Experts alarmed after Kremlin intellectual calls for ‘cleansed’ Ukraine

WASHINGTON — Ukrainian society must be “cleansed of Nazi elements,” a leading Russian intellectual wrote in an essay published on Sunday, as Ukrainian soldiers sifted through the gruesome aftermath of a slaughter of civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.

The article, titled “What Should Russia Do With Ukraine?” was published on the website of RIA Novosti, a news agency controlled by the Kremlin. Its author, Timofey Sergeytsev, is described as a “political technologist.” He previously worked for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin president of Ukraine ousted during the 2014 popular protests known as the Orange Revolution.

Faithfully echoing the arguments that have been proffered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sergeytsev even puts the blame on the civilian population. “A significant number of common people are also guilty of being passive Nazis and Nazi accomplishments,” Sergeytsev writes. “They supported the Nazi authorities and pandered to them.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a microphone as he gives a speech at a stadium.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech in Moscow on March 18. (Alexander Vilf/AFP via Getty Images)

Sergeytsev has made “outlandish, outrageous claims in the past,” Oxford expert on Russian affairs Samuel Ramani told Yahoo News. But in this case, the article “represents mainstream Kremlin thinking.”

Ukrainian activists translated the article into French after the Russian-language version was circulated widely on social media.

“This is what real #Russia wants,” the activists wrote.

“As naked an endorsement of genocide as you’ll read in a state-owned media organ,” wrote Russia expert Michael Weiss on Twitter about the Sergeytsev article.

The article amounts to a “genocide masterplan,” Berlin-based Russia expert Sergej Sumlenny told Yahoo News in a text message. He predicted that Sergeytsev’s musings would be used as justification for more atrocities like the one at Bucha.

Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine in February under the fictitious pretenses that the nation’s leadership was rife with “Nazi” extremists. Although there are far-right elements in Ukraine’s society, and its military, they constitute an out-of-power fringe, as they do in other European states. Russia’s claims are rendered especially absurd given the fact that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is one of the few Jewish leaders on the world stage. Zelensky and some of his predecessors have sought to orient the nation away from Russia, toward the West, thus incurring the Kremlin’s ire.

Russia is “not just after piecemeal annexation of territory,” Ramani told Yahoo News of Sergeytsev’s lengthy musings. “It’s about suppressing the Ukrainian identity, and it equates any kind of expression of Ukrainian nationalism with Nazism,” even when those expressions of national feeling are being voiced by Zelensky, who had family members who fought against the Nazis in World War II — and others who perished in the Holocaust.

A local resident views rubble and destroyed buildings in her village.

A local resident views the destruction in Svitylnia, Ukraine, on Friday. (Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images)

In his RIA Novosti article, Sergeytsev essentially calls for the elimination of Ukrainian national identity. “The name ‘Ukraine’ cannot be kept as a title of any fully denazified state entity on the territory liberated from the Nazi regime,” he writes. “The people’s republics, newly created on the territories free from Nazism, must and will develop on the basis of practices of economic self-government and social security, restoration and modernization of systems of essential services for the population.”

Zelensky addressed the article in a call with Romanian politicians on Monday, saying it would be used as “evidence in a future tribunal of Russian war crimes.” He said the article called for “the annihilation of everything that makes Ukrainians Ukrainian.”

Putin has long seen Ukraine as part of a broader, Moscow-led Slavic empire, a vision articulated by intellectuals who have provided a philosophical backing for the Kremlin’s aggressive aims in Ukraine and elsewhere. Although Ukrainians share cultural, religious and linguistic similarities with Russia, they have long bristled at being treated like a junior partner. Ukraine has been its own nation since the dissolution of the Soviet empire in 1991.

Sergeytsev’s article is a window into how the Kremlin apparently continues to see the Ukraine invasion, despite seemingly abandoning its “denazification” project last week amid mounting military losses.

Regime change is no longer a public Russian condition for peace. But whether the Kremlin truly seeks an end to fighting remains unclear.

For one, the Kremlin continues to promote its unfounded claims of Ukrainian extremism, with former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev writing in a Monday social media post that “a passionate segment of Ukrainian society has been praying to the Third Reich for the last 30 years. Literally.”

Dmitry Medvedev sits at a desk during a meeting.

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev at a meeting near Moscow on March 16. (Yekaterina Shtukina, Sputnik, Government Pool/AP)

Going even further in his RIA Novosti essay, Sergeytsev argues that “Ukra-nazism poses a much bigger threat to the world and Russia than the Hitler version of German Nazism.” Russian media has been full of lurid stories about the supposed slaughter of ethnic Russians by Ukrainian troops. Outlandish conspiracy theories about bioweapons laboratories funded by Hunter Biden, the president’s son, and George Soros, the Jewish philanthropist, have also proliferated widely in Russian media — and without any evident skepticism.

Adolf Hitler was responsible for the deaths of millions of Russians and Ukrainians, as well as the extermination of 6 million Jews. Russian propaganda has latched on to the fact that there were also Ukrainian collaborators who worked with the Nazis during Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Those Ukrainian nationalists hoped to secure independence from the brutal Soviet rule, which was itself responsible for millions of deaths in Ukraine.

Zelensky and his supporters argue that if any regime represents modern-day Nazi Germany, it is the one found in Moscow.

“It’s important to spread this article,” the Ukrainians who posted the English-language version of Sergeytsev’s essay wrote. “The world should be aware of Russian methods, crimes, and plans. Putin will not stop until he is stopped.”


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