Putin has said that “De-Nazification” of Ukraine is one of his key objectives, and that it is the main justification for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin media even brands all those who oppose Russian aggression as “Neo-Nazis.”
At the onset of the invasion, Russian propaganda clearly distinguished between the Ukrainian “fraternal people” and the “criminal regime” in Kyiv. In his address in the early hours of 24 February, Putin said, addressing the Armed Forces of Ukraine: “Take power into your own hands. It looks like it will be easier for us to come to terms with you than with this gang of drug addicts and Neo-Nazis, who settled in Kyiv and took the entire Ukrainian people hostage.”
Later, the Kremlin and the pro-government media began to substitute certain concepts: “nationalists” and “Neo-Nazis” became synonymous with the Ukrainian Army, volunteer battalions, and territorial defence forces, which have put up massive resistance against the Russian invaders. Pro-Kremlin media headlines and newscast rhetoric are full of phrases about “hours spent under targeted fire by nationalists” or Russian units and their proxies “who managed to drive nationalists out of the most residential areas in the city.”
But still after 8 weeks of war, the Kremlin propagandists refer to Ukrainians daring to oppose Russian occupation as “Nazis.” For example, for Margarita Simonyan, the head of one of the Kremlin’s main mouthpieces, RT, it came as an unpleasant surprise that “a significant part of Ukraine was engulfed in the madness of Nazism.” On one of her panel shows, she said: “Previously, I also thought that there were a few of them, but I definitely could not imagine that there were so many!”
Why does Russian propaganda massively and indiscriminately brand all Ukrainians as Nazis? First of all, it’s about dehumanising the nation in the eyes of the Russians. The Kremlin needs to give them something that will make Russians hate Ukrainians and justify in their eyes the atrocities committed against Ukrainians by the Russian military, the annihilation of Ukrainian cities. How could this be done? It turned out to be that simple: to an average Russian, who has been under the harsh influence of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine for years, it’s enough to say: “You know what? They are all Nazis there, we shouldn’t feel sorry for them, it’s okay to kill them all!” Which is what the Russian forces are doing.
Meanwhile, in Russia, people get detained and prosecuted for phrases such as “No to fascism” and “fascism shall not pass” – such slogans are now equated with “discrediting” the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
Putin’s statements that the power in Ukraine is controlled by neo-Nazis is blatant falsehood. As any other country, Ukraine has some problems with far-right movements. In Russia itself, there are no fewer ultra-right, Neo-Nazi and nationalist, sharply xenophobic groups and organizations close to them in spirit. Moreover, there are people today in the Russian circles of power who used to openly back extremely nationalist views and participated in the infamous “Russian Marches.” Traditionally, Russian law enforcement are trying to find a “Ukrainian trace” in pretty much anything, presenting ultra-right groups as “branches of Ukrainian radical movements.”
The Russian ultra-right are frequently in the news focus, and there are still plenty of skinhead gangs that go out terrorising and murdering representatives of various Central Asian ethnic groups, while caveman nationalists keep chanting their favourite “Moscow is for Muscovites” song.
The uncomfortable truth is that Russia has long and regularly made accusations against former Soviet republics about supporting neo-Nazism, But the reality as borne out by the obscene behaviour of the Red Army in Ukraine is that Russia is itself the main breeding ground for today’s Nazis, and it is this evil that the world must address urgently and destroy the demon before it spreads.