For the past three years, Alexei Pavlovsky has served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Australia. When he entered the studio of ABC’s morning program “7.30” last Monday, he was fully expecting to be able to repeat his employer’s propagandistic slogans in the Kremlin. But the 60-year-old made this calculation without the moderator Sarah Ferguson.

She opened the interview with a question that completely threw the ambassador off track. “Here in Australia you are enjoying the benefits of a free and open society. How do you live with yourself when you represent the repressive, dictatorial Putin regime?” Ferguson wanted to know.

At the words “repressive, dictatorial Putin regime”, Pavlovsky burst into nervous giggles. His posture changed suddenly. If he was previously sitting relaxed in his chair, he now crossed his arms in front of his body – in a defensive posture.

“You think it’s funny?” The moderator meanwhile probed. “What I find funny is your way of opening an interview,” Pawlowsky replied, apparently trying to buy time. “That was a pretty direct question,” admitted Ferguson.

“Too direct,” the ambassador then slipped through. “Let me first tell you that I have never had any problem living in my country. I lived there for 13 years after my previous calling before coming to Australia. I never felt like I was in an authoritarian country live, or as you put it.”

She called it repressive and dictatorial, Ferguson replied and specified how she came to this assessment. “It’s a regime that has attacked its neighbor. It’s a regime where protests are suppressed, where your free media is silenced, where dissenters are murdered or imprisoned, where the extent of your war casualties is hidden from the public will,” she counted on her fingers, while Pawlowsky involuntarily nodded.

“How would you describe this form of government if not as a dictatorship?” Ferguson finally asked. She didn’t get an answer. Pavlovsky dodged and stuttered: “I don’t think I need to discuss the form of our government with you. I have prepared myself for substantive questions about Russia’s policies, Russia’s positions on certain issues and Russia’s role in the world,” the ambassador explained and made it clear that he viewed the interview as an opportunity to spread propaganda.

Ferguson obliges him and changes the subject—but not in a direction that pleased Pawlowsky. Some time ago he would have claimed that the Australians had been “brainwashed” into supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a criminal act and the Russian military terrorized the people of Ukraine. Do you understand that you don’t need to be brainwashed to understand that?” asked the presenter.

But she didn’t get an answer to that question either. Instead, Pawlowsky resorted to a popular tactic used by propagandists: blaming others for their past mistakes. “What was actually a criminal act, a brutal invasion of a sovereign country, an illegal and immoral aggression, was what happened 20 years ago,” the diplomat claimed, referring to the Iraq war.

The same tactics were used by Pavlovsky in the following question about Russian war crimes in Ukraine. The same applies to the question of why Russia is killing Ukrainian civilians, while Vladimir Putin is talking about not waging war against the Ukrainian population. Ferguson asked this question several times until Pavlovsky had no choice but to fall back on a central narrative of Kremlin propaganda: The “Ukrainian tragedy” began when a Nazi regime was installed in Kiev, he repeated the absolutely baseless Kremlin mantra.

At this point at the latest, Pawlowsky had to experience first-hand that he can only shine with such slogans in the studios of the Russian state broadcaster. Ferguson made it clear: “I’ll interrupt you if you just repeat old propaganda slogans,” she said, and did so.

Even when the ambassador repeatedly described the war in Ukraine as a “special operation,” the journalist intervened and corrected him: “It’s a war.” An objection that made Pawlowsky flare up. “You don’t have to repeat this every time,” he said angrily. “Yes. I think I have to,” Ferguson pointed out.

This is probably not how Pavlowsky imagined his performance.