Talking to journalist Sophie Raworth on the BBC’s Sunday Morning present not too long ago, former conflict crimes prosecutor Sir Howard Morrison, now an advisor to the Ukraine authorities, highlighted the hazards posed by the damaging – usually insulting and dehumanising – statements made by some Russian politicians and media personalities about Ukraine and its folks.
“Genocide is commonly rooted in the way in which that one nation or one ethnic group views one other and the way it describes them,” Morrison mentioned, citing the way in which Nazis referred to the Poles as “subhuman” earlier than and throughout the second world conflict, or the way in which Hutu elites in Rwanda referred to Tutsis as “cockroaches” earlier than the 1994 genocide. “It’s this dehumanisation – and the pretence that they don’t seem to be an actual folks or have an actual tradition.”
The various crimes documented in Ukraine dedicated by Russian troopers have prompted fury and damage amongst Ukrainians – however hardly shock. The circumstances and attitudes described by Morrison have existed for hundreds of years: Russians have seen Ukrainians as inferior since earlier than the Soviet period.
A current report from the Atlantic Council discovered that Vladimir Putin’s regime had “mobilised anti-Ukrainian hysteria amongst Russians within the decade main as much as the Kremlin’s 2014 aggression”.
In 2012, Putin’s energy was shaken by the Bolotnaya Sq. protests in Moscow, instantly previous to the Russian president’s inauguration for his third time period which many Russian dissidents imagine he received illegitimately. Then in 2014, Putin was unnerved to see pro-democracy protesters succeed throughout Ukraine’s “Revolution of Dignity”. Shortly thereafter, Russia annexed Crimea and commenced a covert marketing campaign of armed violence within the Donbas.
Since then, Russian propaganda has portrayed Ukraine as a failed state that has descended into chaos and dysfunction. In Russia, the ghosts of the previous should not a lot the Soviet-era repressions however moderately the struggles and privations of the Nineteen Nineties, comparable to the intense poverty and open mafia violence throughout Russia’s unsuccessful transition to democracy. Putin likes to color himself as a guarantor of stability. That is the considerably Faustian discount Russian society has accepted, giving up their freedoms for this stability.
Throughout Soviet occasions, Ukraine was thought of second solely to Russia within the USSR hierarchy, handled higher than the central Asian republics. Russians these days see Ukraine as probably the most culturally proximate former Soviet nation, so Ukraine’s embrace of democracy and human rights puzzled a lot of them. They wrote it off as one thing that Ukrainians, who’re stereotyped by Russians as “simple-minded” and “naive”, had purchased into towards their greatest pursuits with EU and US encouragement.
Democratic reforms launched in Ukraine with the intention to deepen its engagement with the EU meant visa-free journey to Schengen states for Ukrainians, one thing that deeply angered many Russians who questioned how “inferior” Ukrainians might be allowed into the EU with no visa whereas Russians wanted one.
A commentator on a Russian on-line discussion board in 2016 imagined your entire inhabitants of Ukraine abandoning their homeland to “clear bathrooms” within the EU:
95% of the inhabitants [of Ukraine] doesn’t want [visa-free travel to the EU]: they don’t have cash for Euro-tourism, and “visa-free” doesn’t give the correct to work in Europe … Nobody of their proper thoughts would supply even a half-visa regime to an impoverished nation stuffed with weapons and legal guidelines that don’t work. And what sorts of work are and might be carried out by Ukrainian migrant staff in Europe – everybody is aware of too … Prostitution and cleansing bathrooms is named “European integration”.
This remark represents Russian stereotypes of Ukraine as poor, disorderly and missing civic patriotism – and of Ukrainians as “second-class” Europeans. Researchers have additionally documented numerous types of hate speech denigrating Ukrainians and denying Ukrainian statehood on Russia’s hottest social community, VK.
When the Russian forces started the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, most Russian troopers anticipated not solely to be greeted as liberators but in addition to search out folks struggling below the yoke of “Nazi usurpers”. They thought Ukraine can be like Russia of the Nineteen Nineties – divided, disorganised and poor.
Ukraine’s per capita GDP was US$3,725 (£3,000) in 2020, whereas Russia’s was virtually 3 times greater at US$10,127. However, as not too long ago as 2017, Ukraine topped the listing of the world’s most equal nations by the Gini index. Russia was a good distance down the listing.
The truth is, Russian invaders discovered neat, affluent villages and cities the place folks lived decently and as communities. Ukrainians apparently may have all of it: a democracy and an economic system, imperfect however functioning.
The invaders have been astonished at Ukrainians’ requirements of dwelling (Russian looters have been reportedly stunned on the sight of Nutella in Ukrainian homes, which they apparently noticed as an indication of untold luxurious).
They have been additionally stunned by Ukraine’s neighborhood spirit: mayors, monks and volunteers braved bullets to distribute meals to compatriots, rejecting and defying Russian troopers’ threats and bribes. This stood in stark distinction with the Russian navy management’s disregard for supplying, directing and evacuating its troopers.
Confronted with Ukraine’s stiff resistance but in addition indicators of an excellent life, Russian troopers will need to have questioned how Ukrainians, contemplating their stereotyping in Russia as “easy” and “naive”, may have constructed a functioning nation on their very own.
The narrative of Ukraine being below the management of – variously – the west, George Soros or “Judaeo-Masons” would have resonated with the troopers. And, as Morrison mentioned, stereotyping and denigrating a folks as inferior or missing company makes atrocities and looting extra more likely to occur, as we’re seeing in Ukraine.
Kseniya Oksamytna doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.