On the Kremlin's ideas of “denazification” and “Russophobia”
The first few months of Russian invasion on #Ukraine saw a rapid transformation of the concept of “denazification” which was from the beginning fundamental to the ideological and moral justification of the war. One important thing to remember is that Russian propaganda efforts are largely targeted at its internal audience in #Russia, where it's being propagated by means of highly emotional and literally shouted TV shows. Such channels neither imply nor require logical or factual consistency, and as result the message is short of both. Attempts to rebuild some kind of logical skeleton behind it are only undertaken opportunistically, when needed – for example when even moderate allies raise brows after being confronted with the Kremlin narrative. And over the last few months we saw just that.
“Anti-Soviet equals Nazi”
An insight into the Kremlin's understanding of Eastern European “Nazism” was given by Medinsky in March in an RT interview where he commented the progress of peace talks with Ukraine:
On denazification the situation is quite strange because our Ukrainian colleagues, from the the other side of the negotiation table, believe that there's no Nazi parties in Ukraine, and that modern Ukraine in no way supports this direction. I personally believe they are not paying enough attention to things that worry the whole world, such as activities of the #Nazi paramilitary groups which are allowed in Ukraine, their symbols, their training, their ideology; on activities of neo-Nazi and extremist organizations; and finally on the fact that in Ukrainian towns streets and squares are officially named after criminals who fought against the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition.
Note the last rather convoluted sentence – “criminals who fought against the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition” – where merely a mention of Stepan Bandera would be sufficient to make the point? Unrolling that, what Medinsky says is because Soviet Union fought against Nazi Germany, therefore anyone fought against Soviet Union is a Nazi. Of course, this argument is ahistorical and illogical – Soviet Union was a key supporter of Nazi Germany in 1939-1941, and in all Eastern European countries invaded by these two in 1939, the local resistance was directed equally against Third Reich and USSR. The latter only joined part of anti-Hitler coalition after 1941, and joined it rather forcibly, after being attacked by Hitler. There certainly was some collaboration with Germans in all territories but that included Soviet Union (RONA, Vlasov army) just as well as Ukraine, whose infamous SS-Galizien was much smaller than its Russian counterparts. Collaboration of guerilla groups (such as Ukrainian OUN or UPA) was much more complex, as they entered ceasefires and made tactical deals with both German and Soviet troops during various stages of war. This is precisely why the argument of the resistance groups such as OUN being “German collaborators” is quite a far stretch – they perceived both Germans and Soviets as occupiers (plus, Bandera himself spent most of the war in German concentration camp). Soviet propaganda took just one piece of this puzzle – “fought against Soviets” – and made it a whole case for anti-Soviet resistance being “Nazi”. How absurd that went can be especially well demonstrated on case of Poland, which, having no collaborator government or army at all, saw trial of Witold Pilecki and Trial of the Sixteen, where Polish resistance Home Army leaders were charged with “collaboration with Nazis” while they were consistently fighting Germans since 1939 when Soviet Union was still happily fueling Nazi invasion on Europe! Conclusion: this way of the “Nazi” designation simply follows the Soviet propaganda trope – if you're against Soviets, you're “Nazi” because Soviets at some point switched sides and joined Allies. Absurdity of this argument can be easily demonstrated when we repeat it with other Allies in mind – for example, arguing that “anyone who is against Great Britain is a Nazi”, which logically makes USSR itself a “Nazi”. There's nothing in it but rather simplistic Soviet-time cliche.
April saw a widely commented article by Timofey Sergeytsev “What Russia should do with Ukraine?”. The author freely roams between neo-imperialist, colonial and contemptuous points of view, completely denying Ukraine and Ukrainian people any subjectivity and simply looking at the war in Ukraine as some kind of suppression of a slave mutiny. However, he also speaks of “denazification”, and in a very interesting way:
A particular feature of Nazified Ukraine is its amorphousness and ambivalentness, which allows for the masking of Nazism as a desire to move towards an “independent” and “European” (Western and pro-American) path of development, (in reality – towards degradation), while insisting that Ukraine “doesn’t have any Nazism, only private and singular excesses.” There isn’t, after all, a single important Nazi party, no Fuehrer, no fully racist laws (only their curtailed variants in the form of repressions against the Russian language). As a result, there is no opposition and resistance to the regime.
The striking honesty of this analysis needs to be fully appreciated: the author notes lack of evidence for any Nazi symbols, programs or parties... but insists on the classification of the whole country as “Nazi” as if the word “ambivalent” simply replaced any need for evidence. It's not an original invention by Sergeytsev: in Soviet Union, when the authorities struggled to find a specific criminal code article to prosecute dissidents, but they still wanted to prosecute them, they came up with a very similar concept of asymptomatic or sluggish schizophrenia. Conclusion: an evidence-based diagnosis in case of both “Nazism” and a disease would start from having a defined set of symptoms and then matching these against a case. What we see here is an opposite: you very much like the idea of X being a “Nazi” or “schizophrenic”, so you simply assign the label and resolve the issue of missing match by simply prefixing your diagnosis with “amorphous” or “asymptomatic”. Of course, this way anyone, including the person making the diagnosis, can be a match too, and the whole concept of diagnosing is reduced to simple shoe-throwing.
Alexander Dugin has been always in the avant-garde of Kremlin imperialism and his arguments can be best characterized as “flexible”: if it doesn't work one way, he just tries another, and he always finds some followers. This way he Gish-galloped through “geopolitics”, “sacred geography”, “political pragmatism” and now ended up as one of the leading Russian experts of “Ukrainian Nazism”. The latter is especially entertaining granted that in literature Dugin is “known for views widely characterized as fascist”. In a May publication for “Nezygar”, on the topic of “denazification” Dugin did correctly note that Russia's arguments about “Nazi Ukraine” aren't widely accepted (to put that lightly), in the absence of any Nazi parties. He also noted Sergey Lavrov's rant, where he practically equated Israel with Nazis as “strange and convoluted”, but blamed that on the topic having “complex political science” context. Is it lack of evidence to blame? Not at all:
These questions cannot be convincingly answered by Russia, regardless of hard we try. (...) Who is an antisemite is determined by Jews and the state of Israel, and also various international Jewish organizations who hold a kind of “monopoly” on determining who is an “antisemite” and who is not. (...) Moscow is today not in a position to push its own definitions in this sphere.
Dugin honestly admits the failure of Russian propaganda on making the slur of “Nazi Ukraine” even remotely convincing due to lack of evidence. With his usual flexibility Dugin proposes a solution:
To explain what we mean by “Nazism” in modern Ukraine and justify the denazification as the objective of the special military operation, we must equate the Ukrainian Nazism with Russophobia. And in this field nobody can object and claim we incorrectly assign the label, because just as Jews determine what “antisemitism” is, it's only Russians who can answer “what is Russophobia?”
Simple? Yes. Consistent? No. Dugin's proposal is rather infantile, granted that since 2014 Russian propaganda has ridden the “Nazi” argument, suddenly turn on your heel and say “yeah, maybe there were no Nazis, we just meant Russophobes”.
But then, the whole “Russophobic” argument is also terribly inconsistent if we ignore the “Nazi” prehistory. Dugin defines it in the following way (and proposes making a law of it):
Russophobia is hatred against Russians for being Russians, building a politics on this hatred, and performing specific actions, including violent ones.
The sad truth is however that Russian armed forces are (and have been since 2014) mostly killing Russian-speaking population in Ukraine – that includes Ukrainians and ethnic Russians, dying under bombs in largely bilingual central and predominantly Russian-speaking East part of Ukraine. And it's largely Russian-speaking and ethnically Russian soldiers in armed forces of Ukraine who are defending their country against the invasion. They are not fighting them because the invaders are Russian, but because they are invaders. The “Russophobic” argument is incorrect because Russian armed forces are fighting mostly Russian and Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, and the ethnicity is not a distinguishing feature here. The main disagreement between the fighting parties is Russia's allegiance to one particular political movement that assumes superiority of not only Russian ethnos, but also a very specific authoritarian political system represented by Putin. Conclusion: it's a classic “no true Scotsman” fallacy – Kremlin only chooses to recognize as “Russians” those who uncritically approve Putin and his model of a state – therefore those who don't, are automatically classified as “Russophobes” and “Nazis”, even if they are Russians themselves.
As noted in the beginning, Kremlin's approach to ideology seems to be largely instrumental – unlike in Soviet times, there's no carefully constructed ideological system with its saints and scriptures. Instead, it's a casually picked mix of various ideological tropes taken from Soviet, Russian Orthodox and Russian Empire, based on their perceived attractiveness for the audience, even if ends up with an Orthodox icon with Jesus and atheist Stalin all in one picture. Application of these is opportunistic – if the story works for the target audience, they'll just go with it because why worry for details if you can spend the “saved” budget for a holiday in Emirates? If it doesn't, they'll simply invent another one – this is how we ended up with the “firehose of lies” in so many stories, such as MH17 or Bucha. Does it work? Clearly not with Western audience, which, even among its most forgiving representatives, seems to be listening to Kremlin's statements made at different times and actually trying make sense of it, and is often left puzzled by the contradictions and basic nonsense. Dissection of these is rather trivial – you don't really need excellent analytical skills, it's usually sufficient to compare Russian officials statements at some month apart to capture striking inconsistencies. All these publications, when watched over a longer period, make an increasingly depressing impression of rather desperate attempts to justify the biases of its authors rather than attempts at actual analytics.