodox Church, a very conservative institution, increasingly not just into public life but into the government. It's all part of a pattern of looking for a more conservative, "Russian" national idea -- whatever that means.

allegra_p9 karma

Do you think the Times does accurate, fair reporting on Russia?

JuliaIoffe11 karma

The Times has a fantastic bureau in Moscow, staffed with wonderful, intelligent reporters. Can't say enough good things about them.

Beer_n_Skittles8 karma


Is Navalny really as right wing as they say? What are his views on incoming migrants?!

JuliaIoffe22 karma

I don't think he is. He is as nationalist as most Russian liberals, who aren't really liberals at all, but are closer to the libertarian end of the spectrum (a natural reaction to a suffocating Russian state). If you ask Navalny, he would tell you that migration is a serious problem (Russia has the second largest number of migrants, after the U.S.) and it's a problem not just for Russia, but for the countries the migrants leave (fatherless families, torn up social fabric, etc.). Moreover, because these migrants live in the shadows in Russia, they don't have access to health care, the courts, etc. His view is that if you don't talk about this, the neo-Nazis will. And I tend to agree with him.

Beer_n_Skittles3 karma

Thanks for clearing this up. Recently I've been reading a lot about him and there's a lot of mixed messages there. Specifically, his blog posts contain the odd derogatory term for non whites: this may be a way of pandering to the locals rather than calling for tougher laws symapthetic to right wing extremism.

JuliaIoffe1 karma


jgreen538 karma


JuliaIoffe14 karma

Horseradish vodka. It's the best.

jgreen535 karma


JuliaIoffe7 karma

They have it at most Russian restaurants. For best results, make sure to chase it with something savor: herring, lardo, something pickled. #fact

wtl838 karma

Here's a naive question: I know that you and the Forbes writer Mark Adomanis often disagree. My understanding of Russian politics is unsophisticated, though, so I have trouble grasping the specific faultlines of your ideological differences. How would you characterize his work as opposed to your own?

JuliaIoffe16 karma

Mark Adomanis is a very nice fellow. That said, he's never lived and worked in Russia, nor does he speak language. He is too credulous of what the Kremlin says. He is often counterintuitive for counterintuitiveness's sake. He is academic in the way that academics ignore the parts of reality that undermine their nice, abstract theory. That's about it, I guess.

wtl834 karma

That makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

JuliaIoffe4 karma


BinayakaSahu7 karma

Is there something about Russian Culture/Society that makes the country so prone to authoritarian dictatorship-esque regimes (Stalin, USSR, to Putin)?

JuliaIoffe9 karma

I think Stalin set the stage for Putin, and the czars set the stage for Stalin. If the czars taught Russians that they were eternal subjects to the holy emperor and his Church, Stalin drove home the notion by jailing and killing millions and millions of Soviets, of making people afraid not just to speak up and resist, but to trust each other. The scars of what he did are there, but they're fading in the generation born after the fall of the Soviet Union. I don't know that it's a cultural thing as much as it is hard, cruel historical training.

LorenzoStDuBois6 karma

When you say that those who bear the scars of communism are being supplanted by subsequent generations, what are the implications of this? Does this give hope to the idea that people will be less tolerant of endemic corruption and oppression?

JuliaIoffe1 karma

Yes, exactly. The problem is that hope and fearlessness don't last forever. If the Russian state doesn't change itself to fit them, they'll either leave or become embittered and cynical, just like their parents and grandparents.

LorenzoStDuBois5 karma

While I enjoyed Harvey Fierstein on Chris Hayes last night, he certainly criticized you in a personal way. Can you follow up on your opinions that the West is playing into Russian propaganda? What are the options for Westerners who want to help? Just shut up? Or be less hypocritical and criticize failings by the West in the same breath?

Also, congratulations on becoming this week's Bete Noir of MSNBC!

JuliaIoffe8 karma

I don't really care if the opinion I express plays into anyone's propaganda, because it often doesn't, and, moreover, it is not my job to worry about it.

KGFIII4 karma

Do you think there's any chance Putin will ever voluntarily give up power? (As in not run again or allow himself to be beat in an election?)

SubtleViking2 karma

Great question. (I personally can't imagine he'd ever allow himself to lose an election)

JuliaIoffe4 karma

Nope. Putin is clearly not a man looking for an exit strategy. That said, I don't know how much longer he can hang on. 2024, when a second (well, fourth) term runs out, seems unrealistic.

wtl834 karma

A bit of fan mail: Just wanted to say I've been a serious admirer of your work for years. Please keep fighting the good fight!

JuliaIoffe0 karma

Thank you!

demosthenes2473 karma

Many of my favorite books were written by Russians in the 19th and early 20th centuries (from Dostoevsky to Lermontov). I think the most contemporary work of Russian literature I've read is Bulgakov's Master and Margarita (which I think was published originally in 1967. I was wondering if you had some favorite works of contemporary Russian literature (works by Russian women would be especially appreciated).

Betenor3 karma

not to hijack, but check out Shishkin. He's just now starting to be translated, but he's great. (BTW, M&M was published in '67 but was written - and is a product - of 1930s USSR)

JuliaIoffe2 karma

JuliaIoffe2 karma

Anything by Lyudmila Petrushevskaya and Lyudmila Ulitskaya. Also, my recent favorite is Vladimir Sorokin's "Day of the Oprichnik." It's a great, dystopian read, and is especially relevant now with Russia's insistence on a return to a traditionalism that may never have existed.

lyleisawraith3 karma

Favorite Pushkin?

JuliaIoffe7 karma

Queen of Spades.

lyleisawraith2 karma

хороший выбор!

JuliaIoffe4 karma


terran12123 karma

Why are you in Putin's pocket this smart man named lawrence o'donnell told me so

JuliaIoffe4 karma

Putin hasn't paid me in ages! [jumps out of pocket]

pickupnote3 karma

What has living in Russia made you realize about US politics? I know that Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi has said that it was pretty eye-opening.

JuliaIoffe10 karma

Living in Russia made me romanticize America. It was a pretty rude awakening to come home to Newtown and the background check fail, the AP leak investigation, the NSA run completely amok, and to see that old white men are still obsessing about abortion. Sad Ioffe.

yaliobliotebya3 karma

I really appreciated you publishing your latest article in Russian as well. Записки из подполья feels like a perfect title. How successful do you think western media attempts at reaching out to Russian citizens will be? I'm particularly interested in the New York Times soliciting stories about the Russian gay experience and what your own perceptions on Western reporting on this issue have been.

JuliaIoffe1 karma

I think the Western outrage will be helpful in ensuring that athletes are protected. But it doesn't actually help gays and lesbians in Russia. And I'm not really sure what will.

qoobrix3 karma

  1. Could you talk about some of the international initiatives have been killed - or can never be pursued - due to Russia's veto power in the UN?

  2. How fare the efforts of making Russia cease its support of the Assad regime?

  3. What can and should we, as individuals, and our international politicians do about the Russian anti-LGBT Olympics that's more than just a symbolic gesture of frustration?

JuliaIoffe7 karma

Russia kills anything in the UNSC that it thinks violates national sovereignty, not because they're such fighters for self-determination, but because they're afraid these measures will eventually be used on them, say, when they crack down on dissent.

The efforts of making Putin stop supporting Assad are not going very well, in part because Russia is a big, nuclear power with a UN veto, and takes that very seriously (image-wise), so yelling at them and telling them to stop doesn't really do anything, just as it wouldn't work if someone did that with the U.S.

As for the anti-gay stuff, that's your answer, too. We can get angry and pour vodka into the gutters all we want, but, ultimately, this is something Russia needs to work out on its own. After all, the vast majority of Russians (like over 70%) still see homosexuality as a disease or a psychiatric aberration.

maximkos3 karma

Will you ever consider going back to Russia as a reporter?

JuliaIoffe5 karma


JuliaIoffe2 karma

10 more minutes, guys. Any more questions?

PartizanHelsinki2 karma

Hey again! What do you feel about May6 prisoners? Do you think that they will get very long sentences for nothing? Is there any possibility that they will go free?

JuliaIoffe5 karma

Unfortunately, I doubt they will go free, and it breaks my heart: one of my very good friends, Maria Baronova, is among them. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/magazine/politics/105735/maria-baronova-anti-putin-activist

maximkos2 karma

What top 3 things you miss most about Russia these days?

JuliaIoffe2 karma

Russian friendship and the long summer days.

maximkos2 karma

Russian friendship is what I miss the most too....drink horseradish vodka with Russian friends in the long summer days )

JuliaIoffe6 karma

No, no, rose wine. :)

SubtleViking2 karma

Your little dustup on MSNBC about Putin not being omnipotent(a surprisingly controversial assertion) seems intuitively correct, but I was hoping you could go into a little more detail about the Russian 'power structure'. What is the source of his political staying power? What part do the oligarchs play in that?

It was recently announced that Khodorkovsky might be released as soon as 2014, do you expect that to happen and if so, what are the implications?

JuliaIoffe3 karma

Nope. I hear they're now cobbling together a third set of charges. This is how Russia does things: slapdash, and without any grand strategy. Really, when they tried him in 2005, and the public opinion jury was still out on him -- Khodorkovsky was the worst of the worst in the 90s -- they should have given him 20, 30 years. By now, everyone would have forgotten. Instead, they keep brining it back into the spotlight, where it becomes increasingly apparent to everyone who has eyes that this is political.

bellekid2 karma

What do you think is going to happen to lgbt athletes at the Olympic Games? Can Russia really punish all of them without major repercussions from their allies or is Russia just making thinly veiled threats?

JuliaIoffe6 karma

I doubt Russia (the government) will punish gay athletes -- they don't want the media mess. The more pressing concern is what happens to a gay athlete that goes out into Russia and, say, holds hands with his partner. The mood in Russia is pretty poisonous right now. Will they be heckled? Beaten up? What will the Russian government do if that happens?

wadappen1 karma

Hi Julia, You're considered (one of) the best journalists writing about Russia today. Do you feel like an expert on Russia, or is it just the fact that you're Russian that gives you headway? That is, you definitely know Russia better than most American journalists or pundits; but do you think you understand Russian politics significantly better than a random political activist or just an informed voter in Russia?

JuliaIoffe1 karma

Being from Russia definitely helped. That said, I was only 7 when my family left the Soviet Union. And I worked pretty hard -- with a tutor in grade school, in college, and when in Russia -- to learn the place well.

SubtleViking1 karma

What's your favorite 'Russian' phrase? Insult?

If memory serves, you're the writer from TNR who likes the taste of horse steaks. Do you still hold the position that a horse steak>beef steak?

JuliaIoffe3 karma

Yes. Horse steak is fucking delicious.

clafoutis111 karma

Would you advise a fresh college grad to go into journalism right now?

JuliaIoffe3 karma

Get a job where you write and report as much as possible. And avoid journalism grad school, at least for now.

EvelynJames1 karma

Can you speak to Russia Today? They have a growing audience in the west, who seem unaware of their connections to Putin's Kremlin. What's your take on the objectivity, or trustworthiness of RT as a news source?

JuliaIoffe7 karma

Russia Today was created and is still financed by the Kremlin. Their mission is not to bring objectivity, but to serve as "a counterweight" to the West. (Which, you'll agree, is weird for a news outlet.) Putin talks about RT's editorial policies as "we." So, no, RT is not a news source. It's a joke.

PartizanHelsinki1 karma

Hey Julia! And thanks for your great article (all the previous ones as well)! I live very close to StPete so I see how (wealthy) Russian gays come over and be "free" even for a weekend. I feel so sad for them. I read a great article by Miriam Elder as well where she pointed out why this all is happening in Russia right now. Very scary. What is your opinion - can this all just go on? Can all this harassments & violence just go on? Is it only happening cos Putin & Kirill needs someone to blame? Today a silvermedalist dedicated his medal to his GLTB friends. Everything goes so fast, do you think that #boycottsochi will happen?

JuliaIoffe7 karma

Miriam Elder is a close friend but also a brilliant journalist, so I recommend reading everything she writes.

As to your question, this is something Russians have to work out on their own. American pressure isn't going to change the minds of Vanya and Petya in some central Russian village that gays are freaks of nature. And look, America doesn't have the best history with this stuff either. We just repealed DOMA and still have a very, very long way to go, not just in terms of gay rights but general equality (see: gutting of the Voting Rights Act). We have a lot of work to do at home, too.

PartizanHelsinki2 karma

Thanks for your answer! Take care!

JuliaIoffe1 karma

Sure thing!

catbug1 karma


JuliaIoffe1 karma

You don't have to bribe anyone! Just apply!

maratc1 karma

What would be your take on why Russia allows Lukashenko to govern for such a long time, all while continuing to 'unite' with him? I mean, five-terms presidents are not unheard of in former USSR republics, but no other republic seems to be so close to Russia.

JuliaIoffe3 karma

Russia and Lukashenko have been on the outs for a while now.

tyler30ish1 karma

Would you ever run for office?

JuliaIoffe2 karma


sundin131 karma

Julia, I have visited Russia several times and just married a Russian! I love the culture but just wonder why they are being so incredibly stupid right now just before Sochi! Why draw the law up now when the country is going to under the spotlight for the next several months? ARe they that stupid?

JuliaIoffe-1 karma

They just don't think ahead. They passed the law and were probably surprised that it complicates their hosting the olympics.

tyler30ish0 karma

Does Russia have more poor people than America?

JuliaIoffe2 karma

I don't know, because Russia, population-wise, is less than half of America. That said, the income inequality is extreme in Russia. Also, given all its natural resources, Russia should be quite wealthy. However, once you leave Moscow and St. Pete, you can see the immediate effects -- squalid poverty -- of rich Russians stashing their money abroad.

azzie_elbab-1 karma

After eXile got kicked out, you remained the only Western journalist in Russia with any level of depth. Can you recommend anyone worth following nowadays?

JuliaIoffe2 karma

Oh, that's just not true! When I was there, I was honored to work and become friends with some of the best in the business: Cliff Levy, Ellen Barry, Michael Schwirtz, Miriam Elder, Catherine Belton, Shaun Walker, Charles Clover. Most of us are gone now, but Shaun and Charles are still still there, and they're being replaced by good, young blood: Max Seddon of Buzzfeed, and Andrew Roth of the Times.

EatingCannibals-2 karma

Is it true that all people in Russia are really just Bears on Unicycles?

(American Dad reference)

JuliaIoffe5 karma

I see you've traveled extensively in the region.

Brad_Wesley-5 karma

You're pretty cute. Are you into dudes at all?

If I took you out to a nice dinner and you found me reasonably attractive what I have a shot?

JuliaIoffe2 karma

My heart belongs to Daddy.

Woodstein2-5 karma

You're an attractive Jewish journalist. I'm an attractive Jewish journalist. Should we not get married?

Sub-question: How would I start a conversation with you?

JuliaIoffe6 karma

I cross off anyone who calls themselves attractive.