Genocidal rhetoric and Putin’s Nazi-type regime

Genocidal rhetoric and Putin’s Nazi-type regime

Since at least 2008 but especially in the period leading up to and following Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as other high-ranking politicians and media figures in Russia have written or made public statements that are easily recognizable as threatening and hostile toward Ukraine. A good number of them can be deemed to be clearly genocidal or eliminationist. The latter term can be found in the title of a compilation of such rhetoric by Just Security, based at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law: “Russia’s eliminationist rhetoric against Ukraine: A collection.” The selections are preceded by Clara Apt’s short essay, which provides a good introduction to the compilation and links to some of the literature by scholars who have analyzed the rhetoric and concluded that it shows genocidal intent. As the author notes, while there has been much analysis of the rhetoric and public statements made by Putin and other Russian public figures, the picture that emerges can be “fragmented,” as “selections from relevant passages” are “scattered across articles, social media, books, audio, and video.” The compilation brings together many of these, helping to thereby create a more cohesive and, hence, clearer picture of today’s Russian state and its ideology. 

A specific picture or image that emerges following a reading of the excerpts is clearly that of a fascist state—even a 21st-century version of a Nazi-type regime. Upon studying the excerpts one might also be more apt to agree with the main conclusion found in an address or appeal to the Russian people concerning the nature of the Putin state’s ideology, titled “For the complete dismantlement of Nazi Russia,” which was published on 1 September in the Russian online opposition newspaper The author of the address is Aleksandr Skobov, whose columns and opinion pieces have appeared fairly regularly in this online forum for the Russian democratic opposition. Skobov’s intellectual and political background is in the late Soviet era’s new left movement. He is a former Soviet dissident, who was arrested in the late 1970s and sentenced to a Soviet psychiatric facility.

Skobov is not the first to characterize Putin’s regime as fascist or to make comparisons with Hitler and Nazi Germany. Alexander Motyl already posed the question “Is Putin’s Russia fascist?” in the title of his article in The National Interest online on 3 December 2007. He has since published much more on this topic in the popular as well as academic press. Shortly following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Motyl published an opinion piece titled “Putin isn’t just an autocrat: he’s something worse,” where he concluded that “Putin’s trajectory increasingly resembles that of Hitler’s.” The well-known historian and public intellectual Timothy Snyder also declared it in an 18 May 2022 article, “We should say it: Russia is fascist.” Moreover, in a 2014 article, “Putin’s new nostalgia,” Snyder compared Putin’s annexation of Crimea with Hitler’s takeover of Austria and part of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Actually, one of the first scholars to compare Putin’s seizure of Crimea with Hitler’s annexation of Austria was the Russian historian Andrei Zubov, in an article published in Russian on 1 March 2014, which is available in English translation. Skobov’s conclusion that the Putin state ideology is a 21st-century version of Hitler’s Germany can be seen as a further development of this tendency in seeing similarities between the actions of the two regimes and their ideologies. It is buttressed in the text of the above-mentioned address to the Russian nation, with a concise summary analysis of the ideology of Putin’s Russia. In his analysis, Skobov concludes that the Putin regime’s ideology is “a kind of Nazi ideology adapted to the conditions of the post-industrial era.” It is important to emphasize this point, as we should not expect that the Putin-driven ideology in Russia today would be a clone of Hitler’s. In Skobov’s slightly longer analysis of Putin’s ideology, which appeared in March 2023 titled “Name it to win,” he similarly wrote that “it is understood that Putin’s Nazism has been modified and adapted to the conditions of the post-industrial era. But its essence is the same.”

Skobov’s understanding of the Putin regime as a type of Nazi state leads logically to his main political conclusion—that the current regime needs to be thoroughly dismantled and Russia’s nominal federation transformed into a democratic confederation of states and regions. This political goal, if achieved, would lead to a fundamental change in the nature of the Russian state. A mere change of leaders or management in Russia would be unacceptable to Skoobov and his colleagues. It is of some significance that the proposed political solution and the reasons given why this thorough political transformation is necessary are being made by Russians, not Westerners or Ukrainians, and was articulated by someone who has a long history of opposition to state oppression and tyranny, dating back to late Soviet times.

The excerpt below from the text of the address, translated into English, contains the gist of Skobov’s argument on why Russia should be viewed as a Nazi-type state:

The Putin regime has brought bloodshed, suffering, and grief back to Europe that it has not known since the days of Hitler. The Putin regime is the regime of the new Hitler. His ideology,  which many call rashism, is a kind of Nazi ideology adapted to the conditions of the post-industrial era. This ideology denies the subjectivity of individuals and peoples, their equality, democracy, the priority of human rights, and the rule of law as such. It rests on a purely Nazi concept of  exclusivity of the so-called “Russian civilization” and its superiority over the Western world. The purely Nazi nature of Putin’s regime is evidenced by the declaration of Ukrainians as  a wrong kind of “not [really] a people [or nation]” and in setting the task of forcibly changing their nationality and cultural identity. Like Hitler’s regime, Putin’s Nazi regime seeks to overturn humanity’s legal and moral restrictions on violence and cruelty, to entrench the “law of the jungle” with its total permissiveness of the use of force. It destroys the international order that ensures stability and security, throws the world [back] into archaism and savagery. It brings the same global threat to civilization as Hitler’s regime did.

Bohdan Klid

Bohdan Klid is Research Director of the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC) at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS), University of Alberta. He was Assistant Director of CIUS from 1991 to 2016. He is editor of the collection of articles "Empire, Colonialism, and Famine in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries", (2022), which appeared earlier as a special issue of the Journal East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies, Vol. 8 No. 1 (2021) He is co-editor, with Alexander Motyl, of "The Holodomor Reader: A Sourcebook on the Famine of 1932–1933 in Ukraine" (2012). He has also written on contemporary popular music, politics and national culture; on the nineteenth-century historian Volodymyr Antonovych; and on Ukrainian historiography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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