Into the Heart of Darkness – What Russia Wants in Ukraine
As we are struggling to comprehend the Russian atrocities in Bucha, Mariupol and elsewhere in Ukraine, RIA Novosti on 3 April published a long article headlined “What Russia should do with Ukraine” by Kremlin-affiliated Russian film director and political philosopher Timofey Sergeytsev. The article stands out as a perverted intellectual framework which forms the background for atrocities.
Debunking an idea, conviction or ideology is by definition not possible. What is possible, however, is to analyse its substance, the context in which it appears, and to compare the ideas with known patterns of history while acknowledging that all developments feature unique elements.
Why is this article remarkable?
A river of disinformation flows from the Kremlin’s system every day. Everybody now knows that the Russian government and Kremlin trolls lie at an industrial scale: Crimea annexation, Donbas myths, MH-17 airplane, atrocities in Syria, the invasion of Ukraine, bombing civilian targets, Kharkiv, Mariupol. The list continues.
Explaining the new Bucha atrocities, the Russian ministries of defence and foreign affairs and embassies went into the usual auto-pilot lying: “A Ukrainian provocation, false flag, staged attack, pictures are fake, etc. etc.”
So why is this article different?
Two aspects: First – RIA Novosti is the main Russian news agency. It is owned 100 per cent by the Russian state and forms part of the state media conglomerate Russia Today (Россия сегодня), headed by Putin-appointed Dmitry Kiselyov (under EU sanctions since 2014). Such long-reads reflect the “thinking on the hill” – like a guiding light at night. Once published there, any Russian media and private persons can re-use this material without coming into conflict with the news censorship laws, which from 4 March outlaw quoting anything else but official material.
Second – the totality or comprehensive nature of the ideas outlining what should be done for the future. The ideas form a logical continuation of Putin’s (twisted) description of Ukraine’s history (see our account: Putin as the tamer of Nazism here).
Take the two Russian treaty “proposals” from December 2021 (see our account here – with the messages: US out, NATO down and the West obey). Add the outline article of what should be done with and inside Ukraine and you have nothing short of the Final Solutions to all problems – as seen from Moscow.
What does it say?
The terms “Nazis” and “Nazism” are used excessively in the article to brand anything associated with the Ukrainian state, the Kyiv government, or the Ukrainian authorities.
The plan is to:
– destroy on the battlefield all the “Nazis” who took up arms; meaning everybody
– liquidate part of the Ukrainians by carrying out mass repression of the entire Ukrainian population. “War criminals” to be punished hard to set examples
– liquidate and ban all Ukrainian armed formations and all organisations associated with the practice of “Nazism”
– give privileges to those waiting for the Russian authority (read: Donbas will rule)
– introduce Russian laws and Russian courts to ban language and culture
– introduce strict censorship, destroy textbooks and, in general, everything Ukrainian. Re-education of all segments of society where Ukrainian culture has taken hold
– ban even the name Ukraine and the term Ukrainian itself
– do all this by force and with the support of (military) power from Russia.
The plan is estimated to require some 30 years for full implementation (a generation of repression and annihilation). The West should accept this is a Russian matter: no interference.
The article in an English translation with commentary is available here.
Which society can publish this?
We should take the article deadly seriously. There is one mistake, often committed in the West, when trying to understand Moscow and predict the course of Russia’s actions: the failure to comprehend the inner mechanism and nature of a society that is already totalitarian but is further moving beyond all norms and accepted behaviours. Due to this mistake people find themselves “surprised” by developments.
The failure lies in refusing to take seriously what comes from an unrestrained dictator-type ruler in a society where there are no more checks and balances, no mechanisms to brake or control any excesses. When the political, legal, economic system, courts, science and education and free media have all been subdued and brought under control. When the entire society has been fed hard-core propaganda for years. When intolerance, revanchism, “besieged fortress” mentality and militarism backs a cult of personality where extreme power is focused in one person. Hyper-nationalist elements have transformed into destructive imperialism. Such is today’s Russia. On all key parameters, society has deteriorated with a speed and trajectory similar to what has been observed before in Europe’s history. The path of such societies has always led to conflict.
The poor performance of the invading Russian forces in the first weeks, especially in the north of Ukraine and around Kyiv, has now led to partial Russian withdrawals. Poor morale among the Russian troops is obvious. While concentrating and regrouping the forces, there is a need for new motivation inducing the right spirit before the next large military push, likely concentrated along the eastern frontlines. The “Nazis in Kyiv” trope is well-known so a clear and specific vision seems in demand in Russia.
There is also a dire need to present an explanation, a higher cause, for the significant Russian combat losses in Ukraine. By most accounts, the losses have already surpassed those sustained during the ten years, 1979-1989, of Soviet war in Afghanistan that in Soviet lingo was “the fulfilment of the international obligation to help the brotherly nation with a limited contingent of Soviet Forces in Afghanistan”.
With the article’s absolute and extreme demands, it tries to stimulate feelings that have been dear to dictators through the ages: blind loyalty to the state, a demand for an almost religious sacrifice of the individual for the cause of the leader, the enemy deprived of their humanity – in fact, their basic right of existence.
No surprise President Zelenskyy reacted harshly to the article during his speech to the Romanian Parliament, saying, inter alia, that the article promotes genocide and “describes a clear and calculated procedure for the destruction of everything that makes Ukrainians Ukrainian and our people themselves”.
Meanwhile, Putin’s approval ratings in Russia are high. Even though any polling in Russia needs to be taken with a grain (or a spoonful) of salt, the numbers are telling. According to a Levada Centre study from March 2022, 83 per cent of respondents approve of Putin and his policies.