The polarizing tectonic of our already split apart world is intensifying at the schism’s present epicenter – Ukraine. Both Ukraine and Russia are radicalizing, becoming more zealous, irreconcilable, exclusive, and pejorative in their rhetoric and propaganda. This will make coming to the negotiating increasingly difficult for both regimes, as their populaces having believed their governments’ words will find it difficult to tolerate a turn to peace. Ukraine and the West continue to demonize everything Russia, ratcheting Russophobia up to fascist levels. Russian cultural figures from the past and present are being banned or forced to repent for or denounce their government’s war policy. Indeed, Russian culture and Russians as individuals are again being denigrated as uncivilized, backwards, unenlightened, and culturally inferior to Westerners—all this despite the close cultural affinity of Russians and Ukrainians. Putin and his domestic political allies are increasingly compared to Hitler and Stalin, even though there is no profound ideological, cultural, or ethno-national hatred of Ukrainians or Americans contained in their speeches, policies, and official documents. In turn, Russians are blamed for the fact that Putin and Putinists are and have remained in power for so long. One needs only to recall calls from the likes of former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, and his comments arguing for collective guilt and collective punishment – for now confined to suffering under sanctions – of all Russians. Yet Russia’s just recently revised Foreign Policy Doctrine specifically states that the Western democracies are not Russia’s enemy and Moscow still seeks good relations with them.
The St. Petersburg terrorist attack and the West’s response to it provide another good example of Ukro-Western dehumanization of Russia. Some in the West justified the 2 April 2023 terrorist attack in St. Petersburg, and no Western government has condemned it. They assert that it was legitimate to target a Russian war correspondent who participated in military actions in Ukraine. The other 39 victims, who so far are wounded not killed, are excluded from the rules-based international order, apparently because they are Russian.
The visit by NATO General Secretary Johann Stoltenberg to Kiev weeks later and his statement that Ukraine belongs in the “Euro-Atlantic civilization”, combined with the abundance of neofascist ideology, pols, and military, can not but buttress the Russian public’s support for the war effort. This may not be incompetence on Stoltenberg’s part. It could very well be the intent to radicalize Russia and push it further into the rogue category as a way of justifying NATO’s growing role in the Ukraine war. This message reinforces the Ukrainian sense of national superiority vis-a-vis Russians and others, providing a pool from which Ukrainian ultra-nationalism and neofascism can draw, refilling the springs of extremism flooded by the Russian invasion but being drained by the shedding of Ukrainian blood. Thus, Ukrainian military and civilian officials have been repeatedly denigrating Russian officials, military, and civilians much as they have denigrated Donbass residents, mostly ethnic Russians, as subhuman. By contrast, no Russian civilian or military official has denigrated Ukrainians, except for some of those inside the Maidan regime, and Wagner commander-in-chief Yevgenii Prigozhin has praised Ukrainian soldiers effusively for their bravery.
Whereas Ukrainian and Western discourse has passed the stage of fear and paranoia and become aggressive and racist, overall Russian rhetoric and propaganda – almost exclusively in the media, with government officials being more cautious – are increasingly demonizing the Ukrainian regime and its neofascist elements as not just ‘Nazis’, which at least approximates an aspect of Ukrainian reality. Initially, the war was sparked in part by security concerns vis-a-vis NATO’s presence in Ukraine, post-Soviet angst, and by a desire to protect Donbass Russians and then reunite them with the ‘Russian world’. These motives were driven in part by the Russian aspiration for wholeness or tselostnost’. As I have written in my book Russian Tselostnost’ and in articles on related issues here, Russian thinkers prefer wholeness, unity, solidarity, communalism, and cooperation to what they view as Western division, partisanship, individualism, and competition. To the extent Ukraine is seen as part of a properly integral Russian cultural, identity, religion, history, and civilization, Moscow tends to reject Westernizing security, cultural, and institutional arrangements, Catholicization, secularization and, naturally, Kiev’s de-russification policies being supported by the West. Fratricidal wars are the most brutal wars, and the NATO-Russian Ukraine war is no exception. Atrocities committed by both armies and each side’s trumpeting of the other’s crimes eventually will create a powerful dynamic of mutual antagonism and hate.
Now there is growing ‘mystification’ by Russian of its demonization of its enemies in Kiev, Washington, and Brussels as ‘satanic’, playing on the religious orientation of Russian culture and the conservative portion of Russia’s political spectrum. Russian media is increasingly referring to the ‘Satanization’ of Ukraine and the West (e.g., https://vz.ru/opinions/2023/4/14/1207257.html?utm_campaign=vz&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=push). Ukraine’s repression of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), formerly affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church based in Moscow (and Kiev, 800-1100 years ago), play into this image in remarkably convenient ways for Russian demonization efforts. Russian media is not starved for images of Ukrainian neo-fascists and Western-influenced Ukrainian liberals beating, taunting, and screaming like little devils at OCU priests and Orthodox believers. Things have gone so far that even some Ukrainian soldiers have even posted videos condemning Zelenskiy’s support for the confiscation of OCU churches, monasteries, and shrines in response to the tragi-farce.
The direction this is taking Kiev was indicated when during Orthodox Easter celebration Ukrainian armed forces targeted a church during services with artillery, killing a pregnant young woman and wounding six others. The iconography of this act could not have supported Russian discourse better: Neofascist demons had slaughtered a living analogy of the perhaps the most sacred image in Russian Orthodoxy – the Bogomater’ – maternal image of divinity represented by Mary, the mother of God. Perhaps the core symbols of Russian civilization are churches and fortresses, which dot the Russian temporal and spatial landscape. Attack the Church and you attack the fortress. Attack the fortress (symbol of Russian security), the krepost’, the kremlin, and you attack the Church. This will resonate with an upsurge of patriotism across the Russian land, intensifying the Russian-Ukro-Western tension.
This kind of primordial mutual demonization coming from both sides is rising to the level of Arab-Israeli enmity. We know what this has wrought in the Middle East—decades of hatred, war, and terrorism. This is what awaits Europe and Russia should the parties continue to conduct themselves in this way. Moreover, the image of two Christian peoples hating and slaughtering each other is precisely what the secular and atheist globalists, transgenderists, transhumanists, radical leftists and ultra liberals need in order to develop their own propaganda for their own no less nefarious goals. But most of all, these Slavic Christian peoples are forgetting and would do well to remember that their hatred and murdering is exactly over that which they contend their God despairs.
EUROPE BOOKS, 2022
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2021
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2018
About the Author –
Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, www.canalyt.com. Websites: Russian and Eurasian Politics, gordonhahn.com and gordonhahn.academia.edu
Dr. Hahn is the author of the new book: Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Thought, Culture, History, and Politics (Europe Books, 2022). He has authored five previous, well-received books: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021); Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group.