A Russian philosophy professor says he is being forced from his job at a prestigious state university after comparing Moscow's actions in Ukraine with Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938.
In an opinion article published on the daily Vedomosti's website on Saturday, Andrei Zubov said Russia was on the verge of war and added: “We must not behave the way Germans once behaved, based on the promises of Goebbels and Hitler.”
By Tuesday, he told the internet news site slon.ru that he had received an ultimatum from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO): “I was told that I either write my own resignation or wait to be fired.”
“I responded that I would not write anything; let them fire me if they want,” Zubov was quoted as saying. He said he had been summoned to see a superior on Wednesday and believed it was about the article.
Officials at MGIMO could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.
Zubov's article echoed concerns aired by liberals and critics of the Kremlin over what they say is aggression toward Ukraine, where Russian forces have taken control of Crimea, a Black Sea region where ethnic Russians make up a majority of the population.
Russia's parliament on Saturday gave President Vladimir Putin permission to send the armed forces into Ukraine at will.
Russian police detained dozens of protesters outside the Defense Ministry in Moscow on Tuesday, activists said.
Crimea's pro-Russian government plans to hold a referendum on its status on March 30 and lawmakers in Moscow have submitted a bill that would make it easier for Russia to acquire new lands, raising the prospect of a bid to bring Crimea into Russia.
“This has all happened before. Austria. Early March, 1938. The Nazis want to build up their Reich at the expense of another state,” Zubov wrote.
Many Russians including Putin view victory in World War II as their country's proudest moment of the 20th century, and the government bristles at any comparison of the Soviet Union or Russia with Hitler's Germany.
The pro-Putin ruling party sharply criticized a satirist who drew a comparison between last month's Sochi Winter Olympics and the 1936 Berlin Games, which Adolf Hitler used to help entrench his power and offer a rosy picture of Nazi Germany.
Dozhd (TV Rain), a television station that has often given a platform to critics of the Kremlin, was dropped by TV providers after asking on its website if Leningrad should have been given up to save lives when Nazi Germany was besieging it in World War Two.
The comparison between Ukraine and Austria carries additional resonance because Russian officials have likened militant Ukrainian groups involved in protests that ousted President Viktor Yanukovich to Nazis, and to Ukrainians who aided the Nazis during the war.
Zubov, who has taught at MGIMO sine 2001, told the Russian magazine Novoye Vremya (New Times) that he did not want to lose his job.
“I am afraid, but there are situations in which you have to act, regardless of your own fear,” he said.