Is Russia Committing Genocide in Ukraine?

July 21, 2022
Whether Russian actions in Ukraine amount to genocide? We asked Christopher Atwood, a researcher at the Harriman Institute of Columbia University.
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Whether Russian actions in Ukraine amount to genocide? We asked Christopher Atwood, a contributor to a report called “An independent legal analysis of Russian Federation breaches of the genocide convention in Ukraine and the duty to prevent” published by the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. Key points – in our brief.

1. On the unprecedented report about genocide in Ukraine

  • There is no precedent for a report about identifying Russia’s actions in Ukraine as committing a genocide, whether it is a purely technical or a legal term. This is a historical significance of conducting such a study.
  • From the beginning of the war a lot of Ukrainians immediately saw the designation of the term “denazification” and understood that fundamentally that probably meant that it was genocide or intent behind the invasion.

2. On the Russian narratives about Ukraine

  • What is separate genocide from other atrocity crimes is finding the intent and it is not to be explicit.
  • Russian media creates such intent by depicting Ukraine as a fictitious state which is invented by the Bolsheviks and any Ukrainian who views themselves distinctive from Russians as Nazis. In that context denazification means liquidating Nazis.
  • Russian narratives about Ukraine spread freely in the Russian media because of the massive crackdown on independent media in recent years. Russian military is obliged to take these narratives into account and this explains their behavior in Ukraine.
  • Initial rhetoric at the start of the war that the government and military are Nazis, so we need to change the government, demilitarize Ukraine, and inherently Ukraine will be denazified. The spread of Nazism among Ukrainians became a massive undertaking.
  • The idea of Ukrainians being Nazis arose long before February 24 or 2014. The Kremlin both in Soviet and post-Soviet periods has built the narrative if you identify themselves as Ukrainians that means you glorify Ukrainian nationalism during WWII and Nazi collaboration.

3. On the identification of Russian actions as committing genocide

  • Russians perceiving Ukrainians as an existential threat because of the holes of their own identity. Russian state needs some kind of unifying myth. For that purpose Soviet Union had maintained the myth about Russian and Ukrainian historical unity.
  • Such atrocities as attacking shelters, evacuation and humanitarian routes, indiscriminate bombardment of residential areas, illegal adoptions, destruction of Ukrainian cultural and identity objects, forced deportations, sexual violence can be defined as committing genocide.
  • Genocide is an attempt to destroy group in whole or in part. Russia is attempting to destroy a specific part of Ukrainians who insist that their identity is unique.
  • Russia is trying to execute another Ukrainian Renaissance. The whole purpose of destroying all of intellectual figures during 1920-30th was to stop this radical idea that Ukrainians completely distinct from Russians.

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This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.

Christopher Atwood
contributor to a report on Russia’s breaches of the genocide convention in Ukraine

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