Russians are embracing the Internet and the government is encouraging the move online - some 18 million Russians already have broadband access. Right now the Internet economy contributes less than 2% to Russia’s GDP, but small businesses, start-ups and tech powerhouses are growing so fast that’s expected to rise to around 5% of GDP by 2015.

With that as a backdrop, we held our first Big Tent event in Moscow to debate some of the hot issues facing the Internet and society. We had speakers and guests from across Russian government, business and media, alongside well-known international web gurus.

Arkady Dvorkovich, aide to the Russian President, kicked off the day by describing how the Internet is playing an important role in building a new level of democracy in Russia.

A lively debate followed on the role the Internet plays, and can play, in Russian civil society. Author Jeff Jarvis, data pioneer Jon Gosier, Transparency International’s Elena Paniflova and head of Raf Shakirov discussed whether Russia’s burgeoning online activism can make itself heard offline. Will government-hosted services protect whistle blowers, can crowd sourcing tools put pressure on government for everything from fixing potholes to political change, and what are the prospects of increased government censorship?

The issue of online piracy is a hot one in Russia and an international panel of artistic types debated whether the Internet is an instrument for creating or for copying. Artemy Troitsky, a celebrated Russian rock critic, drew gasps, tweets and applause when he said intellectual property belongs to everyone - like love or air - and showed no sympathy for the intermediaries who complain of lost revenues. Marc Sands of London’s Tate Gallery spoke of his organisation’s decision to put every single work they have online, including through Google’s Art Project.

Another key area of conversation centered on the economic impact of the Internet, specifically how to encourage innovation in fast-developing economies such as Russia, Brazil, India and China (the so-called BRICs). Why have global Internet companies generally failed to emerge from outside the US or Western Europe? Should Russia and other BRIC countries aim to create copycats of the global leaders, or entirely new business models? Jacques Bughin of McKinsey, Leonid Boguslavksy, one of Russia’s most successful Internet investors, and the digital trends author Mike Walsh didn’t agree on all the answers, but they were optimistic about the potential for growth in Russia.

Google has a big presence in Russia, with engineering offices in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. David Drummond, Google’s Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Chief Legal officer, came from our Mountain View headquarters to take part. He fielded questions on a range of topics, from our new computer-aided glasses to his opinion on what regulatory regime is most conducive for Internet innovation and growth.

You’ll be able to watch videos of all the sessions on our YouTube channel soon, alongside previous discussions and details of upcoming events. Next stop for the Big Tent is in London in May.