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KEY NARRATIVES IN PRO-KREMLIN DISINFORMATION

September 20, 2022

A defining feature of pro-Kremlin disinformation is its repetitiveness. For all the outrageous claims they make, pro-Kremlin outlets often sound like a broken record sticking to a just a handful of basic messages for domestic and international audiences. This is not by accident or oversight, it is by design: repetition makes lies sound more believable. Pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets achieve this by sticking to a set of recurring narratives that work as templates for particular stories.

A narrative is an overall message, communicated through texts, images, metaphors, and other means. Narratives help relay a message, they create suspense and make information attractive. They can be combined and modified based on current events and prevailing attitudes. Some of them have been around for hundreds of years – variations of the narrative of the “decaying West” have been documented since the 19th century. EUvsDisinfo has identified a set of five dominating narratives used by pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets, and the key elements of Kremlin story-telling. We have seen these key pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives deployed on many occasions: in attempts of election interference, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, in an effort to justify the unprovoked war in Ukraine.

We bring you an updated overview of the most common disinformation narratives that continue to appear in Russian and pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets.

The first key narrative in pro-Kremlin disinformation: the Elites v the People

The idea of an elite disconnected from the hard-working people runs strongly in political history. Several politicians and political movements have claimed to represent the voice of the common man, the little guy, the silent majority, against a corrupt and smug clique comprising of the representatives of political parties, corporations and the media. This narrative is not the Kremlin’s invention, but pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets exploit it frequently.

Smorgasbord of scapegoats

This narrative can be very successful, as it provides a scapegoat for the target audience to blame for any grievances: bankers, Big Corporations, Jews, oligarchs, Muslims, Brussels bureaucrats, you name it. Russian disinformation outlets heavily exploited this narrative throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, notoriously alleging that Bill Gates either invented the coronavirus, or was using vaccines against it to implant “microchips”.

The narrative is also strongly connected with various conspiracy beliefs. A common feature is a claim about the existence of secret elites: shadow rulers, puppet-masters with odious intentions. Throughout the pandemic, it has proven to be a working, efficient and comfortable template for producers of disinformation. The EUvsDisinfo website contains numerous claims on the virus being man-made and the measures to curb its spread merely the elites’ ways of destroying the lives of ordinary people.

Beyond the pandemic, this narrative was deployed on the eve of the 2016 Brexit referendum, as these two Sputnik articles demonstrate: “The Threat from Eurocracy threatens Europe” and “Waffen-EU”.

Anglo-Saxons and Ukraine

The narrative of “the Elites v the people” has also been used in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Pro-Kremlin outlets have tried to paint Russia’s invasion as an “Anglo-Saxon” plot, pitting Slavs against each other.

In pro-Kremlin parlance, “Anglo-Saxons” is used as a catch-all term to vilify the West, and in particular the UK and the US. Anglo-Saxons are supposedly cunning and bloodthirsty, devising nefarious plots for global domination. The term is frequently used to construct conspiracy beliefs and has a “clash of civilisations” element to it, helping to frame the West as the “other” and reinforcing the idea that Russia belongs to a “different civilisation”.

Therefore, in Ukraine, we have the (Anglo-Saxon) elites vs the (Slavic) people, according to the pro-Kremlin spin-doctors: the Anglo-Saxons are seeking conflict with Russia at all costs, organised the 2014 coup d’état disguised as a democratic protest, want to involve Ukraine in war against Slavs, and are using Ukraine as an anti-Russian outpost, etc.

Lies of Reason

The Elites v the People narrative has a long, over hundred-year history. Its purveyors claim to be the voice of reason and to advocate on behalf of disenfranchised citizens, speaking truth to power against elites that seek to hide the “truth” at any cost.

The “truth” can relate to a broad variety of issues, including war and peace, migration, economy, while the particular elites deemed “guilty” of hiding the truth are strategically selected to suit the grievances of the target audience. Indeed, this narrative can be adapted and applied to a seemingly infinite number of issues: “The migration crisis is caused by big corporations in order to obtain cheap labour“; “The Global Warming Hoax is used by bankers to divert public attention from real-world problems “; “Global corporations, mainly arms manufacturers are responsible for the war in Ukraine”.

Ultimately, while this narrative appears on its surface to sympathise with ordinary people, its roots are, in fact, authoritarian. Evidence is rarely provided to substantiate the claims made and, following the principles of conspiracy thinking, the very absence of evidence is sometimes used as proof: “See how powerful the elites are, hiding all trace of their conspiracy!” Typically, this narrative also demands that the reader rely exclusively on the word of the narrator: “I know the truth, trust me!” Indeed, like all narratives based on conspiracy beliefs, this one requires its audiences to accept the claims on the basis of faith rather than fact.

Read more on the Elites vs. the People here. Read more about Anglo-Saxons here.

The second key narrative in pro-Kremlin disinformation: the ‘Threatened Values’

The narrative about ‘Threatened Values’ is adapted to a wide range of topics and typically used to challenge Western attitudes about the rights of women, ethnic and religious minorities, and LGBTQI+ groups, among others. Pro-Kremlin commentators ridicule alleged Western ‘moral decay’ or ‘depraved attitudes’. By contrast, Russia and Orthodox Christianity stand out as the true defenders of traditional values, as by this official Russian promotional video illustrates.

According to this narrative, the ‘effeminate West’ is rotting under the onslaught of decadence, feminism and ‘political correctness’ and driving down its economy, while Russia embodies traditional paternal values. This narrative is depicted in a 2015 cartoon by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, illustrating Europe’s apparent moral decay: from Hitler, to sexual deviance, to a future of rabid hyenas.

The idea of a decaying West, juxtaposed against a Russia that is the ‘guardian’ of decency and morality emanates from the very top of the Kremlin. According to an analysis of the European Council of Foreign Relations(opens in a new tab), already back in 2013, Putin had assumed this posture, condemning ‘Euro-Atlantic’ countries for their moral decadence and immorality.

Talking about sex…

Pro-Kremlin media eagerly followed suit. Russian state broadcaster Sputnik described Western mass culture as ‘various forms of paedophilia’. Pro-Kremlin outlets operating in Arabic claimed that the West attempts to destroy basic values, such as those related to the state and the family. In Armenia, pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets alleged that the West was ‘planting’ alien moral foundations to undermine national identities of other states. In this narrative, the Kremlin not only manages to ‘preserve’ basic decency and values, but also ‘defends’ them against the onslaught of immorality from the West.

According to the European Council of Foreign Relations’ analysis(opens in a new tab):

‘One clever propaganda trick was to enhance the image of the evil West by merging together the social conservative and the anti-Western posture. In this way, the West and Westernisers, gay people, liberals, contemporary artists and their fans, those who did not treat the Russian Orthodox Church with due respect, and those who dared to doubt Russia’s unblemished historical record were all presented as one ‘indivisible evil’,’ a threat to Russia, its culture, its values, and its very national identity.’

Homophobia goes hand in hand with the claim of protecting traditional values, so it is no surprise that Russian state media spend time ridiculing, for instance, rights for sexual minorities as illustrated in these examples. Also recently, pro-Kremlin outlets have resorted to homophobic tropes in their denigration of Ukrainian service members.

Pro-Kremlin outlets show special delight when they can hit two rabbits with one stone: accusing the all-mighty EU of tyrannical behaviour by ordering individual states to abolish or destroy their own values. One example is the manipulated and severely misrepresented story, ‘European Parliament bans the words Mother and Father’.

Common Sense

Value-based disinformation narratives usually centre on threatened concepts like ‘tradition’, ‘decency’, and ‘common sense’ – terms that all have positive connotations, but are rarely clearly defined.

The narrative creates an ‘us vs. them’ framework, which suggests that those who are committed to traditional values are now threatened by those who oppose them and instead seek to establish a morally bankrupt dystopia. Russian and pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets pushed variations of this narrative in the run-up to the 2018 Swedish general election, as can be seen here(opens in a new tab) and here(opens in a new tab). In Russian-language outlets, like the infamous St. Petersburg Troll Factory News Agency RIAFAN, the language of this narrative is particularly aggressive: ‘What it is like in the country of victorious tolerance: gays and lesbians issue dictates, oppression of men and women, Russophobia and fear’.(opens in a new tab)

By contrast to the Western conception of values, which favours the individual rights of personal integrity, safety, and freedom of expression, the Russian value system entails a set of collective norms that every individual is expected to conform to.

Yet the Threatened Values narrative is always expressed from a position of perceived moral high ground in which the silent majority, committed to decency and traditionalism, is under attack from liberal ‘tyranny’. The target audience is invited to join the heroic ranks under the Kremlin banner, boldly fighting for family values, traditional Christianity, and purity.

Read more on the ‘Threatened Values’ here.

The third key narrative in pro-Kremlin disinformation: Lost Sovereignty

Russian and pro-Kremlin disinformation sources like to claim that certain countries are no longer truly sovereign. Back in 2015, a cartoonist for the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti illustrated this idea with an image:(opens in a new tab) Uncle Sam is turning up the flame on a gas stove, forcing Europeans to jump up and down while crying for sanctions against Russia.

Original illustration: RIA Novosti

Since then, there have been many more examples of this narrative proliferating in pro-Kremlin outlets: for example, Ukraine is ruled by foreigners and the Baltic states are not really countries. Pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets also claim that with their accession to NATO, Finland and Sweden are now about to lose their sovereignty and that they are acting under foreign (US, NATO) pressure. Further examples for this narrative abound: the EU is directed by Washington, Japan is a vassal state, Germany is an occupied territory, decisions in Ukraine aren’t made by its president but by the US, and so on.

Pro-Kremlin outlets even uses a specific vocabulary to define states that are ‘not-sovereign’: ‘limitrophes’, or frontier territories providing subsistence and subservience to their masters. The Polish edition of the pro-Kremlin propaganda outlet RuBaltica explains:

‘There are real states, which are capable of implementing all state functions, and then there is geopolitical scum or fictional countries that have formal attributes of statehood but which are not real states. These countries include the post-Soviet limitrophe states separating Russia from the West. The pseudo-elites of these countries are not able to respond to any serious historical challenge such as overcoming the migration crisis, protecting the border and fighting the epidemic. They keep asking Western Europe and the United States for help because they cannot cope on their own. These countries are ruled by puppets – they are able only to speak about “stopping Russia” and vote for anti-Russian resolutions in the EU and UN.’

The narrative of ‘lost sovereignty’ is ultimately a narrative of disempowerment aimed at eroding the very foundations of democracy. Why would anyone care about democratic processes and elections, if powerful outsiders rule their country?

In contrast, pro-Kremlin outlets claim, real sovereignty is possible only under Russian control.

No independent political will of the people

Closely related to the ‘lost sovereignty’ narrative are pro-Kremlin disinformation messages about so-called ‘colour revolutions’. These messages allege that social upheavals or political protests are orchestrated by powerful outsiders (the West) and never a genuine expression of citizens’ activism or grievances. The examples are many and date back to the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine in 2013-2014, when pro-Kremlin outlets falsely accused US officials of staging the popular protests.

The Kremlin’s dismissal of the independent political will and aspirations of other peoples is arrogant and often hides an imperialistic approach to the people or country in question. Failing to grasp the concept of free will, the Kremlin resorts to conspiratorial thinking – ‘Why would anyone in their right mind want to distance themselves from Russia? This can only be because of Anglo-Saxon-led manipulation.’ Not surprisingly, in the Kremlin’s view, the EU is also under Anglo-Saxon control.

Undermining the statehood of Ukraine

The narrative of ‘lost sovereignty’ aims to erode trust in and ultimately corrupt the foundations of democratic institutions. It has also gained a special significance in the attempts of pro-Kremlin outlets to justify military aggression against Ukraine. An infamous example was Putin alleging(opens in a new tab) that ‘Lenin created Ukraine’ a few days before Russia launched a full-scale invasion (a claim that had already been circulating in the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem).

In the context of Ukraine, the pro-Kremlin narrative of ‘lost sovereignty’ takes on an even more sinister, imperialist hue. It denies not only Ukrainian statehood, but also its very existence by alleging that ‘a state of Ukraine has never existed before’. This narrative, along with the myth of ‘Nazi Ukraine’, has been one of the central disinformation tropes justifying Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Related disinformation narratives include claims that Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians are ‘one nation(opens in a new tab)’ and multiple allegations that Ukraine is on the verge of disintegration.

Read more about the ‘lost sovereignty’ narrative here.

The fourth key narrative in pro-Kremlin disinformation: Imminent Collapse

In Aristotelian rhetoric, the concept of kairos denotes a sense of urgency for action. Most speakers utilise this concept when they claim: act now, before it’s too late! In the pro-Kremlin disinformation context, the narrative of the ‘Imminent Collapse’ fulfils this function.

Russian and pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets regularly employ this narrative. Examples include: the EU is on the verge of collapse, the US is collapsing, NATO is breaking down, Ukraine’s entry into the EU would provoke the bloc’s collapse, and the financial system is collapsing.

According to the Kremlin propaganda, other factors are also hastening this alleged collapse. For example, the RIA Novosti cartoonist describes terrorism in Europe as a deadly scorpion that Europeans have unwittingly placed in their pocket.

An Old Story

Russia has been foreshadowing Europe’s imminent collapse for well over a century. Describing Europe or EU member states as ‘on the verge of civil war’ worked just as well in 2019 as it did back in 1919.

Russian state-run outlets feed their local audiences multiple stories of how life is terrible in the EU: unrest, violence, poverty, political extremism, and so forth. All to create a sense of comfort for the audience of living inside Russia, apparently not on a verge of an imminent collapse, in a clear contrast to the situation elsewhere.

The ‘imminent collapse’ is a hard-working narrative that usually resonates well with both local and international target audiences, despite the fact that there has not been a civil war in the EU, nor has Europe collapsed. By many metrics, the bloc continues to flourish.

Target audiences that – legitimately or not – already fear political and social turmoil in their countries are particularly susceptible to this narrative.

Thus, this narrative works especially well during periods of real political challenges, like during the migration crisis in the fall of 2015, during the pandemic, and now during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Original illustration: RIA Novosti

The Final Battle

The enormous influx of migrants to Europe certainly posed a major challenge to European governments, but Russian and pro-Kremlin outlets portrayed the situation in grossly overstated and apocalyptic terms, reporting about the crisis as though it constituted a systemic collapse. Of course, the system survived intact, but the image of a collapse lingers on in Kremlin parlance.

During the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, in March 2020, nationalist philosopher Aleksandr Dugin relished in witnessing the collapse(opens in a new tab) of Western democracies:

“The global capitalist society collapsed immediately. Not everyone has understood it yet. But they will very soon. This means that the very substance of Liberal Globalism has collapsed, the world of office workers and beauty bloggers, transgender persons and climate activists, human right defenders and hipsters, migrants and feminists”.

The approach was also visible in Russian and pro-Kremlin coverage of the Yellow Vest protests in France. The right to express discontent with government and politics is an integral part of democracy, and the citizens of any European state enjoy the right to protest peacefully. The Yellow Vest movement and other expressions of discontent like it belong to the European democratic tradition. They are not proof of the breakdown of the system, but of its ability to reinvent and rejuvenate itself.

Despite their lack of success in prophesising, pro-Kremlin fantasising of an imminent collapse of their perceived adversaries has continued also after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In pro-Kremlin outlets’ disinformation, the war in Ukraine is just a Western ruse to postpone the ‘inevitable collapse of global capitalism.’

The ‘imminent collapse’ narrative is also sometimes used to lament the alleged breakdown of European moral values and traditions. Russian and pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets for instance regularly describe children’s rights in Europe as an attack on family values. Their bottom line: Europe is dying by abandoning all decency and morals.

However, the reports of Europe’s death may have been greatly exaggerated. Navigating a tumultuous economic situation, wading through a global pandemic, or witnessing a heated political landscape should not be mistaken as an existential collapse.

Read more on the ‘Imminent Collapse’ here.

The fifth key narrative in pro-Kremlin disinformation: the Hahaganda

A final resort in disinformation, typically when confronted with compelling evidence or unassailable arguments, is to make a joke about the subject, or to ridicule the topic at hand.

The Skripal poisoning case is an excellent example of this strategy. Russian and pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets have continued their attempts to drown out the assassination attempt with sarcasm to turn the entire tragedy into one big joke. A similar approach has been employed in the case of the attempted assassination of Alexei Navalny, where pro-Kremlin media has competed on delivering “fun” stories on how to better kill the Russian dissident.

The methods of ‘hahaganda’ also involve the use of various derogatory words to belittle the concept of democracy, democratic procedures, and candidates.

Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov describes the concept of democracy as “a battle of bastards(opens in a new tab)” and instead recommends the ‘enlightened rule’ of Vladimir Putin as an alternative for Europe. Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was almost constantly ridiculed(opens in a new tab) in pro-Kremlin media, as is Ukraine’s entire election process. According to Russian state media, an election with several candidates and no obvious outcome is considered a circus.

Ukraine’s sitting president Volodymyr Zelensky has also received more than his fair share of ridicule and humiliation in pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets during his time at the office. Among other ridiculous allegations, he has been claimed to get military advice from his 9-year old son, dance to the tune of the US, and allegedly also to that of Turkey. No pro-Kremlin orchestrated humiliation would be full without the mandatory Nazi and Soros affiliations.

The Kremlin Weaponising Jokes

This weaponisation of jokes and public ridicule is so favoured by the Kremlin, that the State News Agency RIA Novosti employed two pranksters, tasked with setting up fake telephone conversations with politicians, activists and decision-makers. Posing as representatives of the Alexei Navalny team, environmental activist Greta Thunberg, and most recently as Ukraine’s prime minister(opens in a new tab), the Kremlin affiliated jesters attempt to con the interlocutor into saying something politically destructive.

Of course, satire, humour, and parody are all integral components of public discourse. The right to poke fun at politicians or make jokes about bureaucrats is important to the vitality of any democracy.

It is ironic, then, that Russian and pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets often seek to disguise their anti-Western lies and deception behind a veil of satire, claiming it is within their rights of free speech. However, at the same time, they aggressively refuse to tolerate any satire that is critical of the Kremlin, or undermines its political agenda. An example of this hypocrisy is Russia’s ban on the 2018 British comedy The Death of Stalin(opens in a new tab).

Ridicule and humiliation

In their 2017 report(opens in a new tab), NATO’s StratCom Centre of Excellence explained how Russian and pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets use humour to discredit Western political leaders.

One of its authors, the Latvian scholar Solvita Denisa-Liepniece, has suggested the term ‘hahaganda’ for this particular brand of disinformation, which is based on ridiculing institutions and politicians.

The grotesque feature of hahaganda is that it is very hard to defend yourself against it. There is no point in protesting. The joke is not supposed to convey factual information. It’s a joke! Don’t you guys have humour? Do you have to be so politically correct all the time?

The goal of hahaganda is not to convince audiences of the truth of a particular joke, but rather to undermine the credibility and trustworthiness of a given target, such as an individual or an institution, via constant ridicule and humiliation. At times, hahaganda takes a truly morbid turn, when the pro-Kremlin disinformation machinery decides to turn an attempted political assassination into a laughing stock.

Read more on Hahaganda here.

One more key narrative in pro-Kremlin disinformation: “Nazis”

Nazis East and West, but mostly in Ukraine

For many years, Russian state-controlled media have claimed that various states and entities are ruled by Nazis or permeated by Nazi ideology. In the jargon, ‘Nazi’ and ‘fascist’ have become synonyms. The examples are many and well documented in the EUvsDisinfo database since 2015: Moldova is ruled by Fascists, and so are the Baltic States and Poland. Europe is ‘supporting’ Fascism and so is the European Parliament. Speaking in Vladivostok six months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin even speculated that the EU’s foreign policy chief, High Representative Josep Borrell, ‘would have been on the side of the fascists had he lived in the 1930s’ because the EU is supporting the fascists in Kyiv.

But for the Kremlin, Ukraine – a country where millions died fighting Nazism in WW2, where the Nazi ideology is banned(opens in a new tab), and that is currently governed by the grandson of a Holocaust survivor(opens in a new tab) – is the most ‘Nazi’ of them all. The EUvsDisinfo database contains nearly 500 examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation claims about ‘Nazi/Fascist Ukraine’. It has been a cornerstone of the Kremlin’s propaganda since the Euromaidan protests in 2013-2014, when the Kremlin sought to discredit pro-European protests in Kyiv and, subsequently, the broader pro-Western shift in Ukraine’s foreign policy as a ‘Nazi coup’.

This is because in the Kremlinverse, ‘Nazis’ and ‘Nazism’ are in no way linked to the actual history or ideology of National Socialism or fascism, nor to contemporary manifestations of far-right ideas. Rather, anyone deemed hostile to Russia or the idea of ‘Russkiy Mir’ – a geopolitical project of uniting the Russian-speaking world under the sceptre of the Kremlin – is labelled a ‘Nazi’. First and foremost – Ukraine.

Glossing over history, hiding the Nazi contacts

The potency of the ‘Nazi’ narrative for Russian audiences is no accident. It is something that the Kremlin has been building systematically for years. From the perspective of the Kremlin, history is not something to be remembered and studied; it is something to be managed. This is how historical memory was turned into a tool to fulfil the Kremlin’s geopolitical ambitions.

For years, Russian state-controlled media along with politicians – from Putin himself(opens in a new tab) to the now deceased right-wing extremist Vladimir Zhirinovsky – hammered down the notion that only the Soviet Union had genuinely fought the Hitler regime. All others in the West were not really contributing but somehow provided a space for Hitler. By slinging history-laden accusations against the West, Russia weaponised history, much in the same way it has weaponised its media as well as energy, food exports and trade in a broader sense.

It is difficult to see how this twisted perception of history squares with the fact that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had a Pact of non-aggression – the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, accompanied by secret protocols and significant trade relations, from August 1939 until July 1941. As documented by historian Roger Moorhouse(opens in a new tab), this equals a third of the duration of the WW2, during which Hitler’s Nazi regime had a free hand and built its war machine with Soviet imports. The Soviet Union aided significantly the training(opens in a new tab) of Hitler’s modern war machine(opens in a new tab) and provided critical resources and fuel for Nazi Germany.

However, pointing out these facts, let alone the atrocities committed by the Red Army, including the occupation of large swathes of Europe, is a taboo in Russia. For several years now it has been a criminal offense in Russia to engage in what is termed ‘staining the reputation of the Red Army’s heroic deeds 1941-1945’. Since 2021, it is now also criminal(opens in a new tab) to ‘insult war veterans’. Memorial International, an NGO that has documented the repression and human rights violations under Stalin’s regime, was harassed for years and finally dissolved(opens in a new tab) just weeks ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin has silenced critical research by historians and stifled all free debate. With a free hand to manipulate and instrumentalise historical memory, the Kremlin stoked and appropriated feelings of heroism and national pride, to define itself as the sole force of resistance against Nazism now, throughout history, and into the future. From this, the Kremlin continues to draw its legitimacy in Russia, fuelling its neo-imperial ambitions abroad. The invasion of Ukraine, which Putin infamously attempted to justify as ‘de-nazification’, is the most extreme example of this.

Now – Nazi battle cry all over the place

The Kremlin has deployed “fighting Nazism” as a battle cry in Ukraine, with all the horrific consequences. In the months preceding the invasion, Russian state-controlled media went into overdrive to portray Ukraine as a ‘Nazi state’.

This was a signal for its affiliates and subjects that from that moment on, all means were allowed, as they justified the ultimate end of a new victory over ‘Nazism’ – this time in Ukraine. This is how the Kremlin’s propagandists tried to justify Russian atrocities in Ukraine that they couldn’t deny, including the bombing of a maternity ward in Mariupol. This is a justification we are likely to see again, as the full picture of Russian atrocities committed under Russian control in the Kharkiv region emerges.(opens in a new tab)

Nazi = Dehumanising Ukrainians

It is bad enough to weaponise history, but the Kremlin has taken it a step further. The ‘Nazi’ narrative has been used to dehumanise Ukrainians. The genocide-inciting rhetoric about everything Ukrainian has moved from fringe to Russian mainstream, e.g., to Russian state-controlled news agency RIA Novosti. And the effect is more brutality on the battlefield and against civilians.

The lack of success on the battlefield led the Kremlin and its propagandists to call not just for getting rid of the ‘Nazi junta’ in Kyiv, but for the large-scale ‘denazification(opens in a new tab)’ of Ukraine, which was to take generations. In the blink of an eye, the Kremlin expanded the circle of ‘Nazis’ – from the Ukrainian authorities to the whole population and anyone who supports Ukraine. And as Ukraine continues to liberate occupied territories, the rhetoric on the Russian side keeps hardening and getting more extreme. In recent days, prominent Russian voices have called for(opens in a new tab) pushing 20 million Ukrainians from their homes, destroying region after region in Ukraine, civilian and critical infrastructure, and suggested that the laws of armed conflict are just recommendations and should not restrict the total war.

Can there be a world without Nazis?

Can there be a world, a Ukraine, where the Kremlin and dominant layers of Russia do NOT brand Ukrainian leaders as Nazis?

This question is relevant in light of the current intense debate inside Russia, including in leading circles, about the failures of the Russian armed forces around Kharkiv and Kherson. A few voices(opens in a new tab) who have been allowed to talk on Kremlin-affiliated key TV(opens in a new tab) are beginning to wonder if it is productive to keep denying that Ukrainians exist as a people and nation. That branding Ukrainians may be counterproductive. The majority, Putin included, is, however, still throwing the Nazi label at everybody. For now.

If you want to follow the trail see also our article from 2017: “Nazi east, Nazi west, Nazi over the cuckoo’s nest” and an overview of the Kremlin’s historical revisionism attempts: In the shadow of revised history.


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