Monday, May 20, 2024

"Russophobia": When PM Boris Johnson used a favourite Putin propaganda trope

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Putin’s regime does not tolerate dissent. It has responded by increasingly repressive measures to prevent criticism (or even reporting the truth about the war) in the media or on the streets.

Unable to use draconian Russian laws to muzzle critics abroad they have a different approach.

Kremlin spin doctors resurrected the word ‘russophobia’ to create a myth that anyone criticising Putin’s actions must be prejudiced against Russia and Russians.  It is used to denigrate anyone who points out violations of international agreements, criticises violations of human rights and freedoms or, condemns the brutal assault on Ukraine.

When the Kremlin has no better argument to use it shouts ‘russophobia’ like a term of playground abuse.

That was Sian MacLeod, Britain's ambassador to Serbia, writing on the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development website a couple of years ago.

When I read her article The Myth of Russophobia the other day, I was struck by it. Not because I had seen the world 'russophobia' in many suspicious tweets, but because I had heard it used by a British prime minister.

It was Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons the month before MacLeod wrote her article.

Adam Bienkov takes up the tale:

Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced limited sanctions against Russian banks and individuals, saying that he was determined to “clamp down on Russian money in the UK”.

However, when repeatedly pushed in the House of Commons to extend this new “clampdown” to donors to the Conservative Party, Johnson refused.

Asked why his party had accepted hundreds of thousands of pounds from the wife of one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s former ministers, Johnson insisted that all donors to the party were born in the UK. He then suggested that those attempting to raise the issue were guilty of “Russophobia”.

“What I don’t think we should see… listening to some of the contributions this morning, we should not allow our indignation, our rage at what is happening in Ukraine to spill over into casual Russophobia, Mr Speaker”, the Prime Minister said.

I wonder who briefed him before this debate? It doesn't sound like it was the Foreign Office.

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