Mass murders in Bucha and Izyum; missile attacks on the railway station in Kramatorsk and the village of Hroza in Kharkiv Oblast; the destruction of Mariupol with the bombing of the maternity hospital and the Drama Theatre, with parents and children hiding in the basements…
This list of Russian crimes against Ukraine’s civilian population in 2023-24 is very far from being complete. Are these crimes accidental excessive acts? Or is it part of the policy of the Putin regime, the purpose of which is the genocide of all Ukrainians? The Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security sought an answer to this question in the study “Genocidal Rhetoric of the Russian Regime.”
Proving genocide is not easy
In general, among the list of crimes under international law, genocide is the most serious, and proving it in court is an extremely difficult task. Therefore, identifying genocidal rhetoric of the authorities is an important step in proving the intention to commit genocide in their actions.
To begin with, what is meant by the term genocidal rhetoric? Its components are the actual calls for genocide; approval or neutral coverage of crimes against a group (in our case, Ukrainians) subjected to genocide; as well as the use of euphemisms (mitigating or masking expressions that are used instead of words that are perceived as undesirable). They are commonly used to dehumanize victims and justify crimes against them.
The components of the crime of genocide are not only the murder of representatives of a certain national, ethnic, or religious group, but also inflicting serious physical or mental damage on its members, the deliberate creation of living conditions aimed at its destruction, as well as the forcible transfer of children to another group.
Therefore, to understand whether the Russian regime really intends to commit the genocide of Ukrainians, the Centre analyzed Russian legislation, public statements by Russian President Putin and other representatives of the regime, as well as the content of national media and school textbooks for the presence of genocidal rhetoric. Since school textbooks are created on the order and under the control of the government, they convey its official position.
As a result, it turned out that
In Russia, the activities of Ukrainian organizations are prohibited, and administrative and criminal liability is provided for involvement in them. The Ukrainian language has been ousted from the public space, there is a total Russification of education, which is a component of linguocide.
In addition, during the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities adopted a number of documents, creating a legal basis for committing crimes that are components of genocide. These are: restrictions on the rights of Ukrainians who have not received a Russian passport, forced deportations of Ukrainians from the occupied territories.
The Kremlin regime pays special attention to the deportation of children. It was for the unlawful transfer of Ukrainian children from Ukraine that the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Putin and the Russian children’s ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova.
We are also witnessing how Russian propaganda does not stop dehumanizing and demonizing Ukrainians and producing threats of the use of weapons of mass destruction and calls for murder.
The non-recognition of Ukrainians as a separate people entitled to their own national identity and sovereign state is part of the rhetoric of the authorities. To this end, Putin and his subordinates resort to pseudoscientific reflections on the origin of the words Ukraine and Ukrainians (deriving them from the Russian word “outskirts”), on the “false nature” of the Ukrainian language. These statements allegedly are to prove that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people.”
The non-recognition of the Ukrainian people can also be found in official documents. In particular, the documents which the Kremlin uses to try to legally formalize the illegal attempts to annex the occupied territories mention the mythical “people of Kherson Oblast,” “people of Zaporizhzhia Oblast,” “people of Crimea,” as well as “peoples of the LPR/DPR.”
Representatives of the Russian authorities regularly call Ukrainians Nazis, fascists (sometimes with the prefix neo-), nationalists and Banderites. All these terms in Russian political discourse are interchangeable and have a pronounced negative connotation. They are used as euphemisms to dehumanize Ukrainians, justify aggression and other crimes. Dmitry Medvedev, the ex-president of Russia and the current deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, follows the rhetoric of the Rwandan Radio of a Thousand Hills, when he compares Ukrainians with cockroaches and pigs (and calls Ukraine’s international partners Western swineherds) on his Telegram channel.
The most notable example is the article “What Russia Should Do with Ukraine,” published on the Ria Novosti website on April 3, 2022. Its author, political strategist Timofey Sergeitsev, insists on the need for the physical extermination of the Ukrainian political class and the military, mass repression, ethnic cleansing and total de-Ukrainianization, which should even include the rejection of the word Ukraine.
The texts of Sergeitsev and his associates actually decipher the term denazification in the sense in which it is used by Putin and other representatives of the regime. It is about the prohibition of Ukrainian national identity and the physical destruction of its bearers.
School textbooks on the history of Russia contribute to the formation of students’ biases, characterized by a negative attitude towards Ukrainians, who are portrayed as persons incapable of creating their own state and carriers of a culture that is inferior to the Russian one.
Supporters of independence and the European vector of Ukraine’s development are traitors and enemies according to the authors of textbooks. Key statements of state propaganda about the Revolution of Dignity as a coup d’état, Ukrainian Nazis, and the artificiality of Ukrainian identity have been transferred to the pages of textbooks for high school students.
Part of the content of the educational literature was the conspiracy theory that Ukrainians were allegedly “invented by the Austrian General Staff” to divide the “united Russian people.” The authors of the textbooks, as well as the Kremlin, deny the artificial and genocidal nature of the Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine, diminish its scale and justify the organizers. This can also be considered a component of genocidal rhetoric.
It finds that the policy of the Russian state is aimed at creating conditions for the commission of the crime of genocide against Ukrainians, justifying this crime and persuading the Russian society to support it (by appealing to the “restoration of historical justice” and branding Ukrainians as “Nazis”). The existence of the Ukrainian nation is denied at the state level, and the bearers of Ukrainian identity are dehumanized with the help of euphemisms. State media regularly publish materials aimed at justifying and rationalizing the genocide of Ukrainians and the destruction of the Ukrainian state. Russian legislation contains a number of discriminatory regulations and provisions against Ukrainians that legalize the practice of genocide.
Therefore, this study of the Centre for Strategic Communication will be included by the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office in the criminal case on the investigation of Russia committing the crime of genocide.
Ihor Solovei is Head of the Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security in Kyiv.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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