THE UK Government education’s secretary has promised to “crack down” on university academics accused of acting as “useful idiots for President Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine”

Speaking in the Commons on Monday, Nadhim Zahawi said higher education minister Michelle Donelan was already in contact with institutions where staff had been sharing pro-Kremlin views. 

One of those accused of disseminating “pro-Putinist propaganda” is Prof Tim Hayward at the University of Edinburgh.

He retweeted a Russian representative to the United Nations describing the attack on Mariupol’s maternity hospital as “fake news” with the comment "As long as we’re still able to hear two sides of the story we should continue striving to do so".

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 told the PA that 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”.

During the Commons session, Robert Halfon, the chair of the Westminster Education Select Committee raised the comments from Hayward and two other academics and asked if the Government would take action to stop universities acting as “useful idiots” for the Kremlin. 

He said: “At Leeds, Professor Ray Bush, still publicly listed on its website despite retiring, suggested that the US had chemical installations in Ukraine. That is, as we know, a lie that is being spread by the Kremlin. 

“At Edinburgh, Professor Tim Hayward retweeted a Russian representative to the UN describing the attack on Mariupol’s hospital as “fake news”. 

“At Leicester, Tom McCormack talks about “ludicrous disinformation” on both sides and boasts about appearing on Russia Today. 

“Will my right hon. Friend contact these universities directly to stop them acting as useful idiots for President Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine?”

Mr Zahawi responded: “I am grateful to the Chair of the Education Committee for raising this issue. The Minister for Higher and Further Education is already on the case and is contacting those universities. Putin and his cronies are a malign influence on anyone in this country buying their false narrative. I repeat: it is a false and dangerous narrative and we will crack down on it hard.”