Crackdown on ‘pro-Putin’ academics at UK universities: Nadhim Zahawi vows to stop ‘useful idiots’ spreading Kremlin propaganda about Ukraine war – after tweets from retired Leeds professor and Edinburgh lecturer

  • Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi promised a ‘crack down’ on pro-Putin dons
  • MP Robert Halfon says ‘pro-Putinist propaganda’ has been shared by lecturers 
  • One professor is said to have referred to ‘American chemical warfare installations’
  • Another retweeted a post calling the attack on Mariupol’s maternity hospital ‘fake news’ 

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has promised a ‘crackdown’ on university academics who promote pro-Putin propaganda. 

Yesterday, chairman of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon said that an investigation by LBC had exposed ‘pro-Putinist propaganda’ at some of the UK’s leading universities.

At Leeds University, a retired professor, Ray Bush is accused of spreading propaganda. Mr Halfon said Mr Bush 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’ and added: ‘As long as we’re still able to hear two sides of the story we should continue striving to do so.’

Speaking in the House of Commons, 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. 

University academics meanwhile have raised concerns that they are being ‘smeared’ as ‘pro-Putinist’.

Prof Hayward said that 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.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the government would crack down on those sharing Putin’s ‘false and dangerous narrative’

In one of his tweets, Professor Tim Hayward said he was casting ‘a critical eye’ over evidence of a hospital attack in Ukraine

‘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.

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: ‘The University of Edinburgh joins colleagues in the sector in condemning the invasion of Ukraine and we fully endorse the Universities UK statement on this issue.’

Principal and vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson recently issued a statement condemning the invasion of Ukraine and committing to review exchange programmes or academic projects with Russian universities.

‘We do not comment on individual members of our staff,’ the spokesperson added.

A spokesperson for the University of Leeds said: ‘As Mr Halfon himself states, Ray Bush has retired from the University.

‘The University of Leeds condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent wave of violence unleashed by the Russian government through its invasion of Ukraine. We made this clear to our entire university community in a statement issued last week.’

MP Robert Halfon said that an investigation by LBC had exposed ‘pro-Putinist propaganda’ at some of the UK’s leading universities

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has promised to ‘crack down’ on academics sharing ‘pro-Putinist’ propoganda

President and vice-chancellor of Leicester University Nishan Canagarajah said: ‘Our university community has, like many, watched with horror as the Russian government’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has escalated over the last few weeks.’

‘This action is profoundly disturbing and I speak on behalf of the entire university in condemning the Kremlin’s actions and offering our unequivocal support for the people of Ukraine and our peers at Ukrainian universities.

‘We are taking active steps to support our staff, students and peers who’ve been affected by the situation and we will continue to follow advice from the UK Government to find further ways to help those in need during this terrible conflict.’

Mr Zahawi told the Commons that Ukrainian university students would be able to extend their leave to remain in the UK or switch over to graduate visas.

‘We’re working across Government to support Ukrainian students in the UK by introducing a new humanitarian route,’ he said.

Mr Zahawi added that Ukrainian refugee pupils would be supported in starting school in the UK.

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