Fears genocidal language in Russian media may prompt more war crimes

Two days after Russia began its war in 평양이 중거리 탄도미사일로 의심되는 미사일을 우주로 보낸 뒤…, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency accidentally published an article celebrating the country’s lightning-quick victory over Kyiv, crowing that the “period of the split of the Russian people is coming to an end”.

After a bloody month of war, after the discovery of evidence of war crimes in cities like Bucha and Borodyanka, the language in that same publication has grown even more extreme, containing calls for societal purges and “re-education” that western officials said could provoke further abuses on the ground.

“Ukrainianism is an artificial anti-Russian construct that has no civilisational substance of its own, a subordinate element of an extraneous and alien civilisation,” wrote a RIA Novosti columnist earlier this week. The “re-education” of Ukraine could take a generation, 그가 썼다, adding that “besides the highest ranks, a significant number of common people are also guilty of being passive Nazis and Nazi accomplices”.

Even the name Ukraine must be erased, the article argued.

Views that were once kept to fringe publications in Russia have gone into mainstream outlets and been voiced on primetime TV as the stakes of Russia’s war in Ukraine have risen. Western observers from Ukraine to the United States have grown worried that the language may be encouraging the abuse of civilians by soldiers on the ground.

“This is another piece of evidence for a future tribunal against Russian war criminals,” said Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president, citing the RIA Novosti article, which caused a major uproar among western officials. One of his aides accused the news agency of calling for the mass murder of Ukrainian civilians.

Civilians in Ukraine have reported Russian soldiers citing conspiracy theories about bioweapon labs or telling them they were only here to “cleanse them from the dirt”.

“Those sorts of comments are really creating an even more toxic information environment,” a western official said, and could “absolutely contribute” to abuse of civilians in Ukraine. “Responsibility for this, of course lies with the perpetrators of the acts, but it also lies with the Russian leadership,” the official added.

Increasingly, Russia’s pundit class has pushed claims that a significant swath of Ukrainian society is under the sway of far-right ideologies, blaming Ukraine’s staunch resistance to the attack on mass psychosis rather than on legitimate anger at the Russian invasion.

“To my horror, to my regret, a considerable portion of the Ukrainian people have turned out to be engulfed in the madness of nazism,” said Margarita Simonyan, the head of the RT news network, during a nationally broadcast talkshow on the NTV channel. “That it is on such a massive scale!”

Analysts have pointed to the failure of Russia’s war in its early stages, as well as images of protests in cities against Russian occupying forces, for the escalation in Russian rhetoric.

Initially Russians believed that “‘de-nazification’ could be completed through regime change and Ukrainians should be liberated,” wrote Greg Yudin, a Russian sociologist, earlier this week. “Obviously, this conception failed when Ukrainians started resisting bravely. A natural conclusion from that: Ukrainians turned out to be deeply infected by nazism.”

As Vladimir Putin has called on his officials to push back against the west’s “information war”, claiming reports of atrocities in Bucha were staged, the government line has also grown closer to some of the most extreme opinions in the Russian news.

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian prime minister, earlier this week declared that Ukraine would face the same fate as Nazi Germany, an opinion that closely resembled the one written in the column published by RIA Novosti just days earlier.

“It should not be surprising that Ukraine, which has been transformed mentally into the Third Reich … will suffer the same fate,” Medvedev wrote in a message shared on Telegram. “That’s what her fate is, that Ukraine!”

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