By Dima Kulakov
It is now the eleventh day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to the UN, over 1.2 million people have fled Ukraine so far (to read more about the context behind and background of the conflict, read this article by Robbie Estrada). Although Putin’s progress has been remarkably slow, due to the extreme bravery and sacrifices by Ukrainian forces and population, he persists, claiming his troops must “de-Nazify” Ukraine and prevent genocide.
Over the past several months, Putin has been referring to World War II, specifically the Holocaust and Nazism, to justify his invasion. This reference to Germany is more than simply a figure of speech, however. Instead, it represents Putin’s mindset, Russia’s history, and, potentially, the aim of the invasion.
The parallels between the context behind Putin and Hitler’s rise to power are unsettlingly similar. Hitler came to power after Germany suffered a defeat in the First World War, losing a significant portion of its territory (through the settlement that concluded the war). Likewise, the Soviet Union lost the Cold War and significant territory that was part of the Soviet Union (including Ukraine). Furthermore, Putin’s claim that he is protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine is almost identical to that of Hitler, who stated that he was protecting the rights of Germans in Eastern Europe. Both Putin and Hitler suppress/suppressed any resistance to their actions in an effort to “brainwash” their populations into believing that the two are justified in their conquests; for instance, Russian media claims that of the 2,500 protestors (this number was, in reality, likely far higher) that demonstrated against Putin’s invasion, in Moscow this weekend, 1,700 were arrested. They both rely on the national humiliation resulting from their countries’ former collapses to rationalize their unjustified and terrible actions.
Putin’s allusion to “Nazis in Ukraine” also attempts to appeal to Russians’ pride. There is no grander point in Russia’s recent history than 1945. Only Russia (out of European powers) could withstand the Nazi onslaught (“the largest and most lethal military attack ever waged in history, Operation Barbarossa launched in June of 1941 by Hitler”). In fact, Russia turned the tide and devastated Nazi Germany at an extreme price to the Soviet people, including Russians and Ukrainians. So, since there are so many shameful and tragic events in Russia’s 1900s history, like Stalinism and Bolshevik Revolution, Russia’s victory over Nazism is one of the few prideful moments Russians grasp on to. For years, Putin has made the defeat of Nazi Germany a principal aspect of Russian identity. Now, he is leaning on this pride to sway the population into believing that his invasion is once again ridding the world of Nazis. Essentially, Putin is convinced that the Soviet Union saved the world from Nazism and that the greatest number of Soviet sympathizers to the Nazis were and still are in Ukraine; thus, he claims he is protecting Ukraine and Russia from what he imagines to be “a resurgence of Nazism in Ukraine,” even though there is no evidence of this (especially considering that the president of Ukraine is, himself, Jewish and lost his uncles in the holocaust).
Putin has conjured up the notion that there is an imminent genocide against Russians in Ukraine, which is, frankly, not true. The Ukrainian government has made numerous attempts to assert Ukrainian as the single official language of the nation, although there are many citizens who are native Russian speakers (including Ukrainian President Zelensky, who is more confident speaking Russian than Ukrainian). However, the idea that this will turn into genocide is ridiculous.
All in all, a combination of Putin’s delusion regarding a genocide of Russians in Ukraine and the fact that he is surrounded by people scared to oppose his ideas (the invasion, in this instance) made it easy for Putin to go through with his plan. However, it has become clear that a sizable portion of the Russian population is against his invasion. Likewise, Ukrainians are not as in favour of Putin’s regime as he believed them to be, and thus his progress has been extremely slow.
Throughout history, empires have not gone down without a fight. When the British Empire began to crumble in North America and India, they intervened. When the French Empire disintegrated after World War II, the French put up a fight. So, it is possible that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is the beginning of an attempt to restore Russia to its former glory. So, it is crucial that we stand with Ukraine in this time, not only for the millions of Ukrainian lives being devastated but also to prevent Putin from continuing his expansion of Russian territory and his tyrannical rule.
To help, consider donating to the Red Cross’ “Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal” here.