Interview with Boris Akunin, whose pen name is Grigori Chkhartishvili, and is Russia’s best-known writer of detective and historical fiction. He is also a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Akunin spoke out in 2014 against the annexation of Crimea, and has lived in self-imposed exile since. Here are some excerpts.

Leave Russia to its own destiny. It is a country which needs to grow up, to make some difficult choices by itself. What the West can do and, I think, should do is to help Ukraine, a new country, a young democracy, still unstable and very vulnerable. If democracy in Ukraine wins, it would be a huge boost to the democratic movement in Russia. For us Ukraine is a sort of alternative Russia—only without the burden of imperialist nostalgia and free to elect its leaders. But it is a poor and disorganized country. Russians look at this and tell themselves: democracy is no good. To put it very simply: if Ukrainians under democracy start to live better than Russians, Russia will turn in that direction too. So help us by helping them…. (Russia is) still is a hyper-centralized system where all important decisions are made at the center. Such a system is chemically incompatible with democracy.

I think that democracy has reached a certain level and cannot go further. Like a giraffe who grew up and reached the ceiling with its head. Now is the time to break into the next stage. New forms and new words have to be discovered. The main threat to Western democracy today, I think, is the inability of the intellectual elite to communicate adequately with the electorate. Mass media, public intellectuals, liberal politicians have become too arrogant, too stuck within their own milieu.

Democracy: first Ukraine, then Russia?

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