War in Ukraine: Ukrainian club considers complaints over ‘pro-Russian’ comments made by US philosopher Noam Chomsky made at Edinburgh International Book Festival

A Ukrainian cultural organisation has said it is "considering" complaints over apparently pro-Russian comments made by US philosopher Noam Chomsky during an Edinburgh International Book Festival event.

The Edinburgh branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB) said it had been made aware by a number of people that “perceived” pro-Russian comments had been made by Mr Chomsky at a book festival event. It said it was trying to “establish the full facts” before issuing a statement.

The row broke out after Sam Taylor, chief executive of pro-union group These Islands, tweeted Mr Chomsky had called for Russian president Vladimir Putin to be given the “benefit of the doubt” over his invasion of Ukraine at an event on Friday.

Mr Taylor said: “Noam Chomsky tells an Edinburgh book festival audience that Vladimir Putin should be given the benefit of the doubt on his motives for invading Ukraine, and that he (Chomsky) supports Scottish independence. The audience, which must be overwhelmingly idiots, whoops and cheers.”

US linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky spoke at an event in Edinburgh this week. Picture: Getty Images

In the talk, titled Dissent Across the Decades, Mr Chomsky said there were “two versions” of possible interpretation of the invasion.

"The fact of the matter is, we do not know, within a precision, what Putin’s goals were,” he said. “There are two versions. One version is the Western version: he’s a madman who wants to conquer Ukraine, restore the Russian empire and he’s got to be stopped now, or there will be fascism all over the world.

"There’s another possibility, namely, what they've actually been saying. What have the Russians actually been saying? What have Western diplomats who know something about Russia been saying? It’s a different picture. They say there has been a Russian red line for 30 years: we’ll tolerate your violation of the pledge, firm pledge not to move Nato to our borders. We’ll tolerate it, but not when it involves incorporation of Ukraine into Nato, that’s a red line.

"So what they've been saying is, right up to the invasion, the crucial issue is integration of Nato – of Ukraine within Nato.”

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Linking to Mr Taylor’s tweet, AUGB Edinburgh said: “We are aware of the comments by Noam Chomsky. We are considering our response and will update in the next few days.”

In a separate post on Facebook, the club added: “We have been made aware by several supporters regarding perceived pro-Russian comments made by an author at Edinburgh International Book Festival. AUGB Edinburgh is attempting to establish the full facts and access the recording of the event prior to issuing a statement. We anticipate this will take a few days to ensure a thorough process.

“AUGB Edinburgh understands and welcomes the cities unequivocal support for Ukraine. We will continue to work with and challenge partners where we believe this position is breached.”

A spokeswoman for the Edinburgh International Book Festival said: “The Edinburgh International Book Festival is a forum for discussion and we expect people to explore issues from many perspectives. Inevitably some will encounter views they disagree with. As well as Mr Chomsky, the festival also welcomed Ukrainian writers Irena Karpa and Andriy Lyubka as well as a book festival organiser from Kyiv, Oksana Schur. Their session shed light on the experience of people living and working in Ukraine.”

Mr Chomsky’s agent has been contacted for comment.

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