Professors Who Fail to Support Putin Line on Crimea Fired

Andrei Zubov and Aleksandr Konkov lose jobs after speaking out against Crimean invasion

Vladimir Putin / AP
March 24, 2014

One of Russia’s most prestigious universities announced the firing Monday of a history professor who had been publicly criticizing the Kremlin’s policies towards Ukraine.

Moscow’s MGIMO University announced the annulment of its contract with history professor Andrei Zubov.

"Numerous statements and interviews of Zubov A.B. about what the situation in Ukraine and Russia's foreign policy cause an outrage and bewilderment in the university environment. They contradict Russia’s foreign policy, subject government actions to reckless and irresponsible criticism, harm the learning and educational process," the university said in a statement.

"Leaving the inappropriate and offensive historical analogies and characterizations to Zubov A.B.’s conscience, MGIMO leadership deemed the continuation of his work impossible," the university said.

Zubov had written an article for the March 1 issue of Vedomosti, titled, "This Happened Before." Zubkov appealed for the government to end Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, arguing that Putin’s actions were reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s in the 1930s.

"We are on the verge of complete destruction of the system of international treaties, economic chaos, and political dictatorship. We are on the verge of war with our closest, kindred people of Ukraine, a sharp deterioration in relations with Europe and America, on the verge of a cold, and, perhaps, a hot war with them," Zubov wrote.

"We need to take a step back and stop," Zubov wrote. "Our politicians are pulling our people into a terrible, terrifying adventure. … We should not act as the Germans had in response to Goebbels’ and Hitler’s promises. For the sake of peace in our country … say ‘no’ to this insane and, most importantly, completely unnecessary aggression."

Zubov told Russian BBC that the Kremlin wanted him fired following publication of the essay.

"Someone really wanted me fired immediately, since my contract expires June 30, and this could have been done without a scandal, simply not renew the contract, and that’s it," he said, adding that the university rector himself was against firing him.

While the university officially expressed disapproval of Zubov’s views, privately people at the university told him they agreed with him.

"It is understood that they are afraid to say this publicly," he said.

Another university professor may have lost his position for disagreeing with the Kremlin’s view on Ukraine and Crimea.

Aleksandr Konkov, head of the sociology department at Sakhalin University in Russia’s Far East who had worked at the university for 25 years, received notice that his contract ends as of March 26, reported Novaya Gazeta. "Everyone understands—he was fired for his assessment of the situation in Crimea," the Novaya Gazeta reported.

Information Agency, Sakhalin’s largest Internet resource, published a round-up of opinions about Russia’s actions in Crimea among government officials, experts, poets, and other prominent individuals on March 17. Unlike the majority within the group, Konkov expressed disagreement with the official line.

"It's just a convenient excuse to take [Crimea] for ourselves … while Ukraine is weak. So, I think this policy is not a complete initiative of Crimeans themselves," said Konkov, who also expressed regret about the massive government propaganda and crackdown on the press he currently observes in Russia.

News of Konkov’s firing was met with protest at the university. A group of students began collecting signatures in his support.

In response, the university rector claimed Konkov was not fired, but simply received a letter informing him of the end of his contract along with other professors in accordance with Human Resources procedures, and that he invited Knokov to meet with him twice to discuss his future at the university. Yet Konkov told another publication earlier that the university was not intending to renew his contract.