Putin’s Genocide In Ukraine

May 7th, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

President Biden has used the term “genocide” to describe Vladimir Putin’s barbarism in Ukraine: civilians being slaughtered, mass graves and the deliberate, intentionally ruthless bombing of civilians.  Is this an accurate term to use?  Is Putin guilty of war crimes similar to those of Hitler and Stalin?

Philippe Sands of University College London demonstrates that the term “genocide” was invented in the context of World War II by the emigre Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin.  [Genocide comes from the Greek term genos, which means tribe or race, and the Latin term cide, which means killing.]  The term first appeared in November 1944 in his book, Axis Rule, and was part of the Nuremberg trials of 1945 as an illustration of war crimes.  In 1948 the newly created United Nations adopted the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  “It committed signatories to prevent and punish ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or regions group, as such.’  (The United States, still concerned for its own situation, did not sign on until 1988).”  Sands also shows that in “the decades that followed, the term fell into the shadows.  It was the atrocities of the 1990s in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia that caused it to re-emerge.  Glaring acts of horror carried out by neighbor against neighbor caused ‘genocide’ to symbolize the crime of crimes.  It has become a word that captures public attention in a way that the labels of war crimes and crimes against humanity do not.”  The fundamental issue of genocide as regards Putin’s acts in Ukraine will hinge on proof that he intends to destroy Ukrainians as a group in whole or in part.  The bar in international courts for such a charge is quite high.

Yaroslav Trofimov in the Wall Street Journal offers compelling proof that Putin and many Russian authors have regarded Ukraine as a nation and Ukrainians as a people as having no distinct cultural identity.  He offers the proof for this contention:

  • The idea that Ukrainians are not a real people and that Ukrainian nationhood is an artificial construct has long been mainstream in Russian culture, literature and politics.  “In Russia’s historical narrative and literary tradition, Ukrainians have often been depicted as dimwitted but good-natured peasants who speak a funny accent, and whose quest for an independent future can only be the product of foreign intrigues.”
  • The heritage of the Russian state actually owes in origin to Kyiv centuries before Moscow came into existence.  Prince Vladimir the Great, the 10th-century ruler adopted Christianity as his own faith and the faith of his realm in Kyiv.  [Both Putin and Ukraine’s president Zelensky are named after him.]
  • The tradition of Russian hostility to Ukrainian aspirations comes in two strands.  One “simply denies the existence of Ukrainians as a people distinct from the Russians.  That was the line adopted by the Russian Empire for much of the 19th century, when it banned books in Ukrainian and the very term Ukraine, calling the region ‘Little Russia’ instead.  Another strand holds that while Ukrainians do in fact have their own identity and speak their own language, at least half the territory of present-day Ukraine really belongs to Russia and was unfairly pried away by the Soviet Union’s founder Vladimir Lenin.”
  • When Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, Ukrainian resistance shocked him and the world.  No Ukrainians greeted Russian troops as liberators, causing the tone of Putin and his clique to change.  “Now Russian state media and official discourse argue that Ukraine and its culture must be wiped out—an idea that explains the killing spree in towns like Bucha during the Russian occupation.”  Indeed, Russia’s state news agency on 3 April, under the title “What Russia Must Do to Ukraine,” argued that “ordinary Ukrainians must be made to ‘atone for the guilt’ of hostility to Moscow, the name Ukraine should be abolished once again and the country split into several pieces.  Ukrainian elites should be physically liquidated and the remaining population re-educated and ‘de-Ukrainized.’”  The deputy national security chief, Dmitry Medvedev, outlined a similar vision writing that the “Ukrainian state will disappear just like the Nazi Third Reich.  Of the Ukrainians’ deep sense of their identity and of their state, he declared, “It’s a great fake fed by anti-Russian venom and an all-encompassing lie about their own identity.  It never existed and doesn’t exist today.”

Since Putin became Russia’s president, he has tried to maximize his leverage over Ukraine.  But the Ukrainian people twice tossed out Russian-leaning leaders in revolutions over the last 20 years.  As Chris Blattman of the University of Chicago shows, “Ukraine was a society with which many Russian citizens identified and a powerful example for an uprising against Mr. Putin’s regime . . . He spent years influencing Ukrainian politics with money, propaganda, assassinations and support for separatists.  These risky investments didn’t pay off—and might have pushed Ukrainians closer to the west and democratic government.”  As Kyiv obtained more missiles and drones, the costs of invasion grew.  Putin’s leverage over Ukraine was reaching its peak.  Russia had one last tool—invasion.  Only this would halt Ukraine’s democratic and Western shift.

Finally, columnist Peggy Noonan makes an astute evaluation of Putin:  “It seems to me that he has become more careless, operating with a different historical consciousness.  He launched a world-historic military invasion that, whatever its geostrategic aims, was shambolic—fully aggressive and confident, yet not realistically thought through.”  Furthermore, as Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, notes, “Putin has killed all the institutions of his country, sucked the strength, independence and respectability from them, as dictators do.”  Noonan concludes that “when I look at him I see a new nihilistic edge, not the calculating and somewhat reptilian person of the past.”  If true, what would keep him from using chemical or biological weapons—or even tactical nuclear weapons?  His routine warning that he might use them shouldn’t be taken lightly or frivolously.  He is determined to liquidate Ukraine and he cannot lose to the West on this issue.  As this Issues has shown, by the definition of genocide, Putin is guilty of committing genocide to liquidate Ukraine—and the West is not going to stop him from doing so!  We, who name the name of Christ, should be praying the imprecatory Psalms of the Bible against Vladimir Putin.  He is evil and he is a tool of monstrous evil.  May God halt his butchery and utterly nefarious designs on Ukraine.

See Philippe Sands in the New York Times (1 May 2022); Yaroslav Trofimov in the Wall Street Journal (30 April-1 May 2022); Chris Blattman in the Wall Street Journal (26 April 2022); and Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal (30 April-1 May 2022).

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