The Protector outgoing correspondent Shaun Walker discusses the challenges of covering Moscow, and his hopes for his new beat Budapest

Shaun Walker expended over a decade reporting from Moscow and has recently written a book about the Putin era and the search for a new Russian identity. As he prepares to start a new life as the Guardian's central and eastern Europe correspondent, he reflects on his years in the country

Why did you first decide to become a journalist?

I always wanted to write, but I came to journalism through Russia, rather than vice versa. I'd studied Russian and Soviet history at university and went to Russia to learn the language when I graduated. I planned to stay for a year and aimed up biding for 14 – first working for an NGO, then a local publication, then for theIndependent for six years and theGuardian for the past four and a half.

What do you enjoy most about being a foreign correspondent?

The incredible variety. You aren't confined to a thematic specialisation and have a whole region to cover, so in the space of a month I could move from encompassing the war in eastern Ukraine, to high Kremlin politics, to tales about the ballet or Russian cuisine. I gratified presidents, billionaires, warlords and cosmonauts, as well as many “ordinary” people who turned out to have extraordinary narratives. Of course, it can be mentally tough to encompas abuses of power, injustice and inequalities. But the core of the job is learning about the world and meeting people who are always interesting and sometimes inspiring. It's an incredible privilege- I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.

Can you tell us a bit about what it's actually like to live in Moscow?

Moscow has become immeasurably more liveable during the time I've been there. As the political climate get worse, the city get better, with nicer places to eat and beverage and an urban makeover that entails there are many more pedestrianised zones and fantastic parks. There is also a slow but noticeable altered in stances: Moscow is becoming a much friendlier place, which is partly a generational thing, I think.

Were you ever prevented from “re going away” or encompassing particular tales?

On the whole, except for border zones and the Arctic, you can travel to most places in Russia with no problems( though the enormous distances can sometimes pose logistical challenges ). The issue is usually more about access. Many people are alarmed by the idea of talking to a foreign journalists and some topics are really difficult. The whole story about Russian electoral interference has been hard to cover from Moscow. While there are still people around the Kremlin who can give insider information on internal politics, the world of intelligence and security is completely closed off. The recent story about the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, for example: there's not all that much you can do in Moscow except listen to angry denials.

Clashes
Clashes in Kiev in summer 2014. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/ AFP/ Getty Images

Looking back at your time there, which narrative are you proudest of?

Probably the most extraordinary standalone story I wrote during my time in Russia was the tale of the two sons of Russian deep encompas snoops. The kids believed their parents were Canadians until the FBI went knocking on the door and it turned out they were actually KGB agents from Siberia. The family was deported back to Russia and the two young man had to start life in a country they had never visited, and come to words with the years of lies from their parents.

The first six months of 2014 were the most intense period of my career so far- from the revolution on Maidan in Kiev, through the annexation of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine and the downing of MH17. It was an depleting and depressing story to encompas but extraordinary to bear witness to such momentous events. The brazen Russian lie and disinformation around the conflict was frustrating and tiring, but officials in Kiev and western diplomats also often had skewed notions about what was going on. I realised that there were very few people who were able to speak to all parties in the conflict: officials in Moscow and Kiev, separatist warlords, ordinary people on both sides of the lines.

What are the challenges of being a foreign correspondent?

One of the hardest things about working in Russia is that so many people believe all journalists are biased and that it's impossible that a western journalist would even try to be objective. These days, of course, that's an issue journalists are facing not only in Russia.

In fact, many of current challenges foreign correspondent face are the same as those for all journalists. I have been thinking a great deal about the position of journalists lately. My book has just come out, and doing promotion for it has been an instructive experience. Often, when interviews I've given about the book are published, I've felt my ideas were quoted out of context, or am confused as to why people have picked out particular strands. It can be very disconcerting to have a long conversation was contained in publish as two or three quotes, which of course is what we do with our interviewees all the time. Being on the other side of the interview is a very good reminder of how much trust people are putting in you when they agree to tell you their narratives.

You're heading to Budapest next. What are you most looking forward to in your new beat?

Central and eastern Europe is a fascinating region that seems to have been a bit overlooked in recent years. When most of the former Warsaw Pact countries joined the EU, many people presumed it was a kind of Aim of History moment, of peace and harmony on a united, democratic European continent. Now, leaders in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere are challenging that consensus, the UK has voted to leave the EU, and all the certainties of a decade ago abruptly seem fragile. I'm looking forward to investigating “the worlds biggest” tales and tendencies- the rejection of liberalism, the effects of Brexit and the role Russia is playing in the region.

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