Chronicle of a Genocide Foretold

On the April 5, 2022 RIA Novosti article “What Should Russia Do in Ukraine?”

Studying American history, one inevitably notices that the white supremacist philosophy which underlaid both the genocide of Native Americans and the Transatlantic slave trade was expressed openly at the time – constantly, in fact, and by everybody from US Presidents to Sunday school teachers to fur traders. The same is true of the Nazi genocide of Jews, Roma and other minority groups in mid-20th C. Europe. Preceding the Holocaust, blithely antisemitic, genocidal language was used in Germany for years – in public speeches and newspaper editorials, in legislation and in children’s books. This was also the case surrounding the genocide which occurred in Rwanda in 1994. As the BBC details, in the months leading up to the campaign of terror against the Tutsis, “The Hutu extremists set up a radio station, RTLM, and newspapers which circulated hate propaganda, urging people to ‘weed out the cockroaches’ meaning kill the Tutsis. The names of prominent people to be killed were read out on radio.” We appear to be witnessing a similar phenomenon today when the Russian state speaks about its the war in Ukraine.

On April 3, 2022 – the same day the world learned of the apparent war crimes and atrocities carried out the Russian army in Bucha and other cities north of Kiev – the prominent Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti published an article titled “What Should Russia Do with Ukraine?” The piece is openly genocidal in its language. That is, it promotes and seeks to justify “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such” – which is how the United Nations defines the crime of genocide. The conceptual device which author Timofey Sergeytsev employs in order to make his demented argument is the that the pursuit of Ukrainian national identity is indistinguishable from Nazism. Given what is at stake, it is important to examine the article’s at once turgid and terrifying prose.

After opening the text with the statement “Nazi, Bandera Ukraine is the West’s tool for the destruction of Russia,” the author declares:

“Denazification is necessary when a significant part of the people – most likely the majority – has been mastered and drawn into the Nazi regime in its politics. That is, when the hypothesis ‘the people are good – the government is bad’ does not work. Recognition of this fact is the basis of the policy of denazification, of all its measures, and the fact itself is its subject matter.”

Through the style is plodding Kremlin-speak, the author’s point is clear: A majority of the Ukrainian people are “Nazified.” The idea is fantastical. More importantly, it is an example of what psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton calls a “claim to virtue” – what an oppressor offers as justification for committing an atrocity. To refer back to the American example, settlers claimed they were “civilizing” native peoples by destroying them and were nobly “manifesting their destiny” by overtaking the North American continent, obliterating cultures and peoples along the way. In the absence of such a claim to virtue, the oppressor is merely committing crimes against humanity. A virtuous justification becomes necessary. We see that the Kremlin has arrived at the idea of the eradication of fictional mass scale Ukrainian Nazism as their claim to virtue for invading Ukraine, destroying its cities, slaughtering its population and reeducating and re-acculturating them to abandon any notions of independent Ukrainian identity or “anti-Russian” thought.

The idea of a thoroughly “Nazified” Ukrainian populace is further developed in the third paragraph,

“… in addition to the top, a significant part of the masses, which are passive Nazis, accomplices of Nazism, are also guilty. They supported and indulged Nazi power. The just punishment of this part of the population is possible only as bearing the inevitable hardships of a just war against the Nazi system, carried out with the utmost care and discretion in relation to civilians. Further denazification of this mass of the population consists in re-education, which is achieved by ideological repression (suppression) of Nazi attitudes and strict censorship: not only in the political sphere, but also necessarily in the sphere of culture and education.”

According to the imaginings of the author, the most serious and consciously Nazi Ukrainians exist at the top of the government. However, the general populace has been quite supportive of these figures. And so, they must “bear the hardships of a just war.” But fear not, it will be carried out with “the utmost care and discretion in relation to civilians.” Unfortunately, what precisely is meant by “care and discretion” is not defined here nor does it sound like a remotely serious claim, given what we have seen of the invasion and occupation of Ukraine thus far.

The piece continues, piling grim absurdity on top of grim absurdity, as it details the how and why of Ukrainian “de-Nazification.” Indeed, the word “Nazi” or derivations of it are used seventy times in the roughly 2500-word text. What is going on here? Far right, fascist parties only received 2 to 3% of the vote in the most recent national elections in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Zelensky is Jewish. The Nazi-centric Azov battalion was estimated to have 900 members before the war, in a country with a prewar population of 44.13 million, and the battalion’s ranks have been seriously reduced since the war began. I have read the article in RIA multiple times – on the RIA Novostri site using Google translate and in the translation done by the editors of the news and opinion site, NVU, New Voice of Ukraine. It only becomes comprehensible is if one substitutes the phrase “Ukrainian ethnic and national identity” for the word “Nazi.” And, indeed, that is what the author encourages the reader to do, as in the following passages:

“Denazification is inevitably also de-Ukrainization – a rejection of the large-scale artificial inflation of the ethnic element of self-identification of the population of the territories of the historical Malorossiya and Novorossiya begun by the Soviet authorities”

“Unlike, let’s say, Georgia or the Baltics, Ukraine, as history has shown, is unviable as a national state, and attempts to ‘build’ one logically lead to Nazism”

The author argues that denazification is actually de-Ukrainization. It is as if the absurdist trope of the iconic René Magritte painting “This is not a pipe” were made even odder and said something like: “This is a hyena.” So, what does de-Ukrainization consist of? Sergeytsev explains that de-Ukrainization is a rejection of the Ukrainian ethnic and national identity which, the author states, was only “begun” with the birth of the Soviet Union. We are meant to believe that Vladimir Lenin, in recognizing Ukraine as a republic 1917, whimsically invented Ukrainian identity and was not, in fact, recognizing the historical fact of it – a fact which had been denied under the czarist Russian Empire. And we are meant to ignore the reality that the Ukraine people had their own language, culture, traditions, ties to the land and periods of independent governance that preceded 1919 by at least a thousand years. It seems the further one chips away at the veneer of this bizarre and horrifying text, the deeper one falls into a world forged by cynical fabulists wherein virtually every phrase stated as fact is a lie.

In this conjured world, Ukraine is “unviable” as a sovereign state and all attempts to form one “logically” result in Nazism. It’s like Ukraine is the Bermuda Triangle – except, instead of ships disappearing within its realm, mass-scale “Nazism” is spontaneously birthed each time independence is pursued in the region. Alternate reality conjurer-author Sergeytsev even ventures to offer an idea as to how long this process of ethnic identity erasure and Russian indoctrination might take:

“The duration of this de-Nazification cannot take less than a single generation, which has to be born, grow up, and mature in the conditions of de-Nazification.”

Why so long? The author explains:

“The Nazification of Ukraine took more than 30 years – starting at a minimum in 1989, when Ukrainian nationalism received a legal and legitimate form of political self-expression and spearheaded the movement for ‘independence’, leaning towards Nazism.”

Thirty-plus years of independence can only be undone with an equal amount of multi-pronged warfare and social engineering. Such a prolonged and complex response to the Ukraine problem is also required because of the particular vehemence of the “Nazism” in evidence, according to RIA Novosti:

“The collective West is itself a designer, source, and sponsor of Ukrainian Nazism. At that time, the Western Bandera cadres and their “historical memory” were only one of the tools for the Nazification of Ukraine. Ukrnazism is not a smaller, but in fact a larger threat to the world and Russia, than even German Nazism of the Hitlerian version.”

And at this point, the work of the author-conjurer is done. He has succeeded in his objective of painting the Ukrainian desire to remain independent as an even greater threat to the world than the Nazism of Adolf Hitler. If you believe the towering Goliath of bullshit that the author offers, you will likely believe that Ukraine must be subdued and reshaped by any means necessary.

If this all sounds oddly familiar, it is because it resembles starkly the American neocon rhetoric of the early days of the War on Terror. WMD, Islamist extremism, Saddam – these and much more were buffed and polished by American propagandists to warp people into accepting everything from a reduction in civil liberties to the notion of the entire planet as a battlefield for a war that would take generations to wage. It was only after such existential fear was seeded in the citizenry that the George W. Bush administration felt emboldened to invade and destroy Iraq and Afghanistan and set up the lawless prison colony and torture facility at Guantanamo Bay, among many other horrors. (Journalist Eric Draitser traces these uncanny parallels between neocon and Putinist rhetoric in his excellent piece for counterpunch, “The Kremlin Goes Neocon”).

Putin’s recent speeches (“I will never give up my conviction that Russians and Ukrainians are one people” 3/2/22), the writings of his favorite living philosopher, crypto-fascist Alexander Dugin (Russian civilization will not be “reunified” until “… we have united all Eastern Slavs and all Eurasian brothers into a common big space”) and much recent Russian state propaganda (including a thoroughly bizarre text written by former Russian President and former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and published on his Telegram this week, which dreams of “… the opportunity to build a truly open Eurasia, from Vladivostok to Lisbon”) all suggest that Russia’s goal is to rule Ukraine as they violently seek to transform the desires, will and identity of the Ukraine people.

Diverse and outlandish ideas have been and will continue to be floated by the Kremlin to justify what they are doing. The equating of the Ukrainian desire for independence and Western alignment with Nazism is laying the groundwork for more monstrous, genocidal crimes. And, as in previous instances of the crime of genocide, the perpetrator is detailing its rationalizations and aspects of its ghoulish plans openly. As I think of it, Magritte’s “C’est n’est pas une pipe” could apply to the horrors occurring in Ukraine in another way. Putin and his associates are committing war crimes and justifying them with genocidal language and then dare to tell us: “C’est n’est pas un génocide.”

Dan Hanrahan is a musician, translator, actor and writer. He has written essays for Counterpunch, El Beisman, The Mantle, and OpEdNews. Dan’s poetry and translations appear in The Academy of American Poets, Brilliant Corners, Babelsprecht (Germany), Words Without Borders, and (Brazil), and in the Instituto Moreira Salles in São Paulo. He works regularly with the Chicago-based Spanish-language theater and film group, Colectivo El Pozo. Dan’s latest album is called Radical Songs for Rough Times.