Putinism against Ukraine: From Identification to Genocide

Alexander Etkind


[This article is part of our research initiative “Russia’s Project ‘Anti-Ukraine’”]





In July 2021, the Russian President Vladimir Putin published an essay in which he stated that the Russians and the Ukrainians were one and the same people.1 Most experts understood this essay as a series of arbitrary misjudgements, a manipulation of evidence without any consequence.2 Thin on evidence, this ideological programme for the Russo-Ukrainian War summarised rhetorical war efforts that prepared the biggest war in Europe since the Second World War. It was the highest manifestation of the Putinist type of sovereignty – a particular kind of emergency politics that was, pace Carl Schmitt, based on undistinguishing between friends and foes. For Schmitt, differentiating between friends and enemies was the definitive function of political sovereignty.3 In contrast, Putin in his decisive moment refused to perform this differentiation. In his political universe, reserving the right to nominate the enemy arbitrarily, without any consistent rule or principle, gave the sovereign more power than a Schmittian legalistic definition could possibly secure. Putin waged his regional war against Ukraine but imagined it as a global war against the West. Even if he believed in some initial moments that the Ukrainians, or some of them, would be his allies in this war, he changed his mind during the war.


This article does not aim at disavowing Putin’s historical views, a task fully accomplished in recent works on the subject.4 Rather, I am interested in the political functions of his identitarian narrative. What does it mean for the sovereign at war to proclaim that his friends and enemies are one and the same people? What rhetorical or political gains were obtained by publicising this idea, and what were the difficulties? What is the connection of genocide – a legal and historical concept firmly embedded in international law, empirical studies, and continuing theoretical debates – to the speculative idea of historical identity vs. distance between different nations?


Rhetoric of genocide


On 1 April 2022, Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, leaving behind indubitable evidence of mass murder. While Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the events as a “deliberate massacre”,5 the Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko used the term “genocide”.6 Western scholars such as Eugene Finkel, a Ukrainian-born political scientist from Johns Hopkins University, also started to apply this term to the Russian actions in Ukraine.7 The prestigious Journal of Genocide Research, edited by Dirk Moses from the City University of New York, published a forum titled “Russia’s War on Ukraine”. There was a scholarly problem, however: Moses questioned the very concept of genocide in a major book that he published in 2021, right before the all-our Russian war in Ukraine started. Basically, Moses said that the concept of genocide, which was initially applied to the Holocaust, sets too high standard, which is unrealistic and difficult to apply to many other historical events. Moses introduced a number of other concepts such as “permanent security”, in belief that this concept would be more practical and less, so to say, perfectionist in its legal applications. But with the Russo-Ukrainian War, we are back in the genocide zone.


Genocide usually occurs without any explanation – it “just happens”. Secrecy and elimination of witnesses are its best allies. However, the murderer usually provides explanations or justifications after the event, varying them for different purposes and audiences. These public proclamations do not reflect the actual ideas and values of the murderers. Masquerading a retrospective justification as a causal explanation, these public statements do not elucidate the murder for any outside observer. However, they are important. Taken critically, these retrospective explanations help understand how the genocidal actor would publicly represent, justify and promote their action. Predicting the murderers’ self-defence in the court of justice, these ideological constructions also foreshadow the afterlife of the events in the memory of the generations to come.


Saying that the Russians and the Ukrainians were the same people, Putin took an extreme position on this spectrum. He produced this statement in the middle of his war against Ukraine, seven years after the invasion of Crimea and the start of hostilities in Donbas, and less than a year before the all-out culmination of the Russo-Ukrainian War occurred. It was a strategic moment that changed the course of the war and defined the fate of the Kremlin regime. Arguably, the idea of proximity vs. distance between the perpetrators and the victims is central for the rhetorical kitchen of any genocide. Seen through the eyes of the murderers and formulated by their leaders – the victims have no say in these rhetorical preparations – an estimation of cultural distance is a general characteristic of genocidal rhetoric. Putin’s speech slides from the idea of no difference between the Russian and the Ukrainian national patterns to the idea of polar differences between them. But since these differences were infringed by foreign influence, they could be eliminated for the sake of the initial condition of no difference. This state of unity is hidden, but it is the only true one. The paradox of genocidal violence within “one and the same people” is that this self-referential action is too close to a collective suicide. Those who claim their difference could be killed without further notice because they have no agency. The survivors will return to their initial condition in which the Russians, Ukrainians and other formerly Soviet nations were understood to be one and the same people, while others will die in order to redeem their “degradation and degeneration”.8


In fact, identity between the two peoples is a matter of belief, a political construction that has no relation to human reality. Whatever were the pre-existing differences between the two peoples, the very act of mass murder creates the new differences on the scale that was unimaginable in the relations between these peoples. By initiating physical violence, the aggressor creates a vicious circle: every new act of violence creates new differences, and aggressor needs even more violence to eliminate these differences and those who believe in them. Rhetorically, there are several options for presenting this circle of violence as a logical paradox, and resolving it: (1) presenting the captured territory as terra nullius, a virgin land with no people or national pattern to talk about; (2) presenting the current genocide as a symmetric response to a previous genocide committed by the other side; (3) distorting the memory of the previous national pattern so that the imposed order could be presented as new and different; and finally, (4) denigrating the previous pattern, and stretching the perceived differences so they would match the declared ambitions. These tropes are logically different, which does not prevent them from being mixed in practical combinations. Rhetorical tropes (1) and (2) escape the problem of zero difference between the initial and the imposed conditions, while tropes (3) and (4) confront this problem. In more traditional terms, all these tropes are different forms of representing the oppressed population by the oppressor, with (1) close to denial, (2) to revenge, (3) to amnesia, and (4) to defamation.


On 24 February 2022 while launching his all-out invasion, Putin gave a speech in which he was mixing these four genocidal tropes.9 Their peculiar order deserves attention. The first half of Putin’s speech is not about Ukraine at all: Putin talks about history starting from the mid-twentieth century: the Second World War, the NATO expansion, and the “redivision of the world” that came with the end of the Soviet Union. However, the first specific example that he gives is the bombing of Belgrade, “a bloody military operation”; interestingly, he avoids calling it “war” but employs the same elusive trope that he uses for his own “special military operation”. Though “some Western colleagues prefer to forget” it, the bombing of Belgrade sticks in Putin’s memory, and he uses it to justify the bombing of Kyiv. Putin also describes in detail the events in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and related policies of the United States. The first half of this speech reads not as a declaration of war against Ukraine but as a long, tedious lecture about the US interventions in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Ukraine is absent from the picture. “The attitudes they [i.e. the US] have been aggressively imposing […] are directly leading to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature”. Putin compares this aggression on the part of the US to the Nazi aggression against the Soviet Union. Ukraine is still absent from all these historical speculations. This is a declaration of war against the US and its allies, and not against Ukraine. It is not even a proxy, it just does not exist, it is a terra nullius (1). The US, Putin said, “sought to destroy our traditional values and force on us their false values that would erode us”. This is Raphael Lemkin’s definition in reverse, and Putin swapped the victims and the perpetrators. Starting his own genocide, Putin presented it as the victims’ revenge for the previous one, allegedly committed by the US (2). Ukraine is still not in the picture.


In the middle of the speech, Putin says that the US and its allies have recently “crossed the red line” by their threats “to the very existence of our state and to its sovereignty” (2). This, Putin said, “brings me to the situation in Donbass”. It is in this part of his speech that Putin mentions genocide and Ukraine. “We had to stop that atrocity, that genocide of millions of people who live there [in Donbas]”. Pre-emptively justifying the genocide that would be soon committed by the Russian troops in Ukraine, Putin accused Ukraine of a genocide in Donbas, which killed millions (again, (2)).


Putin’s claim about “genocide of millions” of Russians was outlandish: there were no millions of Russians in Donbas and there was no genocide there. According to the self-proclaimed authorities of the “Donetsk People Republic”, its population numbering 2.2 million, with the Russians making a minority of 40-45%. Both ethnic groups are largely bilingual, but the authorities closed Ukrainian schools in 2017 and forbade the use of Ukrainian in offices and courts. But Putin repeated this genocidal claim again while explaining the purpose of his operation: “to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev10 regime […] to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine”. The idea of denazification appears without any rhetorical preparation, but it is essential: the Russians and the Ukrainians are potentially the same, but the Ukrainians are Nazis and that makes them different from the Russians. Ukrainians have no agency; they have literally done nothing in this speech, with the exception of an alleged genocide in Donbas. The Americans have turned their Ukrainian friends into Nazis, which is a huge difference from the Russians who defeated Nazism and dislike the Americans.


Thus, Putin’s speech proceeded from the (1) terra nullius to the (2) pre-emptive genocide accusation to (3) distorting the memory of the initial condition by historical manipulations to (4) stretching the ethnic difference and the required change. In the end of his speech, Putin reiterated his denials and euphemisms: “The current events have nothing to do with a desire to infringe on the interests of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. They are connected with defending Russia from those who have taken Ukraine hostage”. Depriving Ukraine of agency, Putin says that its national pattern had already been destroyed by the American-led genocide. The forthcoming Russian genocide would purge this Americanised pattern. It would change the spoiled Ukrainian condition to a different one, which is similar to the Russian condition. There would be no genocide because any genocide that would happen is a genocide in reverse, which would merely purge the results of the previous genocide.


Genocide of small difference


Presenting his concept of genocide at the United Nations in New York after the Second World War, Raphael Lemkin focused on the Jewish Holocaust. However, a closer analysis suggests that Lemkin developed his concept of barbarity of the state, later reformulated as genocide, while practicing law in Lviv and Warsaw in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Lemkin’s formative experience for the concept was the Ukrainian famine, which he studied from the Polish side of the border. A pioneer in understanding the Holodomor as genocide, Lemkin later applied his emerging concept to a variety of other national experiences. While scholars keep debating whether the Ukrainian famine was a genocide, it is increasingly clear that the Holodomor rested at the root of Lemkin’s concept, and later this concept was applied to the Holocaust.11 Understanding Lemkin’s concept of genocide as a reflection of the Ukrainian Holodomor changes the historical perspective and connotations of this concept. Arguably, this revisionist history of the concept of genocide could help to resolve its revisionist theory as it was revealed by Dirk Moses.


Organising collectivisation that led to the Holodomor, Stalin’s clique wished to transform the Ukrainian peasantry, which they perceived as individualist and profit-centred. Instead, the survivors would accept a communitarian, ascetic and bureaucratic order of the “collective farm”, which was thought to be close to the habits and values of the Russian peasants, most of them descendants of serfs. As Lemkin stated in 1944, “Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor”.12 Leading to genocide, imperial arrogance stretched the actual differences between the incoming settlers and the native populations. In the Soviet Union, the Stalinist elite also viewed the “archaic mores” and “primitive consciousness” of local peasants as vastly different from its own utopian ideas. In this sense, Soviet collectivisation with its disastrous Holodomor was an extreme case of colonisation, which was directed from the imperial centre and aimed at the transformation of its resource-bearing colony.


In most cases of colonisation, the oppressor and the oppressed are separated by huge and variegated distances – geographical, racial, economic, cultural, religious, linguistic, etc. These differences and distances are crucial – they shape the patterns of imperial governance. Overcoming geographical distance led to great discoveries. Perceived differences in skin colour provided ground for racism. Differences in culture, language and religion invited anthropology and linguistics – fields of knowledge that had orientalist tendencies. Differences in economic and technological development led to military superiority of the empire and exploitation of the colonies. Many of these differences were constructed by the colonisers in their own interest; some were real, objective, accessible to independent observation. A historian finds such situations in the genocidal actions committed against the natives of America or Siberia, or in imperial wars in Africa and Asia.


In the twentieth century, we are confronting a different situation. Differentiating between Lemkin’s two phases was not easy, as the perceived differences between the oppressor and the oppressed were in short supply. But even if the oppressor had a hard time in formulating them, there should have been some markers of difference and distance, however artificially constructed: if not languages, then dialects and accents; if not different religions, then different uniforms or fashions; if not the colour of the skin, then the ways of cutting hair or shaving beards. There is no genocide without distinct “national patterns”, but the differences between these patterns could be negligible for any other purposes but genocide. This was, in fact, the situation with the Holocaust in German lands. There, the murderers and the murdered shared the same culture, language, economic development, and ways of living. There was a religious difference between the practicing Jews and Christians, but many of them were so thoroughly secularised that such difference was close to none. The perpetrators had to draw subtle differentiations by calculating the fractions of “Jewish blood” in individual genealogies or looking for circumcision. Many other cases that have been widely recognised as genocides followed the same logic of minor differences. Historians know that the Armenian genocide (1915-1917) cannot be explained by the religious hostilities between the Muslims and the Christians. Young Turks – mostly intellectuals and military officers – who came to power in the Ottoman Empire in 1908, aimed at secularising their country. At the start of their activities, the Armenian radicals – also secular intellectuals and military officers – supported the Young Turks and took part in their movement. The genocide did not happen while Turks and Armenians were living side by side through the centuries in separate religious communities; it occurred when their religious differences were largely eliminated.


Norwegian scholar Pål Kolstø, who produced ethnographic research in the former Yugoslavia, stated: “the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians spoke the same language, looked alike, dressed alike, watched the same movies, listened to the same music, and basically ate the same food”.13 The same could be safely said about the Russians and Ukrainians, as they lived together – both in Russia and in Ukraine – before the disastrous Russo-Ukrainian War that started in 2014. The lack of meaningful differences does not diminish the scale or cruelty of mass murder. The opposite is the case: lesser differences lead to greater violence. Once the murderous conflict starts, the perceived differences proliferate like an avalanche. There is no greater difference in the human world than the one between victim and perpetrator.


From Sibboleth to kukuruza


When the differences between “national patterns” of perpetrators and the communities they target appear to be negligible, the oppressors create markers of difference from scratch. In the Bible, there is a story about how the Hebrews fought against a neighbouring people, the Ephraimites. Having lost a battle, the Ephraimites tried to escape by pretending to be Jews. The captured fugitives had to pass a phonetic test – to say the Jewish word “Shibboleth”. Saying “Sibboleth” instead, 42,000 Ephraimites were killed (Judges, 12:5-6). Were Ephraimites killed by the troops of Jephthah because they could not say Shibboleth? Yes, because they were identified by this marker. No, because the roots of the war were elsewhere, and the Book of Judges acknowledges them in historical detail: “Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute”. As a bastard, he did not get an inheritance. “A gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him”. The Ammonite king started the war against the people of Gilead. They asked Jephthah to protect them; he agreed and defeated the Ammonites. But then, inexplicably, Jephthah decided to kill the neighbouring Ephraimites, and the Book of Judges does not explain it. However, we learn from the Judges that the Jews of Gilead led by Jephthah “did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines”. Samson’s miracle was needed to redeem the evil of Jephthah.


Citing this story, Victor Shklovsky, the Russian-Jewish literary scholar and participant in the First World War and subsequent Civil War in Kyiv, added: “The Bible repeats itself in a curious way […]. In the Ukraine [sic] I saw a Jewish boy. He could not look at the corn without trembling. He told me: When they were killing us in the Ukraine, they needed to check whether the person they were about to kill was Jewish. They asked him: ‘Say kukuruza (corn)’. Sometimes, he said: Kukuruzha. They killed him”.14


The Bible repeats itself, and there is not much difference between the use of phonetic markers and the Nazi method of identifying the Jews by circumcision: neither of these signs of difference deserves a murder. Thinking about the same paradox, Sigmund Freud introduced his concept of the “narcissism of minor differences” in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego: “Closely related races keep one another at arm’s length; the South German cannot endure the North German, the Englishman casts every kind of aspersion on the Scotchman, the Spaniard despises the Portuguese”.15 In his later Civilization and its Discontents, Freud formulated: “it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other as well, that are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other—like the Spaniards and the Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and the South Germans, the English and the Scotch and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of the ‘narcissism of minor differences,’ a name that does not do much to explain it”.16


The latter is probably true. There are myriads of differences between human groups, and the number of small differences is infinite. How and why one of them would be reinterpreted as a socially acceptable reason for murder, remains unexplained. Even very “big” differences between social groups are unstable and malleable. Looking at racial differences, Critical Race Theory deconstructs them by arguing that racial differences have no objective references – they are all created by cultural perceptions. One could say that Critical Race Theory works as the exact opposite to the theory of the narcissism of small differences: the former turns big differences, as they are perceived in the racialist society, into minor and accidental collaterals of cultural interactions; the latter turns small differences into decisive factors that decide life and death. We could assume that all differences between social groups such as race are culturally constructed. There is no “objective” metrics that could define which differences are small (accents) and which differences are big (races). They are all constructed, contingent and fluid. A whim of history could turn any set of human differences into a genocidal matter. And conversely, culture and education can discharge or aestheticise any set of differences for the sake of humanity.


The narcissism of small differences does not explain any particular murder. Many human groups are similar, but this similarity does not lead them to killing one another. In his careful analysis, Michael Ignatieff discerned the long-term manipulations of national emotions that were launched by the Communist government of Yugoslavia in order to cling to power.17 When this power collapsed, the inherited political sentiments plus the new post-Communist greed led to mutual killings. Genocide does not work like a causal chain of events that starts from a small difference and ends with a mass grave. The opposite is true. A mass murder happens for a reason that has nothing to do with ethnic differences, large or small. But when it happens, the survivors on both sides explain it by converting their small, negligible differences into grand, overwhelming narratives. There are differences between the “national patterns” of the oppressors and the oppressed but, like a phonetic test or circumcised flesh, these differences do not justify the murders. Paradoxically, genocide starts with a mass murder and ends in guesswork about the minor differences that led up to it.


From Jephthah to Putin, the reason for genocide is the oppressors’ striving to establish their order on the occupied lands. Their motives have been many; not having an inheritance was just one of them. The murderers want to take power, property, and recognition from their own kind and from the neighbouring peoples. They refuse to differentiate between them, pretending that the differences are so small that they do not exist. But during this war and because of it, their political differences become so amplified that no test would be needed for the purpose.


A story of Z


When Russian tanks and trucks invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the letter Z was painted on their sides. Returning from the front back to the rear, this letter spread all over Russia, figuring as a symbol of war and a sign of support. Patriots painted it on police cars, on the sides of buildings and on their clothing. In Kazan, children who were dying in a hospice were lined up in a Z formation for a macabre photo that was widely disseminated by state media. The letter Z has become a symbol of a particular set of ideas – militant, patriotic and, most importantly, fully supportive of the Kremlin regime and its invasion of Ukraine. Patriotic Z-poets run their Z-events, and volumes of Z-poetry have been published. Even in Europe, pro-Putin processions carried flags and posters with Z symbols. The process went so far that one solid Swiss company, Zurich Insurance, had to abandon its Z brand symbol that it had used for decades.18


The war being fought was against the West and its influence in Ukraine, so why was a Latin letter — foreign to the Cyrillic alphabet — chosen as its symbol? There was no official explanation, so theories multiplied. Some said that the Z came from the Russian word zapad, which means “the West”; others argued it stood for Zelensky and that Russian troops had been ordered to kill him. True believers saw in the Z one half of the swastika, which they claimed was an ancient symbol of the Slavs. Critics thought it was taken from zombie films. Whatever the truth, Z has proliferated in Russian life and media.


In a series of improvised explanations, the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) produced various fantasies about the origins of the letter Z, each excluding the others.19 In the weird world of bureaucratic semiosis, the very agency that was responsible for military information and propaganda – the agency that had clearly authorised the use of the symbol Z on military vehicles, roads, and buildings – had no clue to the meaning of its master-signifier.


Putin’s Kremlin was determined to destroy the “national pattern” of the Ukrainians and replace it with the “national pattern” of the Russians while proclaiming that they were one and the same people. The perceived differences were small, but the political results were enormous. During the first two post-Soviet decades, the Russians and the Ukrainians were so similar that no Shibboleth test could have differentiated them. Even after 2014, to identify the enemy among a people who looked and sounded like themselves, Russian soldiers could not rely even on accents — many Ukrainians had similar or identical ways of pronouncing Russian words.20 But after 2022, any hint of the alleged “similarity” between the Ukrainians and the Russians would provoke an instinctive allergy among the Ukrainians, who believe that Putin’s genocidal war has anonymous support among the Russian population. Whether this is true or not, the observable differences were still very thin. At checkpoints, Russian soldiers searched people for “Nazi tattoos”, and anyone who had anything vaguely interpretable on their skin was beaten or killed. A small observable difference between the two neighbouring peoples has grown into a gigantic, truly oceanic distance between their subjective feelings.


Directing or justifying its extraordinary act of violence that led to unjustifiable losses and a series of genocidal events, the Russian leadership combined a primitive, essentialist view on ethnicity with an illusion of identity between two political nations. Denying their actual contrasts, those who sent soldiers to Ukraine needed to establish their own marks of difference. Since in their view, there were no real words or cultural symbols that could serve to differentiate friends from foes, a symbol had to be invented from scratch. It does not really matter where the Z first appeared — entirely senseless, it is the belief in the Z, the love for the Z, the identification with the Z, that identifies what the Russians call a true patriot.




  1. “Article by Vladimir Putin ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians’”, President of Russia, 12 July (2021), http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181.
  2. Andrew Wilson, “Russia and Ukraine: ‘One People’ as Putin Claims?”, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, 23 December (2021), https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/russia-and-ukraine-one-people-putin-claims.
  3. Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political: Expanded Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
  4. Timothy Snyder, “The War on History Is a War on Democracy”, The New York Times Magazine, 29 June (2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/29/magazine/memory-laws.html; Serhii Plokhy, The Russo-Ukrainian War: The Return of History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2023).
  5. “Ukraine Says Killing of Civilians in Bucha a ‘Deliberate Massacre’”, The Moscow Times, 3 April (2022), https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/04/03/mass-grave-of-57-bodies-in-bucha-ukrainian-official-a77191.
  6. “Kyiv Mayor Says Russian Attacks in Bucha Are ‘Genocide’”, The Times of Israel, 3 April (2022), https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/kyiv-mayor-says-russian-attacks-in-bucha-are-genocide/.
  7. Eugene Finkel, “What’s Happening in Ukraine Is Genocide. Period”, The Washington Post, 5 April (2022), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/04/05/russia-is-committing-genocide-in-ukraine/.
  8. “Address by the President of the Russian Federation”, President of Russia, 24 February (2022), http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/67843.
  9. Ibid.
  10. For stylistic purposes, in Putin’s quotes, we hereinafter use the Romanised Russian, rather than Ukrainian, versions of the names of Ukraine’s cities and regions.
  11. Alexander Etkind, “Ukraine, Russia, and Genocide of Minor Differences”, Journal of Genocide Research, 7 June (2022), https://doi.org/10.1080/14623528.2022.2082911.
  12. Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress (Clark: Lawbook Exchange, 2005), p. 79.
  13. Pål Kolstø, “The ‘Narcissism of Minor Differences’ Theory: Can It Explain Ethnic Conflict?”, Filozofija i drustvo, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2007), pp. 153-171 (154).
  14. Viktor Shklovskii, Zoo, or, Letters Not about Love (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971).
  15. Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (London: The International Psychoanalytic Press, 1922), p. 55.
  16. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, Standard Edition, Vol. 21 (London: Hogarth Press, 1961), p. 114.
  17. Michael Ignatieff, Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism (London: BBC Books, 1994), p. 14.
  18. “Zurich Insurance Removes Z Symbol after Letter Used to Show Support for Ukraine War”, Reuters, 26 March (2022), https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/zurich-insurance-removes-z-symbol-after-letter-used-show-support-ukraine-war-2022-03-26/.
  19. As Wikipedia summed it up, the MoD “suggested alternative meanings for ‘Z’, including ‘For peace’ (Russian: за мир, romanized: za mir), ‘For truth’ (Russian: за правду, romanized: za pravdu), ‘For ours’ (Russian: за наших, romanized: za nashikh), and the letter Z in words demilitarization and denazification, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has asserted to be the purpose of the invasion”, see “Z (military symbol)”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z_(military_symbol).
  20. The Ukrainians have their own phonetic test to distinguish between the native Ukrainian speakers and Russian speakers, see Alexander J. Motyl, “War of Words: We Say ‘Palyanitsya’, They Say ‘Palyanitsa’”, Crikey, 14 MARCH (2022), https://www.crikey.com.au/2022/03/14/ukraine-invasion-war-of-words/. However, with about half of the population of the capital, and from one-fifth to one-third of the army speaking Russian as their native language, an application of any such test would be unjustifiable.

Related links


Alexander Etkind’s book Russia against Modernity (2023)



Alexander Etkind (2022) “Ukraine, Russia, and Genocide of Minor Differences”, Journal of Genocide Research