Academics raise concerns over ‘pro-Putinist’ smears

University lecturers say they are being smeared as pro-Kremlin for questioning public policy.

15 March 2022

University academics have raised concerns that they are being “smeared” as “pro-Putinist” after Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the Government would “crack down hard” on pro-Kremlin views in institutions.

In education questions on Monday, chairman of the Commons Education Committee Robert Halfon said that an investigation by LBC had exposed “pro-Putinist propaganda at some of our leading universities”.

He said that at Leeds University, a retired professor, Ray Bush, had made reference to the United States having “chemical warfare installations in Ukraine – that’s a lie, as he knows, being spread by the Kremlin”.

And he said that at Edinburgh University, Professor Tim Hayward retweeted a Russian representative to the United Nations describing the attack on Mariupol’s maternity hospital as “fake news”.

Mr Halfon asked if the Government would take action to stop universities acting as “useful idiots” for the Kremlin. Mr Zahawi said Higher and Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan was “already on the case” and in contact with the universities.

“Putin and his cronies are a malign influence on anyone in this country buying their false narrative, and I have to repeat it is a false and dangerous narrative, and we will crack down on it hard,” he added.

But academics have raised concerns they are being “smeared” for raising questions about foreign policy.

Mr Bush, Professor Emeritus in African Studies and Development Politics, told the PA news agency he was “shocked that anything I have tweeted could be interpreted as ‘pro-Putinist’”.

“I am also very concerned that academics who raise questions and concerns about public policy including the veracity of US intelligence would be smeared as ‘useful idiots’,” he added.

“We know what the consequences of US and UK interventions were in Iraq and Afghanistan and the failures of Nato in Libya with an outcome of lawlessness and refugee crises, among other things.”

“For the record I oppose the war in Ukraine and its horrendous consequences,” he said.

Prof Hayward, who specialises in environmental political theory, said he was tweeting in a personal capacity and that he did not “retweet but quote-tweeted”.

He said he did not endorse the “categorical fake news allegation” and that he quote-tweeted many people who he disagreed with.

“I recognise propaganda can abound on all sides. I am not pro-Russia and emphatically not pro-Putin,” he said.

“For all that, though, having learned lessons from Iraq WMD [weapons of mass destruction] lies and others since, I believe that citizens should keep a watchful eye on information that can be used to escalate tensions and war. I have not repeated any narrative,” he added.

He asked “why a quote-tweet from a pretty obscure chap in Edinburgh is worthy of such attention”.

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