Russian President Vladimir Putin. GETTY IMAGES/MIHAIL SVETLOV
Russian President Vladimir Putin. GETTY IMAGES/MIHAIL SVETLOV

Alexander Arefiev’s letter refers (“Russophobia must end”, June 22). According to an adage, “a diplomat is a person sent abroad to lie for the good his country”. Arefiev seems to fit this depiction to perfection.

In typical Kremlin propaganda mode he uses lies and innuendo to project his skewed version of the unpalatable truth. For instance, he depicts my reference to brutal and unlawful Russian territorial piracy in the Crimea, Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe as “threadbare fakes”. Seriously?

Arefiev seems to live in an Orwellian world where the truth is only what Big Brother in the Kremlin tells you it is. His understanding of democracy is similarly questionable. Justifying the constitutional vote for the extension of President Vladimir Putin’s term of office as “democratic procedure involving all Russian voters” is an equally onerous lie.

In Russia today there is no democratic rule; there is no press freedom, no freedom of speech, the opposition (including figures such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Alexei Navalny, as well as numerous critical journalists and business people) have been ruthlessly eliminated, while voting is routinely manipulated by the Kremlin.

The upcoming referendum will be no different. I never wrote that Russians are inborn liars, but referred, inter alia, to assessments by former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev (hence his policy of “glasnost”), former American diplomat George Kennan and mainstream journals such as The Economist and The Guardian.

Arefiev does not seem either to have read or understood my article properly, asserting that I offered no arguments for Putin’s initial withdrawal from the crisis. The reasons were amply explained, apart from the fact that the story was run by most of the international media.

I have great admiration for Russia, its culture, history and people. After spending five years there, I am a serious Russophile. However, what I find difficult to justify, and sad, is the country’s inexorable drift back towards Soviet authoritarianism. I honestly believe the Russian people deserve better.

Gerrit Olivier
Somerset West