Hate Speech and Calls for Genocide in Putin’s Russia

Hate speech and de-humanisation against Ukraine have become the norm in pro-Kremlin lingo. Open calls for genocide blend in, setting the scene for war crimes. Most Russians accept the policy. For years, people enthralled by the Kremlin’s imperialistic narrative of Russian nationalism have zealously demonised Ukrainian cultural and national identity, including by asserting that its mere existence somehow imperils Russia. Over time, their language has grown extreme and infiltrated public discourse well beyond the remit of fringe voices. In July 2021, Putin himself boosted this trend with an article claiming that there is no such thing as a Ukrainian state or identity. According to Putin, Ukraine is an artificial construct created by Lenin and maintained by sinister Western forces to remove Ukrainian lands from their rightful patron: Russia.

By EUvsDisinfo | February 19, 2024

This type of systematic denial of agency and the right to exist is, unfortunately, not unique in European or world history. It has been and is often the precursor for blood feuds, ethnic cleansing, or atrocious wars. Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine is a stark reminder of the catastrophic consequences of when such heinous de-humanising discourse is left unchecked.

Enter Nazi

Denying Ukraine’s existence follows the diabolic twisted logic that Ukraine and Ukrainians somehow deserve to be invaded, dominated, and even eliminated. Every day, commentators casually use the word ‘Nazi’ and blame Kyiv for pursing genocide against Russians as a tactic to de-humanise the Other, Ukrainians.


Volume of mentions in Russian state media outlets, pro-Kremlin outlets linked to the Russian state, and Russian official diplomatic accounts on Twitter in the context of Ukraine. (As of 22 February, 2022)

We have tracked hateful rhetoric from Kremlin propagandists and pro-Russian disinformation spreaders since 2015. We have also examined the Kremlin’s use of the term Nazi. Examples include Nazi east, Nazi west, Nazi over the cuckoo’s nest and Putin, tamer of Nazism.

However, we began to pay extra attention to the topic in 2022, after a frightening article – at the time, we called it a ‘perverted intellectual framework which forms the background for atrocities’ – appeared in the leading Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on 3 April of that year.

Entitled ‘What Russia should do with Ukraine’, the article was written by Timofey Sergeytsev, a political spin-master and, according to at least one Ukrainian commentator, a theorist of modern Russian fascism. Published in the aftermath of Russia’s humiliating retreat from Kyiv, the piece was, in part, a howl of rage masquerading as strategy. Perhaps because of that, the screed also conjured a dark fantasy of Russian revenge on the Ukrainians who dared to defend their country. In sum, it equated Ukrainian-ness with Nazism, further equated Nazism with Ukrainian aspirations for ‘independence’ or a ‘European’ path of development, and called for a ‘total lustration’ of the country in favour of Russian culture.

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Hate speech and calls for genocide in Putin’s Russia — EUvsDiSiNFO

Soon after the piece appeared, we at EUvsDisinfo published an article entitled ‘Into the Heart of Darkness’ that analysed it. We wrote at the time:

‘With the article’s absolute and extreme demands, it tries to stimulate feelings that have been dear to dictators through the ages: blind loyalty to the state, a demand for an almost religious sacrifice of the individual for the cause of the leader, the enemy deprived of their humanity – in fact, their basic right of existence.’

Almost two years on, we revisit Russian rhetoric and its implicitly bloodthirsty tone. Looking back, we find that the dark heart of Russian fascism is also a coward’s heart. Pro-Russian commentators do not yet show the courage to openly profess their intentions for what they really are: genocidal. Instead, they project their genocidal urges upon their would-be victims. Their claims concerned alleged Ukrainian atrocities mirror the crimes Russian forces have committed in places like Bucha, Mariupol, Irpin, Kharkiv, Kramatorsk, and many other places. Below, we explore how Russian disinformation narratives hide this obvious truth.

For this article, we use the term ‘genocide’ as defined by the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide that defines it as ‘any series of acts, including killing and causing serious bodily or mental harm, that are committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, as such’.

‘Cultural genocide’ is not defined in any international treaty. However, one expert has defined it as ‘the systematic destruction of traditions, values, language, and other elements that make one group of people distinct from another.’ We use the term in that sense.

Nothing to see here except Russia

The most bizarre and sinister disinformation narrative alleges that Ukraine does not exist. The idea is illogical on its face. How can a country of some 40 million people be imaginary? In addition, how can the Ukrainian history and culture more than a thousand years be dismissed. What are Putin and his propagandists trying to assert, exactly? Perhaps a few of many examples could help us to grasp their warped thinking.

Let’s start off with a piece that appeared in Sputnik, a Russian state outlet with editions in some 30 languages. Published in late November last year, the article quoted pro-Kremlin commentator Karine Béchet-Golovko alleging that ‘Ukraine has never been sovereign in its conduct of the conflict against the Russian army.’ She then asserted that Ukraine is ‘completely subject’ to the will of the United States and NATO. In this alternative reality, Ukraine does not exist because it is a US puppet.

Other articles in Russian have alleged, among other things, that the West somehow instilled hatred for Russia in Ukrainians, making Ukraine an ‘anti-Russia’; that Ukraine has no right to exist because it was once a part of the Soviet Union; that Ukrainians do not exist because they are Russians; that even if Ukraine does exist, it must be destroyed and absorbed by Russia; and that Ukraine is historically Russian territory.

In particular, mainstream Russian media outlets often wax lyrical about Odesa as the ‘Russian pearl by the sea’ that Ukrainian Nazis have supposedly tarnished. Polemicists such as Vladimir Solovyov rage about events in Odesa on 2 May 2014, when pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protesters clashed. A resulting confrontation resulted in 48 deaths, most after a fire erupted in the Trade Union House where pro-Russian rioters had barricaded themselves.

The circumstances of the tragedy remain murky and no one has ever been brought to trial. Independent accounts have described pro-Russian activists attacking a peaceful ‘Ukrainian Unity’ protest, leading to tit-for-tat confrontations involving the mutual use of Molotov cocktails that led to the deadly fire in the Trade Union House. For Kremlin shills like Solovyov, however, the pro-unity Ukrainians are simply ‘Nazi bastards’ who ‘have no right to call themselves Odessans.’

Invariably, then, the proclamation that Ukraine does not exist is really the assertion that the country should be a part of Russia. Faced with ferocious resistance to their country’s military misadventure and subversion attempts, pro-Russian commentators try to explain away Ukrainians’ obvious desire and legal right to have their own country as a form of false consciousness. Ukrainians are Russians and should live inside a greater Russia whether they like it or not, according to Kremlin apologists. And if push comes to shove, Russia will either force them to be Russians, or kill them if they resist.

Pro-Kremlin zealots appear unmoved by the sheer brutality of this genocidal logic. But such an ethnocentric attitude fits neatly into a standard definition of cultural genocide. And cultural genocide can be closely linked to full-on genocide.


De-humanisation: the next step

When pro-Kremlin commentators call Ukrainians ‘Nazis’, they are really referring to Ukrainians who don’t want to be Russian or accept Russian domination. And for these commentators, such Ukrainians are less than human and therefore deserve whatever miseries that Russia can inflict upon them.

The main tactic here is to accuse Ukrainians of doing what Russian military strikes inside Ukraine do with cruel regularity: wantonly kill civilians. In November of last year, the UN announced that Ukraine’s civilian death toll had passed 10,000 – still widely considered to be a significant underestimation – with most of those deaths occurring in territory controlled by Ukraine.

Kremlin propagandists, however, pretend that ‘Ukrainian Nazis’ are killing as many civilians as they can in Russian-controlled territory, while vigorously repressing the idea that Russian forces might be illegally occupying Ukrainian territory. Among other things, pro-Kremlin outlets and commentators allege without evidence that Ukrainian forces use civilians as human shields, that Ukrainian snipers target civilians, and that Ukrainian troops purposely kill their own POWs in Russian captivity.

Wipe them off the face of the earth

The effect of such allegations, multiplied by hundreds if not thousands of times, is to serve as a genocidal camouflage. Because your enemies are inhuman and genocidal Nazis, you can adopt inhuman and genocidal Nazi methods for dealing with them. On this subject, Solovyov has stood out in a crowd of crazies, demanding that Kyiv and Odesa’s port be ‘wiped off the face of the earth’ and that cities like Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil also be destroyed.


‘I think we should kill, kill, kill [Ukrainians], there can’t be any other talk’

Aleksander Dugin

Talks show commentary on Russian prime time TV boils over with such rhetoric. Apart from Solovyov, Kremlin sycophants include key propagandists like Dmitry KiselyovAleksandar Dugin, and Leonid Slutski who call for more war and brutality.

Enter Nukes

Others have openly floated using nuclear weapons against Ukraine. One Russian general suggested using tactical nuclear weapons against tanks. Others have joked about using hypersonic nuclear missiles. Keep in mind that Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons as part of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Russia guaranteed Ukraine’s borders and security before openly breaking its promises. Threatening Ukraine with nukes, then, is rubbing radioactivity into an old wound.

A coward’s genocide

Arguably, the last stage of this delusionary downward-spiral is to convince oneself that the genocide you are committing is actually the genocide that your victims are committing against themselves. It is as if you imagine that the knife you are plunging into another’s back is somehow held in your target’s own hand. Therefore your attempt to conquer and subjugate your enemy is an act of benevolence that stops a suicide.

Russia, in this warped view, isn’t trying to subjugate Ukrainians. But it must conquer them and then purify them of their Ukrainian-ness in order to save them. For example, this News Front article alleges that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is committing genocide against Ukrainians. Other articles echo this view by claiming that Ukrainian authorities are sending women, children, and the elderly to the front lines. By the way, Western countries, including the EU and its leaders, are also committing genocide against Ukrainians by giving them the financial and military help they need to defend themselves.

…but the majority believes it

It is hard to say how many regular Russians have come to believe the allegations spread by radical Russian nationalists, many enjoying prime time platforms. But according to opinion polls conducted by the Levada Analytical Center, President Putin’s approval ratings since February 2022 have remained consistently around 80 per cent. In January 2024, his rating was 85 per cent. In addition, three out of four poll respondents approve of the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine. This figure has remained constant for two years, a trend that is remarkable for several reasons.

Firstly, the far majority of Russians are fully aware that the war is not just a limited engagement, as the Kremlin Newspeak phrase ‘special military operation’ tries to suggest. It is a massive war and all of the society and economy is increasingly geared to supporting it.

Secondly, everyone knows that Russian artillery, drones, and missiles hit civilian targets in Ukraine every day. Telegram, YouTube, VKontakte and several other platforms still available inside Russia without the use of VPNs show strikes literally minutes after they have occurred. This war is broadcast online, and Russian TV news also offers extensive coverage that focusses on the damage wrought by Kremlin weapons. It is a form of coded language: ‘Our forces hit Nazi’s thanks to our precision weapons’. In reality, it means: we hit and terrorise ordinary people because we can.

Thirdly, time is a factor. Two years of high-intensity war and massive casualties have not hurt Putin’s approval ratings. Hate speech soaked in massive disinformation and propaganda has corroded human dignity and public morale. This reality is brutal. But world history is full of of instances when publics accepted mass killings and genocide on an industrial scale.


Russian state TV Channel One reports extensively about strikes in Ukraine often using very graphic images.

The public perception is also shaped by a massive streamlining and brainwashing in schools and educations institutions, where history books are in focus. See our recent analysis of the mandatory Russian school books which are set out to manipulate memory at a grand scale and ensure that the new generations of Russians born post 2000, the Putin-generation, are indoctrinated with one worldview only.

Is there a limit?

According to Levada’s poling at the end of 2023, however, a third of respondents want negotiations rather than continued military action. This latter finding suggests that many Russians do not believe that Ukraine-ness must be wiped out for Russian to declare victory. After all, a willingness to negotiate with Ukraine suggests accepting Ukraine’s existence as a country. In particular, nearly 40 per cent of Russian women want negotiations. As the remains of killed, mostly male Russian soldiers continue returning home, this group in particular has grown and could grow more vocal unless Putin ups repression even further after his presidential re-election.

Interpreting the numbers may be tricky. We recall that the Kremlin misuses the term ‘negotiations’ to describe Moscow accepting Ukraine’s surrender. One can only imagine what would follow.

The loudest voice rule

In the absurd Tucker Carlson-Putin Feb.2024 interview – or rather, monologue – there was a rare moment of truth when Carlson, half way into the two-hour show, asked, ‘Would you be satisfied with the territory that you have now?’ Putin did not answer the question. With evident frustration, he instead spoke about de-Nazification, stressing that it must be continued in all of Ukraine. This coded language can best be understood by Russian viewers as a desire for Ukraine’s annihilation.


Support for the Russian president makes clear that if Russians do not agree with the genocidal tendencies of many Russian nationalists, they are willing to tolerate, for the moment, the architecture of disinformation regarding Ukraine that underpins Putin’s rule.

This architecture is built upon hatred, assumptions of inherent Russian superiority, and self-serving lies. Its goal is the destruction of Ukrainian history and culture, the Ukrainian language, and the Ukrainian people – or, at the very least, those Ukrainians who cannot be cowed into calling themselves Russians. As such, it constitutes justification for genocide. If pro-Russian propagandists say otherwise, they are only fooling themselves.

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