A pro-Russian audience member has been asked to leave the Q+A studio after tempers flared following a “rogue question” about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Host Stan Grant asked Sasha Gillies-Lekakis to leave the studio after he had earlier asked a question about how Russia is being portrayed in the media.
“As someone who comes from the Russian community here in Australia, I’ve been pretty outraged by the narrative depicted by our media, with Ukraine as the good guy and Russia as the bad guy,” Mr Gillies-Lekakis said.
“Believe it or not, there are a lot of Russians here and around the world that support what Putin’s doing in Ukraine, myself included. Since 2014, the Ukraine has besieged the Russian populations in Donetsk and Luhansk unprovoked, killing an estimated 13,000 people. “
Mr Gillies-Lekakis was then interrupted by another audience member, who shouted: “That’s a lie” and “Don’t do this, it’s propaganda”.
While the question was briefly discussed by the panel before the show moved on to talk about the flood crisis, Grant came back to it later to express how “uncomfortable” he was having Mr Gillies-Lekakis in the audience.
“Something has been bothering me, I have to admit, since we had Sasha’s question earlier about Russia, and it’s been playing on my mind,” Grant said.
“Sasha, people here have been talking about family who are suffering and people who are dying.
“You supported what’s happening, hearing that people are dying. Can I just say — I’m just not comfortable with you being here. Could you please leave?”
Mr Gillies-Lekakis attempted to protest, but Grant continued.
“You can ask a question, but we cannot advocate violence. I should have asked you to leave then. It’s been playing on my mind and, I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to leave,” he said.
As the episode concluded, Grant explained that the question had not been vetted before it was asked.
“Again, apologies for the disruption earlier — it’s not a good thing to have to exclude people from debate,” he said.
“We come here in good faith to have open conversation, rigorous conversation. We’ve heard different points of view, and we encourage different points of view here. But we can’t have anyone who is sanctioning, supporting, violence and killing of people.
“So I’m sorry for the disruption. It was not a vetted question. It was a question that was, you know, a rogue question, if you like. It’s not good to exclude people, but we have to take those steps from time to time.”
‘One of the great water sheds in Europe’
Earlier, the panel of Dennis Richardson, Deborah Snow, Jason Falinski, Brendan O’Connor, and Olga Boichak had been asked how history would judge the past seven days in Ukraine.
Mr Richardson, the former secretary of the Department of Defence, said Europe was facing a “watershed” moment as the threat of nuclear war loomed.
“We’re witnessing one of the great watersheds in Europe,” he said.
“What that means in terms of history, we’ll have to wait and see. But Putin has made a big strategic play. I think he may not have expected the NATO countries to be as unified as what they are.
“They clearly plan their sanctions carefully. They’ll take a long while to bite.”
Mr Falinski, the Liberal MP for Mackellar, said it was a change in geopolitical attitude to global law, as Russia asserted itself over its smaller neighbours.
“It may turn out to be a hinge moment in history,” he said.
“Because for the last seven decades, we’ve had a global world order based on the rule of law. What is happening at the moment is you have authoritarian regimes both in Russia and elsewhere pushing that law to the side and trying to assert that , if you have the military capability, then you are able to assert yourself over smaller and less powerful neighbours.
“If we are to maintain Western order and a sense of an international order based on law, this has to be the moment when the West stands up and assertively pushes back on an aggressor.”
‘It could mean nuclear war’
Asked by Ukrainian resident Iryna Babiak why NATO had not yet intervened in the conflict, the panel was mostly in agreeance that any intervention would spark an escalation that would have dire consequences.
Labor MP Brendan O’Connor said while it was about what US president Joe Biden and the American people wanted to invest in the conflict, it also came down to how Russian president Vladimir Putin would react.
“It’s also about a calculation about how Putin would respond if NATO countries were involved in a military conflict. That is really ratcheting up and escalating the conflict, which could lead to untold, unknown consequences,” he said.
Mr Richardson agreed, saying any escalation from the US could lead to nuclear war.
“The reason why there is not a no-fly zone is because this is not Syria, this is not Iraq,” he said.
“To put a no-fly zone over the Ukraine against Russia would mean direct conflict with Russia, which would mean a wider war, which could mean a nuclear war.”
However, Dr Boichak, a lecturer at the University of Sydney originally from Ukraine, asked where the line was that would spark NATO intervention.
“We saw this coming, this build-up was escalating, and every time there were comments about tough-guy diplomacy, about posturing on the part of Russia and the United States, and that makes me very angry,” she said.
“We saw it continue to build up and, as Chrestyna (Kmetj) said, once it started, it was already too late.
“So I do think, right now, my question to everyone, I guess, is — is there then a threshold where this will be a world war? How many Ukrainians have to die? How much has to be destroyed before the West steps up ?”
Watch the full episode on iview or via the Q+A Facebook page.