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Inside the Banality of Putin’s Evil

We’re in a war. Here’s what we know, and how to respond.

Crawford Kilian 8 Apr 2022TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

The Russian war against Ukraine has baffled and infuriated us, in large part because it seems so pointless. What did Putin want? To regain territory lost in the collapse of the Soviet Union? If he wanted to enrich Russia with Ukraine’s wealth, why was he destroying its infrastructure and even mining its fields? Why would he want to break his ties with the West, a major market for Russian resources?

Well, we have our answers now, but they are not explanations — only a reminder that evil truly is banal, and great evil is profoundly stupid.

Timofei Sergeitsev is a writer who is politically influential, little known in the West and reportedly living in Italy. He recently published an article in RIA Novosti, Russia’s government news agency. Sergeitsev’s work can therefore be taken as approved by Putin. Every paragraph is full of lies that we must take very seriously, because the lies try to justify the destruction of a nation.

I can’t find the article on the RIA Novosti website, but a Ukraine-based organization, the Center for Civil Liberties, has published an English translation. It’s about 2,400 words long, and it deserves our close attention.

851px version of Vancouver Ukraine Rally on road, March 27, 2022
Russia cites an imperative to 'denazify' Ukraine, a so-called enemy of Russia and tool of the West, according to Timofei Sergeitsev. Photo by Joshua Berson.

Take the opening paragraph, where Sergeitsev takes some ugly terms and tries to make them synonyms for “Ukrainian.”

Back in April last year, we wrote about the inevitability of the denazification of Ukraine. We do not need a Nazi (read Ukrainian), Bandera type of Ukraine (read Ukrainian), as the enemy of Russia and the West’s tool for the destruction of Russia. Today, the issue of denazification has moved into a practical landscape.

Sergeitsev tries to make Nazism and the right-wing nationalist Stepan Bandera synonymous with Ukraine itself and thereby a willing tool of the West for the “destruction of Russia.”

But it’s not the Nazism that nearly conquered the Soviet Union. Sergeitsev keeps redefining “good” words into bad ones.

The peculiarity of modern nazified Ukraine is in amorphousness and ambivalence, which make it possible to disguise Nazism as a desire for “independence” and a “European” (Western, pro-American) path of “development” (in reality — to degradation), to assert that in Ukraine “there is no Nazism, only localized individual excesses.” After all, there is no main Nazi party, no Fuehrer, no full-fledged racial laws (only their truncated version in the form of repressions against the Russian language).

In other words, Ukraine is Nazi because Sergeitsev says it is. This “amorphous” Nazism, he argues, has taken over because “a significant part of the people — most likely the majority — has been mastered and drawn into the Nazi policy in its politics.”

By this logic, denazification must be applied to all Ukrainians.

The Nazis who took up arms should be destroyed to the maximum on the battlefield. There should be no significant differences between the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the so-called national battalions, as well as the territorial defence that joined these two types of military formations. All of them are equally involved in extreme cruelty against the civilian population, equally guilty of the genocide of the Russian people, do not comply with the laws and customs of war. War criminals and active Nazis should be exemplarily and exponentially punished. There must be a total lustration.

Like American Trumpists, Sergeitsev “projects,” accusing his enemies of Russia’s own crimes against civilians and contempt for the laws of war. And he brings in a word rarely used in the West: “lustration,” which means cleansing or purification. It’s akin in spirit to the Soviets’ use of the word “purge.”

But it’s not just the military who must be “exponentially punished”: “A significant part of the masses, which are passive Nazis, accomplices of Nazism, are also guilty,” Sergeitsev writes. “They supported and indulged Nazi government.”

Just as Ukraine was “nazified” for over 30 years after it became independent, Sergeitsev estimates that “The duration of denazification can in no way be less than one generation, which must be born, grow up and reach maturity under the conditions of denazification.”

The stakes are high for Russia, because “Ukronazism carries not less, but a greater threat to the world and Russia than German Nazism of the Hitlerite version.” Therefore the name Ukraine itself must be abolished and the region it once occupied will be filled with “people’s republics.”

Not many ex-Ukrainians will survive to populate these new republics, and those who do will be barely human “mud” people, according to Sergeitsev: “The Bandera elites must be eliminated, their re-education is impossible. The social ‘mud,’ which actively and passively supported it by action and inaction, must survive the hardships of the war and assimilate the experience as a historical lesson and atonement for its guilt.”

Sergeitsev does admit that even the Russification of ex-Ukraine will have its limits. As well as the people’s republics, part of Ukraine will survive as a kind of open-air prison.

The “Catholic province” (Western Ukraine as part of five regions) is unlikely to become part of the pro-Russian territories. The line of alienation, however, will be found empirically. It will remain hostile to Russia, but forcibly neutral and demilitarized Ukraine with formally banned Nazism. The haters of Russia will go there. The threat of an immediate continuation of the military operation in case of non-compliance with the listed requirements will be the guarantee of the preservation of this residual Ukraine in a neutral state. Perhaps this will require a permanent Russian military presence on its territory.

Liquidating everyone in the military

Postwar denazification, we are assured, “will follow the same logic of stages in peacetime as a military operation.” This includes the “liquidation” (an old Stalinist term) of everyone in the military, including their “information and educational infrastructure.” That seems vague enough to include people in the media and teachers at all levels.

The “Russian information space” would occupy ex-Ukraine, suppressing all previous educational materials and programs. Mass investigations would “establish personal responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity,” and so on. “Accomplices of the Nazi regimes” would rebuild damaged infrastructure through forced labour (unless they qualified for execution or prison).

Sergeitsev would be unsurprised at our rejection of his postwar plans. As he says:

Russia will have no allies in the denazification of Ukraine. Since this is a purely Russian business. And also because not just the Bandera version of Nazi Ukraine will be eradicated, but including, and above all, Western totalitarianism, the imposed programs of civilizational degradation and disintegration, the mechanisms of subjugation to the superpower of the West and the United States.

To put the plan of denazification of Ukraine into practice, Russia itself will have to finally part with pro-European and pro-Western illusions, realize itself as the last instance of protecting and preserving those values of historical Europe (the Old World) that deserve it and which the West ultimately abandoned, losing the fight for itself.

In seceding from the West, Putin seems to be saying, through Sergeitsev, that this really is a proxy war being fought against us on Ukrainian soil. And we, the West, are both decadent yet fiendishly powerful against Russia.

Astounding chutzpah

After a self-pitying passage about all that Russia has done to save the West, Sergeitsev defends Putin’s imperialist project against Ukraine with astounding chutzpah:

Russia will go its own way, not worrying about the fate of the West, relying on another part of its heritage — leadership in the global process of decolonization.... The denazification of Ukraine is at the same time its decolonization, which the population of Ukraine will have to understand as it begins to free itself from the intoxication, temptation and dependence of the so-called European choice.

For centuries humanity has been caught up in endless wars of empires. They did not stop on Feb. 24, 2022.

The Russian empire broke up near the end of the First World War, and Lenin fought a bitter civil war to regain most of it. It fell apart again in 1989, and now Putin is fighting yet another war to restore a breakaway colony and restore Russian rule. No doubt the rest of the Soviet Empire’s lost provinces are also on his agenda, with Ukraine as a grim example of the consequences of resistance.

And at the same time he is falling back into fantasies of Russia as the defender of an “Old World” — much as Hitler cast himself as the defender of ancient European values against the onslaught of barbarous Russians.

It helps to explain Putin’s longtime support for Donald Trump as the proverbial useful idiot, invoking a mythical great American past that only he can bring back — by cutting our ties to the rest of the world. It also explains why the Council of European Canadians, a white supremacist group, has a high opinion of Putin as “the new St. George.”

Sergeitsev’s plan for demolishing Ukraine has received considerable attention. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky himself mentioned it in a speech to the Romanian parliament, saying, “The article describes a clear and calculated procedure for the destruction of everything that makes Ukrainians Ukrainians and our people themselves.... I want to emphasize once again: this is the website of the state news agency of Russia, where, under conditions of explicit state censorship, only materials that correspond to the official ideological position on the war against Ukraine can be published.”

851px version of Vancouver Ukraine Rally Hong Kongers, March 27, 2022
'The West, including Canada, finds itself in Albert Camus’s predicament: fighting a lie with a quarter-truth. We’re part of an empire too, and what Putin is doing in Ukraine, we have done in our own colonies,' writes Crawford Kilian. Photo by Joshua Berson.

Fighting a lie with a quarter-truth

The West, including Canada, finds itself in Albert Camus’s predicament: fighting a lie with a quarter-truth. We’re part of an empire too, and what Putin is doing in Ukraine, we have done in our own colonies.

Racism and greed underlie much of our response. We agonize about the plight of the Ukrainians, but not about that of the Tigrayans at the hands of the Ethiopians and Eritreans. We sympathize with the people of Myanmar resisting their military overlords, but not enough to help them. We ignore the climate change that will sweep away Putin’s Old World, and ours, within decades.

But our crimes do not excuse Putin’s. We still retain enough of a grasp on history and critical thinking to recognize the stupidity of the Sergeitsev Doctrine. Coming from a country that produced some of the world’s greatest scientists, writers and musicians, the doctrine shows how far Russia has fallen, and how easily we too could fall.

The Russian plan for Ukraine gives us very little choice but to accept that we’re in a war, and in it for the duration. The duration will be briefer if we support Ukraine, and resist the Sergeitsev Doctrine, with everything we’ve got.  [Tyee]

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