The Russian ambassador to the UK is scheduled to return to Oxford for an event hosted by the Oxford Majlis on the 29 November. Originally, the event was intended to be filmed by Russia’s main state-controlled channel, Russia 1, raising safety and propaganda concerns. However, the Oxford Majlis stated that this was no longer happening. Both the Ukrainian Society and the New Russian Society have nonetheless heavily criticised the invitation, fuelled by the ambassador’s previous denial of Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
Andrey Kelin, who has served as Russia’s ambassador to the UK since 2019, has blamed “militant [Ukrainian] nationalism” for the ongoing conflict and spread misinformation about the war itself. He previously called the Bucha massacre, a murder of at least 458 Ukrainian civilians and prisoners of war, “fake” and has claimed that he has evidence that UK special forces have directly attacked Russian fleets in the war.
Kelin was last in Oxford for an event in May hosted by the Russian club, at which he said that Ukrainian students “may return to their country“.
The Oxford Majlis, a society “dedicated to the revival of sophisticated thought through discussion and cultural exchange”, told Cherwell that they “truly believe that the ability to speak personally with the Russian Ambassador will allow a greater level of comprehension of the ongoing conflict to be reached.”
They further said that the idea to have Russia 1 present was initially proposed during meetings with the ambassador and that “all dialogue and questioning [would be] permitted” in front of the channel. Earlier today, however, the Majlis told Cherwell that they were “just informed” that Russia 1 would no longer film the event.
The New Russian Society noted that hosting the ambassador could pose a “[v]ery real and imminent danger” to their members and their families in Russia, including a maximum of 15 years imprisonment for protest and dissent.
In response, the Majlis stated that they have “assurance from the Russian embassy” that no passport checks or other means of intimidation will occur, adding that they “will do everything within [their] power to ensure the safety of all who attend the event.”
They also suggested that “everyone should be granted an audience no matter how decrepit and evil they may be, as a charity to the world that some wisdom may be found in such dialogue.” Consequently, they invited members of the New Russian Society to attend the address and question the ambassador.
Dr Jade McGlynn, a research fellow at King’s College London specialising in Russia under Putin, told Cherwell: “The idea there could be any free speech possible either from the Ambassador or from Russian students attending is bizarre. Would you speak freely if the Russian security services just took your details and your family were still there?”
When asked whether students would be able to meaningfully challenge the ambassador, McGlynn told Cherwell that “senior journalists have struggled in interviews with Kelin, [so] the idea some student society will be the ones to hold him to account or get him to debate in good faith is ambitious, to put it politely.”
She added that the last invitation to Kelin “was splashed across Russian news as evidence that students at such a prestigious university want to hear the Russian view on the war.”
Following the Russian Club event in May, the Russian Embassy in the UK had tweeted that the guests “had an opportunity for themselves to establish the real reasons for #SpecialMilitaryOperation and its main objectives,” stating that the audience “displayed a keen interest for Russian foreign policy positions.”
The Embassy further stated the event “demonstrate[d] the demand for the Russian point of view on current international processes to be heard, in spite of British media’s attempt to stifle it in every possible way.”
The New Russian Society said that they “call on everyone to join our protest” if the event goes ahead as planned.