Last week, I talked about how Ukraine constantly scores own-goals by doubling down on extreme nationalism, Nazi apologias, and other toxic tendencies that seem to give credence to Russian propaganda about Ukraine’s being a “Nazi state.” I would be remiss, however, to ignore Russia’s role in the rise of reactionary Ukrainian chauvinism. After all, it is Russia who initiated the Ukrainian crisis, starting with its annexation of Crimea and ending with the full-scale “special military operation” launched last year.
By attacking Ukraine, Russia is enabling Kiev’s most chauvinistic, anti-Russian politicians and activists to pass new laws restricting the use of the Russian language, openly display Nazi and fascist imagery, defend the reputation of Nazi collaborators like Stepan Bandera, marginalise predominantly Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the South and East, launch dumb campaigns to “cancel” the use in English of Russian names for Russophone cities like Kiev and Kharkov (a practice I have not adopted here), lobby international theatres and concert halls to ban Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, pulp thousands of Russian and Russian-language books from Ukrainian libraries, encourage the harassment of people who use “non-state languages” (that is, Russian), go on witch-hunts for fifth columnists who are merely critics of the current regime, ban opposition sites like Strana from being accessed within Ukraine, rehabilitate the reputation of the Galician SS, hire military spokeswomen who call Russians “Mongols” who aren’t “real Europeans” with “real European values,” name streets after Bandera and other Nazi collaborators, and make threatening promises to cleanse Crimea of all Russian cultural or linguistic influence should it fall back under Kiev’s control. Because of Russia’s attacks, many Ukrainians are adopting nationalistic views—the kinds the Russians loathe for their unsavoury association with Nazism and fascism—to distinguish themselves from their larger neighbour. Ukraine has formed its entire post-Maidan identity around Not Being Russia—and Russia has contributed to it with its actions. It is hard to want to have a close relationship with Russia when Putin is behaving the way he is. He is merely inflaming the thing he has supposedly set out to fight. If he wants to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, he is doing a miserable job at it.
None of this is to excuse Ukrainian politicians for their vicious chauvinism, especially when it is directed at Ukrainian citizens who refuse to adopt the ultranationalism imposed by the post-Maidan governments. I will never defend the Kiev regime beyond supporting its military victory over Russia. But Russia’s actions have contributed to the noxious extremism emanating from Kiev. The biggest losers in all this are the Ukrainians, especially those in the south and east. The Russians bomb their cities and abduct their children, but the Ukrainian authorities have no desire to integrate them into its increasingly ethnonationalist, chauvinistic state.
If Russia wants to put a stop to Nazism in Ukraine, if it wants to regain its influence on the world stage, if it wants to prove its strength, it must withdraw itself from this needless war of attrition. It is time for Russia to remove its troops and come to the negotiation table. Ukraine’s counteroffensive has fizzled, but that does not mean that the Russian “special military operation” is successful. Not by a long stretch. This—and only this—is how Putin can “denazify” Ukraine.