Why the Russians did it


The atrocities discovered when Ukrainian forces retook Bucha are in perfect harmony with Kremlin rhetoric.

As Russia retreated from its attempt to encircle Kyiv, Ukrainian forces entering the town of Bucha reported finding the bodies of hundreds of civilians, many of them killed execution-style, with their hands tied behind their backs. Some bodies were buried in mass graves while others were left lying in the road.

My first thought was that it was wise to be skeptical of these reports. [1] It obviously serves the Ukrainian cause if the world believes Russia’s soldiers behaved in monstrous and inhuman ways, or that the Kremlin authorized them to do so. Using atrocity stories as propaganda goes back at least as far as World War I, when the British exaggerated stories of German crimes in Belgium.

Predictably, Russia claimed the Ukrainians had faked everything. This theory, though, is no less outrageous, because it seems to imply that the Ukrainian forces killed their own people when they re-entered the town.

As evidence mounts, I have come around to believing the Ukrainian reports. Independent reporters were brought in quickly and given a lot of freedom to wander about and talk to survivors. Satellite photos and intercepted radio chatter from before the Russians withdrew appear to correspond to some of the bodies found. The more we hear, the more the Ukraine-faked-it theory acquires the common flaw of most bad conspiracy theories: The number of people who would have to be in on the plot has grown beyond reasonable bounds.

The Ukrainian reports also fit with the Russia’s apparent disregard for civilian casualties when it shells cities. The most recent example was the missile attack on a train station in Kramatorsk. Previous Russian campaigns in Chechnya and Syria have been similarly brutal. (A general associated with massive civilian casualties in Syria has just been put in charge of the Ukraine campaign.)

But what clinches the case for me is not anything from Ukrainian or NATO sources, or from the western press. It’s an article called “What should Russia do with Ukraine?” by Russian political scientist Timofey Sergeytsev, published a week ago by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. (Alternate translation here.)

Sergeytsev is not a soldier, not in Ukraine, and as far as I know has killed no one. But he has documented, and state media has published, an argument that would justify (and perhaps even welcome) all the actions Russia has been accused of.

The article revolves around “de-Nazifiying” Ukraine, a phrase that has been the centerpiece of Russian war propaganda. To Sergeytsev, this term means much more than simply deposing the current “Nazi” government led by President Zelensky, a Jewish Ukrainian whose grandfather’s brothers were killed in the Holocaust. The deeper problem, you see, is that the Ukrainian people support Zelensky and don’t want to be dominated by Russia.

De-Nazifying is necessary when a significant part of the people – most likely, the majority – have been sucked into the Nazi regime politically. That is, when the “people are good – the government is bad” hypothesis no longer works.

In other words: the Ukrainian people are not just misled, they are bad and deserve to be punished.

De-Nazifying is the measure applied towards the masses of Nazi followers whom one is not able to subject to direct punishment as war criminals because of technicalities.

… Besides the top leaders, a significant part of the masses are guilty as accomplices of Nazism, the passive Nazis. They supported and indulged the Nazi power. The just punishment of this part of the population is possible through inflicting the unescapable hardships of our just war against the Nazi system, with careful and cautious relations towards other civilians when feasible.

In order to de-Nazify Ukraine, Russia needs total control. A “Nazified” populace has no right to self-determination or democracy.

De-Nazifying requires winning, which means achieving the unconditional control over the de-Nazifying process and the government that maintains this control. Hence, a de-Nazified country cannot be sovereign. Being the de-Nazifying country, Russia cannot practice a Liberal approach to de-Nazifying. The guilty party subjected to de-Nazifying cannot dispute our de-Nazifier’s purpose.

What will Russia do with once it achieves total control?

De-Nazifying the population further consists in re-education through an ideological repression (suppression) of Nazi attitudes and a strict censorship: not only in the political sphere, but also critically, in culture and education.

Of course, Ukraine will have to be cut off from the West, and especially from Western aid that might rebuild the country after the war.

Their political aspirations cannot be neutral – the expiation of guilt before Russia for treating it as an enemy can transpire through relying on Russia in the processes of restoration, revival and development. No “Marshall Plans” should be allowed for these territories. There can be no “neutrality” in the ideological and practical sense, compatible with de-Nazifying. The cadres and organizations that are the de-Nazifying instrument in the newly de-Nazified republics cannot but rely on Russia’s direct military and organizational support.

For how long? Decades, at a minimum.

The de-Nazifying time frame is no less than one generation that needs to be born, brought up and to have reached maturity during the process of de-Nazifying.

In the process, the very idea of Ukraine has to be stamped out, and replaced with the identities of “Minor Russia” and “New Russia”. [2]

De-Nazifying will inevitably also be a de-Ukrainizing, i.e., rejecting the large-scale artificial overblowing of the ethnic component in self-identification of the population of the territories of the historical Minor Russia and New Russia. … Unlike Georgia and the Baltic countries, Ukraine is impossible as a nation-state, as history has shown, and any attempts to “build” a nation-state naturally lead to Nazism. Ukrainism is an artificial anti-Russian construct that does not have its own civilizational content; it’s a subordinate element of an alien and unnatural civilization.

The territory-formerly-known-as-Ukraine will have to be divided by an “alienation line” that separates Russia-loving people in the east (who could aspire to “potential integration into Russian civilization”) from Russia-hating people in the west (some of whom will have to be relocated from the east). But even the western part will never be independent.

The guarantee of the preservation of this residual Ukraine in a neutral state should be the threat of an immediate continuation of the military operation in case of non-compliance with the listed requirements. Perhaps this will require a permanent Russian military presence on its territory.

Again: This is not some Western analysts’ dark fantasy of what Russians are thinking. This is Russian state media telling Russians what they should think.

So imagine that you are a Russian soldier and that you believe you are entering a Nazi country (which is not really a country, but “an artificial anti-Russian construct that does not have its own civilizational content”) whose civilians bear the “guilt” of treating Russia as an enemy. Imagine that only “technicalities” prevent these civilians from being punished as war criminals, and that “the unescapable hardships of our just war” constitute their “just punishment”.

What would restrain you from committing crimes like those whose evidence is being found in Bucha? After all, it’s only the “other civilians” (not the Nazi-supporting majority) you need to be careful with, and only then “when feasible”.

[1] I hate that people like Tucker Carlson and Joe Rogan have poisoned the phrase “just asking questions”. Questions should be asked, but as part of a process of seeking answers.

The problem with Carlson and Rogan isn’t that they’re asking questions, but that they’re not seeking answers. Instead, they ask questions simply to blow smoke and create paralyzing doubt. They imply that the questions they ask have no good answers, invent repressive forces that are trying to stop people from asking them, and cast themselves as brave rebels against those imagined forces.

I remember, early in Covid vaccination campaign, hearing Carlson do this same routine about vaccine safety. It took me less than a minute to google one of his “courageous” questions and discover that it had been asked and answered on the CDC web site. If Carlson didn’t want to accept the CDC’s answer, fine; but to pretend that the authorities had no answer and were trying to suppress the question was just dishonest.

[2] The article identifies Ukrainian nationalism with S. Bandera. (One translation calls the current regime “Banderite”.) I had to look up who that was: Stepan Bandera was a World-War-II-era Ukrainian nationalist who (depending who you talk to) was either a Nazi collaborator or a Ukrainian patriot who tried to play the Nazis and Soviets off against each other.

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  • Norm Baxter  On April 11, 2022 at 11:23 am

    Sergeytsev’s article, sordid justification for Russian atrocities as it is, is also a frightening blueprint for further Russian conquest. We and out NATO allies need to be ready for Russian attacks on other European nations.

  • fmanin  On April 11, 2022 at 11:40 am

    Tiny correction: not “Minor Russia or New Russia”, but “and”. Historically, Malorossiya (Minor Russia) was Western and Central Ukraine historically dominated by Poland. New Russia (so dubbed in the 18th century when it was first tilled) was Eastern and Southern Ukraine historically dominated by successive waves of pastoralist nomads. These are actual historical constructs that are being resurrected (since 2014, when Putin was trying to manipulate all of “New Russia” into seceding from Ukraine) in support of modern Russian colonial ambitions.

  • painedumonde  On April 11, 2022 at 12:41 pm

    Continuing down the rabbit hole of “just asking questions” is the implication that “I don’t know.” Almost every utterance of JAQ is followed by bluster of what should be, what the answer is. Never IDK. Saying IDK would mean weakness, incompleteness, and would throw the entire raison d’être of Tuck and Joe and those of their ilk, including their audience, into question. Lessening their certitude, their importance, their station in the pecking order. And IDK doesn’t get clicks. Which is really what these JAQ jokers are all about – clicks and muny.

  • Nails  On April 11, 2022 at 12:48 pm

    The whole Nazi thing appears to me to be the smokescreen of accusing your opponents of doing what you’re actually doing. I don’t recall this being an explicit tactic before the Obama administration — and thus I hold it as the turning point for when our political polarization went off the rails. Is there an earlier precedent?

    • weeklysift  On April 11, 2022 at 2:01 pm

      I’ve seen this tactic attributed to Goebbels, but the quotes never quite pan out. Right-wingers sometimes attribute it to Marx, or Alinsky, or somebody else they don’t like, but I’m pretty sure that’s ridiculous.

    • AWJ  On April 11, 2022 at 5:56 pm

      The way I’ve heard it explained is that the word “Nazi” in Russia has different connotations than it does in the West. It doesn’t have anything to do with totalitarianism, or genocide, or anti-Semitism; “Nazi” in Russian discourse basically just means “enemy of Russia”. You can see that in the Sergeytsev article, which makes the argument that the fact that Ukraine doesn’t have a Fuhrer or a one-party state or race laws just makes it a more insidious and thus even more dangerous form of Nazism.

      This Russian usage of “Nazi” strikes me as very similar to how some American right-wingers use the word “Communist”.

      • ccyager  On May 2, 2022 at 5:50 pm

        Thank you, AWJ. I wondered about the Russian use of “Nazi” and what they understood it to mean. Makes perfect sense.

  • David J Klopotoski  On April 11, 2022 at 1:12 pm

    The correct term for what Joe Rogan and douchebros like him are doing is not “Just Asking Questions, it’s “JAQ’ing off.”

    Tucker Carlson is a fash-bot, so he does not get the benefit of a silly acronym.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On April 11, 2022 at 5:57 pm

    Imagine this somewhat equivalent scenario: Americans are led to believe that a “Nazi” regime has come into power in Canada. They are told that this regime is “oppressing” Americans and American communities in Canada. I would expect that any Americans who bought into this would support a U.S. invasion of Canada to “de-Nazify” it as Sergeytsev describes it in his own case.

    If this happened, wouldn’t we expect President Biden to at least bring this to the UN, or at least make an attempt to organize a “coalition of the willing” before embarking on a unilateral invasion? Especially if “Canada” bordered other European countries and ostensibly threatened them with “Nazism.”

    Nearly everyone believes that Nazism is an evil that must not be allowed to take hold anywhere. The fact that Putin didn’t even attempt to enlist the aid of any other countries (outside of the Russian puppet regime in Belarus) before embarking on his adventure is proof that even he doesn’t believe Sergeytsev’s justification.

  • Hyacinth von Strachwitz  On April 14, 2022 at 11:33 am

    The worst part of Carlson’s just asking questions bullshit is that it’s blasphemy against Socrates.

    Before someone questions my stage name in the current circumstances, von Strachwitz was a German general, but one who tried to arrest and then assassinate Hitler.


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