I was blacklisted by Putin, but I’m no Russophobe

My pleasure at being sanctioned by the Kremlin was only diminished by the fact that they spelt my name wrongly. I am number 89 on their list, identified as “Geoffrey Roberston”. I have written to the Russian embassy demanding they correct their mistake. It was doubtless due to the incompetence of their spies – they call themselves diplomats – who nest there, collecting information on those Australians who oppose their war on Ukraine.

There are a lot of them. Russia has embassies not only in Canberra, but in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane and a consulate in Perth. And let’s be clear – these morally hideous people fully support the killing of children (hundreds so far), citizens (in their thousands) and soldiers who rape and torture. Yet they move freely on our diplomatic circuit, have immunities (even from parking tickets) and Facebook pages which pump out Vladimir Putin’s lies. We should give them an option, either to defect or else declare them persona non grata and chuck them out.

Putin’s war has caused massive damage not only to the people of Ukraine. It has eviscerated the United Nations, which cannot do its duty of keeping international peace and security when one of its five superpowers, the permanent members of the Security Council, is a criminal, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the offence of aggression by invading a member state, otherwise than in self defence.

Russia is also guilty of the war crimes – bombing schools and hospitals and killing civilians – that can be seen most nights on television. To act against these barbarities, the UN, as constructed back in 1945, is powerless because Russia can veto any action by the Security Council to which this duty is entrusted. Of course, Russia should be expelled from the UN, by the vote of two-thirds of its member states, but here’s the Catch 22: expulsion can only be with the support of each one of the five superpowers, so Russia can veto its own expulsion.

The Kremlin accuses me of “Russophobia”, and it is true that last week I was working with the European Parliament to find ways to put the country and its leader on trial for the crime of aggression. This is not easy – it requires a credible international court that is outside the influence of the pole-axed Security Council, and inevitably it will have to be a trial of Putin in absentia, but just as the judgment at Nuremberg put the Holocaust beyond doubt, so the judgment of a credible international court could establish, beyond reasonable doubt, the guilt of Putin, his generals and his diplomats and his country, of this crime against humanity.

To what extent, it is now reasonable but not “Russophobic” to ask, is that guilt shared by the Russian people? The great German philosopher Karl Jaspers, in his book The Question of German Guilt, concluded that all who were not involved in war crimes, nonetheless bore political guilt – and consequent responsibility for the deeds of the state whose Nazi government they supported. That may be said of Russians who live compliantly under Putin – although they may have been deluded by his propaganda at the start of the war. After four months they can be presumed to know what has been happening, notwithstanding the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church, led by ex-KGB Patriarch Kirill, to claim that this is “a war for Christianity”.

Remembering Christ’s concern for the suffering of children and the innocent, this must count as blasphemous hypocrisy. If there is a hell, then Kirill will go straight to it. But he is worshipped in Australia as head of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has no less than 33 parishes and monasteries (17 in NSW), and several cathedrals. Just two days after the bombing began, this church issued an “Archpastoral Epistle” namely a “heart felt plea” to its members “to refrain from excessive watching of television, following newspapers and the internet, to close our hearts to the passions inside incited by the media”. This political plea to see no evil reveals a church so devoid of morality – and Christianity – that it should be stripped of its charitable status. It claims still to collect “hampers for the homeless” although not for those rendered homeless by the evil war it supports.

These opinions do not make me “Russophobic”. On the contrary, my heart goes out to the thousands of Russians – mainly young and with university degrees – who can now be found in the internet cafes of Armenia and Georgia. They are courageous refugees who at great personal sacrifice have refused to remain to share the political guilt of the Russian state. Australians could best help the war effort by taking them as immigrants.

That war cannot be won with weapons. Putin’s nuclear arms, the use of which he sometimes threatens, precludes any intervention by NATO or UN. The only way to fight a nuclear power is by soft power, which means complete trade sanctions and ostracising those who support its brutal army. Sanctions by the West must be thorough going and exhaustive.

Being blacklisted from the Kremlin is a tiny tit-for-tat. I cannot deny that not being able to visit Russia is irritating I have already been to Red Square to see Lenin stuffed and mounted, although I shall now have to scrub opera in St Petersburg off my bucket list. But it is good to know that my small efforts for peace have at least been recognised – if only by bad people under diplomatic cover, who deserve to be kicked out of this country.

Geoffrey Robertson QC author of Bad People and How to be Rid of Them (Penguin Random House).

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