Russian professor sacked for criticising Crimea takeover

Pro-Russian militiamen cordon off the area as Russian soldiers storm the Ukrainian military airbase in Belbek near the Crimean city of Sevastopol.

MOSCOW - One of Russia's most prestigious universities faced accusations Tuesday of "political censorship" after it sacked a prominent professor for comparing Russia's takeover of Crimea to Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria.

The Moscow State Institute of International Affairs (MGIMO), which is run by the Russian foreign ministry, on Monday said it had dismissed philosophy professor Andrei Zubov for his public criticism of Russia's actions in Ukraine's Crimea region.

Zubov on March 1 published an opinion piece in Vedomosti business daily where he compared Russia's absorption of Crimea with the Anschluss of 1938 when Nazi Germany annexed Austria.

MGIMO said in a statement that it had terminated his contract and dismissed him from the university.

The university said that Zubov's "statements on the events in Ukraine and Russia's foreign policy cause outrage and bewilderment within the university."

"They go against the course of Russia's foreign policy (and) expose the actions of the government to reckless and irresponsible criticisms," it said.

"This is discrimination against me for my political views," Zubov told AFP, adding that he planned to appeal his dismissal.

The university said Zubov had been handed an official warning on March 5 over his "public statements on the events on Ukraine and Crimea... about their incompatibility with the status of a professor at MGIMO."

Zubov had made "inappropriate and insulting historical analogies," it added.

More than a thousand students and alumni on Tuesday signed an online petition calling for Zubov's immediate reinstatement and accusing the university of "political censorship."

"During my 12 years of work for MGIMO I did a lot of articles and lectures that differed from the Russian foreign ministry's opinion. That didn't cause a problem," Zubov said.

"If everyone is going to be uniformly delighted with the authorities, who will tell them something is wrong? But evidently the times have changed."

Zubov is a historian who lectured at MGIMO on the history of religious ideas.

MGIMO in southern Moscow is the training ground for Russia's diplomats and political elite. Its alumni include Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and opposition-supporting television host Ksenia Sobchak.