If you go

What: Masha Gessen: Russia, the New Anti-Gay Capital of the World

When: Noon Thursday, April 24

Where: University of Colorado, University Memorial Center, Aspen Room

Tickets: Free and open to the public

Info: bit.ly/1r0NYkB

As part of Russian Culture Week, Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen will give two public talks Thursday at the University of Colorado.

Gessen will discuss Russia's anti-gay movement in a talk titled "Russia, the New Anti-Gay Capital of the World," and the punk band Pussy Riot in a talk titled "Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot" on Thursday.

The journalist was born in the Soviet Union and, as a teenager, immigrated to the United States with her parents. She returned to Russia in the 1990s, but after anti-gay legislation adopted by Russia in 2013, she moved back to America.

The Camera interviewed Gessen in advance of her Boulder talks:

Your first talk on campus will focus on the anti-gay movement in Russia. From your view and your research, what is the goal of Russia's anti-gay campaign? How does it serve to further President Vladimir Putin's agenda?

The goal is actually exactly what it sounds like. I think the anti-gay campaign began as an exercise in scapegoating a minority, which isn't particularly unusual for dictators to engage in, but very quickly it turned out to have some boundless potential for the new Russian idea and it's new national ambition. Now Putin is on a mission. He wants to become the center of the anti-Western world, and the shorthand for that is the anti-gay platform, because that's the quintessence of Western values. That, in his world view, the West has forced it upon other countries and other cultures.

If you go

What: Masha Gessen: Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 24

Where: University of Colorado, Humanities Building, Room 150

Tickets: Free and open to the public

Info: bit.ly/1kzAv3h

You wrote the book "The Man Without a Face," which is a biography of Putin. Given your knowledge of the Russian president, does Russia's annexation of Crimea surprise you?

I should say that it's still shocking. It's not surprising, but it's shocking. It makes perfect sense. It's consistent with his worldview and his politics and his behavior. It's still an absolutely shocking thing to do. To upset the post-World War II order is a huge thing and I don't think people realize how huge it is.

How is this action in Crimea consistent with Putin's past actions and beliefs?

He has never made a secret of being a Soviet patriot. He believes that the collapse of the Soviet Union is the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of our time. He has done everything to prevent Russia from entering a postimperial age. Russians weren't particularly eager to deal with their imperial past, but what few voices there were in the 1990s that sort of called for an examination of Russia's role and it's former and current colonies, those voices were marginalized rapidly under Putin. And an empire that refuses to stop being an empire will eventually go for a land grab. That's a preordained outcome.

Why is it important for people to hear and learn about Russia?

I don't actually try to make a case for importance. I make a case for history and writing compelling and interesting and tragic stories and all of that stuff. That's my trade.

You're currently working on a book about the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing of last year, the Tsarnaev brothers. What is that book about?

I'm not talking about it, sorry.

You also wrote a book about the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose members were imprisoned for performing a "punk prayer" at a cathedral in Moscow in 2012. Why do you think their story is so fascinating to people?

I can tell you why it was fascinating to me. For two reasons. One is, and I say this absolutely seriously, I think it's a great work of art. By a great work of art, I mean something that makes people think, that challenges people, that jolts people, that makes some people change their minds and that also, and this is probably their biggest contribution, creates images and concepts that help us understand reality. I view their performance as having started when they entered the cathedral on Feb. 21. 2012, and ended with their closing statements in court in August that year. That's Russia in a nutshell. It begins with five people, three of them are arrested for staging a peaceful protest, basically a prank that challenges the church and state, which is in itself a violation of the Russian constitution. It ends with arrests, with ruined lives and with a witch trial. With Russia demonstrating how willingly it is driving itself back into the Middle Ages.

I also wanted to figure out where they came from. How were people like that possible in Russia today? They're extremely unusual. They're not really representative of their generation or part of the culture, but I still wanted to figure out what their personalities were that would make them who they were, that would make them this extraordinary.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or kutas@dailycamera.com