Dmytro Kuleba: Time to recognize the Russian campaign in Ukraine as genocide
Author’s article of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba for DER SPIEGEL
Russia’s full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine has become the largest armed conflict in Europe since 1945. The horrors of war in the middle of the 20th century are primarily reminded of the scale of Russian hatred and cruelty.
Similar to the Second World War, the current war is fueled by the language of enmity and hatred toward Ukrainians. The spiteful incitement to war and the public denial of the Ukrainian people’s right to exist as a national group indicate that Russian atrocities have genocidal intent.
For us, Ukrainians, “genocide” is not just a term. It is part of our collective memory. During the last century, Ukraine experienced genocide twice. In 1932-1933, the Soviet regime led by Joseph Stalin exterminated millions of Ukrainians during the Holodomor, an artificially lethal famine. In less than ten years, during the Holocaust, among the Jews of Europe, the Jews of Ukraine, the Roma, and other vulnerable groups became victims of the Nazis. Slavic peoples, including Ukrainians, were considered by the Nazis to be “Untermenchs” – subhumans to be exploited and destroyed.
It is deeply symbolic that the term “genocide” was coined by the Polish-American lawyer of Jewish origin, Raphael Lemkin, who spent the early part of his scientific career in Lviv.
Ukraine takes the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide very seriously. So when Russia tried to use the word “genocide” to justify its full-scale aggression against Ukraine, we immediately filed a lawsuit at the UN International Court of Justice. In March, he ruled that there is no evidence or confirmation of the Kremlin’s claims that Ukraine committed genocide. In turn, we realize that any accusations of genocide against Russia must be thoroughly substantiated. In this article, I will focus on the facts that show that Russia is not only waging a war of aggression against Ukraine but is also committing another genocide of Ukrainians.
In order to recognize acts and crimes as genocide, it is necessary to establish the presence of special intent, dolus species, and to determine whether these acts and violations were committed intentionally with the aim of total or partial destruction of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
The Russian leadership, officials, and public figures have been laying the ideological foundation for genocide for a long time. Here it is important to clearly explain that Ukraine defines the members of the Ukrainian national group regardless of their ethnic origin, but instead, according to the decision of the International Tribunal for Rwanda in the Akayesu case, as “a totality of people considered by virtue of their existing legal bond of common citizenship and ties” mutual rights and obligations associated with it”.
A year ago, in July 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin published an essay “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, where he once again stated that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people, one whole.” In the essay, he also claimed that “modern Ukraine is a complete product of the Soviet era,” and “true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.”
The Russian leader never hid his intentions: he said that the existence of Ukraine as a state is a mistake that needs to be corrected, and Ukrainians are, in fact, Russians, so they will either agree to be with the Russians as “one nation” or be subject to destruction.
Direct public incitement to genocide is also contained in a number of articles by Russian state media, posts by high-ranking Russian officials on social networks, or in their statements on television.
Thus, on February 26, the Russian state news agency “RIA Novosti” published an article by Petro Akopov that Ukraine will cease to exist due to Russia’s “special military operation”. In this article, the author claimed that Vladimir Putin assumed a “historical responsibility” by deciding “not to leave the final solution of the Ukrainian issue to future generations.”
Whether the author deliberately draws a parallel with the “final solution of the Jewish question” during the Second World War is an open question, but in the article, which can still be found in the web archive, these very words are written in black and white.
Over the next month, Russian military units stationed near Kyiv, particularly in Bucha, committed terrible atrocities.
On April 5, Deputy Head of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Dmytro Medvedev wrote in his Telegram channel: “…the essence of Ukrainianness, fueled by anti-Russian poison and lies about its identity, is a big fake…”. In his frankly genocidal statement, Medvedev claimed that Ukrainian identity does not exist and never existed.
All these articles, posts on social networks, and statements appeared during the period of fierce fighting in Ukraine and Russian control over parts of the territory of Ukraine. They incited Russian soldiers to commit crimes against Ukrainians on the sole basis that those Ukrainians belong to the Ukrainian national group.
Mass media have repeatedly played a significant role in inciting genocides throughout history. Consider, for example, Der Stürmer. Julius Streicher led the German newspaper full of Nazi and anti-Semitic propaganda. After World War II, the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg found Streicher guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death. Another example is Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM). This was the name of a radio station in Rwanda that played a significant role in inciting the Tutsi genocide. RTLM promoted hate speech and was directly linked to the Hutu government. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda indicted and found key RTLM figures guilty of genocide, incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity.
Russian state media are no different. Key figures of the Russian mass media calling for the genocide of Ukrainians must be brought to justice. However, it is not only about public incitement. In the course of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia is directly carrying out the genocide of Ukrainians, not just calling for it.
This is evidenced by the mass murders in the occupied territories, in particular in Bucha and other cities. The executioners – the Russian military – searched homes in accordance with the firing lists of the FSB of the Russian Federation to find and execute the most active local Ukrainian figures, activists, volunteers, former soldiers, their relatives, and friends. Putin later responded to overwhelming evidence of his army’s mass genocidal atrocities by rewarding the units involved. This is direct evidence that the crimes were not isolated incidents.
Since the invasion, Russia has, according to its own official claims, removed – by force or threat of force – at least 1.9 million people from Ukraine, including more than 307,000 children. Russia is changing legislation to speed up the adoption of children from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, and to ensure their further upbringing as members of the Russian national group, the loss of Ukrainian identity. These are acts of genocide under Article II(e) of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
For centuries, Russian elites have cultivated notions of Russian superiority and exceptionalism, as well as chauvinism, false messianism, and toxic masculinity. This led to a consistent policy of hatred against other nations, religious groups, and sexual minorities. Domestically, the Russian regime persecutes Jehovah’s Witnesses, the LGBT community, and other minorities, as well as political dissidents and opposition figures. From the outside, and in relation to Ukrainians as a national group, this general policy of hatred and chauvinism has acquired a genocidal character.
The actions of the Russian state and its entire apparatus of officials, armed forces, and mass media against Ukrainians are genocide. The world cannot be silent about it. Together with international partners, lawyers and experts, we are gathering all the necessary evidence to hold Russia, the Russian leadership, and the Russian military accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.