The confrontation is with Putin, not Pushkin or the Russian people


Opening a “third front” in the war in Ukraine, the British secretary for culture, media and sport, Nadine Dorries, thinks she has found a powerful weapon: a sports and cultural boycott. Speaking last week in the House of Commons, Dorries said she would organize an international summit to use the power of sport to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin at home and abroad, including preventing Russia and the Belarus to organize international events and not letting Russians participate in international events. competitions.

Individual athletes chose not to play against Russian rivals; the football organizations FIFA and UEFA have prevented Russian teams from participating in their competitions; the Champions League final will not take place in Saint Petersburg; Russia will not be able to host the Formula I Grand Prix; and in a decision that makes little sense, the International Paralympic Committee decided to bar Russian disabled athletes from participating in the Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing. Russia contests this ban. Its sports minister said the ban is a violation of the Olympic Charter, ignoring the fact that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine violates the United Nations Charter. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, the International Cat Federation has decided to ban Russian breed cats from its own competition – that will teach Putin!

These decisions, ranging from the sensible (the Grand Prix) to the ridiculous (the Russian cats) come on top of other misguided attempts to punish Russia. In the Italian city of Florence, the mayor has received a petition calling for a statue commemorating Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who completed his novel The Idiot in that city, to be removed. It’s not easy for Dostoyevsky in Italy these days. The University of Milano-Bicocca has asked Professor Paolo Nori to postpone his four lecture course on Dostoyevsky. University administrators probably forgot that the great novelist narrowly escaped execution and spent five years in Siberia as punishment while part of a progressive literary group the Tsarists hated. Following the ridicule and outcry, the university helpfully suggested to Professor Nori that he should also add some Ukrainian writers to broaden the minds of the students. Nori dropped out of the class instead.

True, Ukraine has a rich literary tradition, but it makes little sense to force a professor to teach Ukrainian writers a course on Dostoyevsky (or any other Russian writer). It brings together two cultures that Ukrainians have rightly insisted are distinct, and it also forcibly associates Ukrainian identity with that of Russia. Certainly, no course in Indian literature can be complete without the voices of Muslim, Dalit or female writers. But combining Russian and Ukrainian writers makes little sense unless there is a literary, pedagogical or aesthetic reason for doing so. At the heart of the Russian-Ukrainian dispute is Russia’s absurd claim that Ukraine does not really exist as a nation and has always been part of Russia. By all means, let there be a course in Ukrainian literature, celebrating Mykola Hohol (better known as Nikolai Gogol) and Anna Akhmatova, who were born in Ukraine, or Anton Chekhov and Mikhail Bulgakov, who grew up or spent time in Ukraine, and contemporary writers like Oksana Zabuzhko and Andrei Kurkov. But why consider them only in relation to Russian writing?

Instead, governments should pick up the pace by seizing assets belonging to Russian oligarchs close to Putin, or send fighter jets to help Ukraine. These measures carry a real punch and are much more significant in stopping the Russian advance. Equally important is the Ukrainian initiative to create an international tribunal to prosecute Russia for the crime of aggression. The International Criminal Court (ICC) cannot act because Russia is not a state party to the Rome Statute and because it would veto any attempt by the UN Security Council to dismiss such a prosecution at the ICC. Such measures can harm Russia. Cultural and sports boycotts would mean Putin commits the crime and artists and writers risk punishment. The threat is Putin, not Pushkin.

Sports and cultural boycotts are gratuitous, the burden of which is borne by writers, dancers, musicians, athletes and artists, who may be apolitical or who may in fact oppose Putin’s adventurism. In Russia, thousands of people who oppose Putin and his war, including courageous writers and journalists, are paying for Putin’s misadventure. The Russians take the floor: some writers launch moving appeals for peace. Thousands of civilians join the protests. Boycotting Russian writers, artists, athletes and cats only reinforces Putin’s claim that the world is ganging up on Russia.

Instead, the world should provide strategic assistance, including weapons, to Ukraine; impose severe sanctions on the nomenklatura around Putin and on those who support the war; and crippling their ability to move their assets globally, sequestering them and, if possible, liquidating them. Any initiative that harms Russian civil society or the Russian intelligentsia opposed to the regime is counterproductive. It makes politicians feel like they’re doing something and may make them feel good, but doesn’t do much useful.

Salil Tripathi is a writer based in New York. Read Salil’s previous articles on Mint at

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