One of the key justifications offered by Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine was that the country had come under the spell of Nazis and had to be “denazified”. We know of course neo-Nazi groups have been active in Ukraine and extreme right-wing parties have had some support in elections. But just a few percentage points. This is why at the start those claims sounded like typical hollow propaganda, a weak and flimsy justification for the invasion.
An article this week by Timofei Sergeitsev, translated from RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned news agency, sheds new light on the proposed denazification and what it really means. Reading this, one is simply at loss for words.
The article is titled “What Russia Should Do with Ukraine” and the author starts by claiming the denazification of Ukraine is inevitable and has now moved to “the practical level”. He says a significant part of the population, and probably the majority, have become Nazis. He then goes on to lay out the plan. First, Nazis must be destroyed on the battlefield, and the author makes no distinction between the Ukrainian army and independent armed groups – all are Nazis. Next comes the punishment of “active Nazis”, and remember this includes the whole Ukrainian military, and the punishment should be “exemplary” and “demonstrable”; thinking about what that might mean sends a chill down one‘s spine.
But this is not all. Sergeitsev claims a large portion of the population are “passive Nazis”. What should be done with them then? The methods proposed are “re-education, which is achieved by ideological repression (suppression) of Nazi attitudes and severe censorship: not only in the political sphere, but necessarily also in the sphere of culture and education”. Even the country‘s name must be eradicated. This is expected to take a generation.
The article claims Ukraine is “impossible as a nation-state” for it will always descend into Nazism. Furthermore, denazification essentially means de-Europeanisation. In other words, Europeans in general are Nazis.
There is something about the kind of claims made in this article that reminds one of the propaganda against European Jews in the 19th and early 20th century – the smearing of an entire people via vague and crass generalisations. One can only wonder what would happen to those who would not yield to the “re-education” and “ideological repression”. We all know what happened to the Jews and other undesirable groups in Europe in the 1940s, to the Bosnian Muslims and the Tutsi of Rwanda in the early 1990s, just to name a few examples of where our ever-present inclination towards branding and exclusion, based on nationality, race, culture or beliefs, can lead.
Since the start of the war, I have been very sceptical of the more radical claims regarding Putin‘s intentions in Ukraine. But in the context of his speeches, the way the war has played out, and the fact this article has been published by a state-owned news agency, it is difficult not to conclude the views expressed are at least not contrary to the views of the authorities. And if so, events such as the destruction of Mariupol and the massacre in Bucha are easier to understand.
It can be seen from the comments on the original article that about two thirds of the commenters disapprove of Sergeitsev‘s article while a third approve. This might be an indication of the acceptance of the author‘s views. If a third of Russians approve of not only invading a neighbouring country, but eradicating it; ruining its culture, heritage and even its name, this tells us things are much worse than one would have suspected. I have sought reactions from friends in Russia and with ties to Russia in order to better understand how popular this view is. I will finish by quoting of one of them: “Russia is not a monolith. But yes, there are enough Russians who believe Ukraine doesn’t deserve to exist as a state.”
Thorsteinn Siglaugsson is an economist who lives in Iceland. Find him on his blog.