Ukrainophobic Imaginations of the Russian Siloviki: The Case of Nikolai Patrushev, 2014-2023
Martin Kragh, Andreas Umland
[This article is part of our research initiative “Russia’s Project ‘Anti-Ukraine’”]
The so-called siloviki (literally: “people of the force”), i.e. representatives of the Russian government’s armed ministries and agencies, are today the primary decision shapers and makers in Moscow.1 Within this larger group, the representatives of Russia’s security services, which have emerged out of the USSR’s Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti, better known as KGB) and Main Intelligence Directorate (Glavnoe razvedovatel’noe upravlenie, GRU), play an especially prominent role.2 Sometimes it is argued that one should speak of a “militocracy”, i.e. that men (and only very few women) in different uniforms rule Russia today.3 Within the siloviki group in Russia’s leadership, the second most important figure – after Vladimir Putin himself – is commonly assumed to be Russia’s Security Council Secretary, Nikolai Patrushev.4
In a Post-Soviet Affairs essay published in May 2023, we briefly compared the political views of Patrushev and the Head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergei Naryshkin, during the period 2006-20.5 This investigation touched upon several of Patrushev’s favourite political topics, including Ukraine. It dealt with his published utterances before the start, in late 2020, of Moscow’s preparations of a large-scale invasion into Ukraine.6 During that period, “Patrushev’s statements [on Ukraine were] more frequent and overtly anti-Ukrainian than Naryshkin’s less dualistic discourse”, and the “main theme in the Security Council Secretary’s statements [was] the allegedly central role [in Ukraine] of ultra-nationalists in the Euromaidan and its aftermath”.7
However, our 2023 essay documented Patrushev’s anti-Ukrainian views which were circulated by various Kremlin-controlled and other Russian media only in small part. These views were expressed on many other occasions before and after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022. The Security Council Secretary has, over the years, frequently and with increasing consistency expressed his growing Ukrainophobia.
Patrushev’s anti-Ukrainianism mainly but not exclusively circles around two themes familiar to observers of Russian politics from similar statements by Vladimir Putin and other official Russian representatives: Ukraine’s alleged fascism, and the country’s instrumentalisation by the United States.8 This chapter documents Patrushev’s Ukrainophobic views with numerous quotes, including his statements after Russia started its full-scale invasion into Ukraine.
Whereas our recent paper on Naryshkin and Patrushev was structured around particular themes, the below chapter follows a chronological line. Often the quotes are partly or fully repetitive regarding their general contents and main messages. They are here, nevertheless, extensively documented, as this allows us to observe certain nuances between them as well as occasional shifts in the evolution of Patrushev’s views on Ukraine, during the period from October 2014 to May 2023.9 This chapter will deconstruct not so much the lack of truth and balance in Patrushev’s assertions about Ukraine than their context, function, and implications within contemporary Russian discourse and politics.
Patrushev’s Pan-Russian Nationalism
A central theme not only in Russian propaganda, but also non-Russian and even some Western debates around the nature of the Russian-Ukrainian War, is the allegedly crucial role of the West and especially the United States in starting and escalating this intra-Slavic conflict. This is also a recurring topic within – as documented below – Patrushev’s narrative about Ukraine. This discourse could be seen as being less a variety of anti-Ukrainianism than of anti-Westernism, and especially anti-Americanism.10
However, the latter themes turn into Ukrainophobia via a well-known pan-nationalist supposition about Ukraine extrapolated from Russia’s mainstream nationalism.11 According to this axiom, a once innocent, sub-ethnic Ukrainian people with largely cloudless relations to its Russian elder brother has been poisoned by Western influence. Depending on the concrete statement of the particular Kremlin representative or pro-Kremlin stakeholder, the cultural differences between the two “brotherly” Ukrainian and Russian people are either somewhat or not at all acknowledged. Some pan-nationalist agendas allow for certain uniquely Ukrainian traditional traits while others do not; the latter see, for instance, the Ukrainian language as merely a dialect of high Russian. Often the dividing line between the two approaches is blurry.
In any case, within mainstream Russian nationalism the distinctions between the two ethnic groups are, if at all, only culturally yet not politically relevant. This virulent, expansive, and disrespectful form of colonial pan-Slavism can thus be specified as “pan-Russianism”. The more important generic community to which both ethnicities supposedly belong is a greater Russian nation and not a larger Slavic community.
The pan-Russian variety of pan-Slavic ideology asserts not merely politically relevant cultural similarities between different peoples using Slavic vernaculars. “Pan-Russianism” pretends that the “Great Russians” or “velikorossy” (i.e. ethnic Russians), “White Russians” or “belorusy” (i.e. Belarusians), and “Little Russians” or “malorossy” (i.e. Ukrainians) together form the “Russian people” or “russkiy narod”. They belong to one and the same East Slavic Orthodox / Russian super-nation or civilisation.12
This idea is, of course, not new; it will be familiar to most students of Russia, as it appeared already in the pre-revolutionary Russian nationalist discourse of the late Romanov period.13 Surprisingly, it continues to be reproduced in its original form in the 21st century regardless of the many changes that have taken place over the last two centuries, and despite the existence of three different, fully recognised East Slavic post-Soviet states since 1991. The rather antiquated, but still salient narrative is not only ignorant of the new political realities of the last thirty years. It also plays down many older and, partly, age-old linguistic, religious, cultural and other differences between Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians.14
Patrushev’s Ukrainophobia in 2014-2021
As shown below, Patrushev identifies the West as being responsible for most relevant domestic developments in Kyiv as well as the concomitant estrangement between Russians and Ukrainians during the last several years – if not also before. The United States is portrayed as the main culprit behind the armed escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict since 2014. According to Patrushev and the general Kremlin propaganda line, growing Western influence in Eastern Europe and not Russia’s actions have triggered a rise of Russophobia within, among other countries, Ukraine. Eventually, it was Western mingling that triggered the large-scale war between the two countries in 2022.
This narrative of outside seduction, subversion, and instigation fulfils, as in the case of other phobias expressed in different historical situations and regions of the world, various political and psychological functions. The destructive machinations of a third party provide the rationale for Patrushev and other official Russian opinion shapers to present their Ukrainophobia as a defensive reaction rather than an offensive agenda. In the eyes of most Russian nationalists – but also a surprisingly large number of non-Russian observers – Ukrainophobia is thereby fully or partly legitimised. It supposedly constitutes simply a response to the Russophobia of the West and its Ukrainian vassal state.
According to Patrushev, before the start of armed hostilities in early 2014, Russia was supportive of Ukraine. The Russian Security Council Secretary presented Moscow as an initially well-meaning and partially naïve partner of Kyiv. Says Patrushev in October 2014:
[I]t should be recognised that the likelihood of a one-step seizure of power in Kiev, supported by militant groups of outright Nazis, was not foreseen [at the end of 2013]. Let me remind you that before the mentioned coup, Moscow had been fully fulfilling all its partnership obligations to Kyiv. We were continuously providing material and financial assistance, without which Ukraine was unable to cope with the economic difficulties that had become chronic. Tens of billions of dollars in material and financial resources were mobilised to support our neighbours.15
Yet, a competing flow of money from the United States was, according to Patrushev in October 2014, designed to destroy the previously harmonious relationship between the two countries:
[T]he Ukrainian crisis was quite an expected result of the systematic activities of the United States and its closest allies. For the last quarter of a century, these activities aimed at a complete separation of Ukraine and other former Soviet republics from Russia, a total reformation of the post-Soviet space according to American interests. For example, Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, has repeatedly stated that Washington spent $5 billion between 1991 and 2013 to “support the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for a more powerful, democratic government”. Even according to publicly available sources, such as US congressional documents, the total public funding for various US “assistance” programs to Ukraine from 2001 to 2012 amounted to at least $2.4 billion. The US Agency for International Development spent about $1.5 billion, the State Department spent almost half a billion, and the Pentagon spent over $370 million. […] [A]s a result of these activities, a whole generation has been raised in Ukraine, completely poisoned by hatred for Russia and the mythology of “European values”.16
The idea that the West and in particular the United States have promoted domestic tensions in Ukraine to divide Russian- and Ukrainian-speakers within Ukraine, and the Russian and Ukrainian peoples at large, is a recurring theme in Patrushev’s rhetoric. According to the Russian Security Council Secretary, Western-inspired measures by the Ukrainian government were allegedly often responsible for escalation of tensions in those places where Russian proxies and agents were active.17 For instance, in May 2017, Patrushev says:
I would like to draw attention once again to the nature of the current crisis in Ukraine: It is the result of an anti-constitutional coup organised by the West, which residents of a number of regions could not put up with. The most acute conflict has arisen between Kiev18 and the proclaimed republics of the Donbass, which is fuelled by Kiev’s military and punitive actions against its own citizens. […] The arson and shooting in the Trade Union House in Odessa [in May 2014], the murders of journalists and politicians in Kiev, threats against veterans of the Great Patriotic War, radical atrocities against everything that has anything to do with ethnic Russians or is Russia-related – remain unpunished.19
In January 2019, Patrushev previewed a major line of apology of the Kremlin for Russia’s 2022 large-scale invasion of Ukraine. The Security Council Secretary claimed that (a) Ukraine was split, (b) Ukraine’s nationalist government as well as its even more radical allies oppressed Russian-speakers in eastern and southern Ukraine, and (c) the country might thus lose its statehood. Such pre-emptive victim-blaming reminds one of Adolf Hitler’s infamous January 1939 speech announcing the coming world war, which blamed the Jews for its impending outbreak:
if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevising of the earth, and thus a victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!20
Almost exactly 80 years later in January 2019, Patrushev writes:
The Kiev authorities are doing everything to split Ukraine, practicing the Western scenario of tearing Ukraine away from Russia, while ignoring the interests of their own people. As a result, the country is de facto split. The population of the western regions is distrustful of natives of the southeast, considering them supporters of the “Russian world”. In the southern and eastern regions, Kiev’s power is largely ensured by moral and physical oppression of the local population by national radicals. As a result, anti-government sentiments are growing in these regions. The social schism is exacerbated by inter-church confrontation. The continuation of such policies by the Kiev authorities could contribute to the loss of Ukrainian statehood.21
In the anti-Western narrative of Patrushev and other opinion shapers of Russia, allegedly foreign-inspired “colour revolutions” do not lead to the establishment of liberal regimes. Instead of democratisation, the countries coming under Western influence – with Ukraine as the most prominent example – experience fascistisation. In early August 2020, Patrushev argued in a long interview on fascism that, after 1945, only the USSR engaged in serious de-fascistisation, while elsewhere fascists were prosecuted either not seriously enough or not at all. The US’s post-war strategy was to scare countries with the warning that “The Russians are coming!” and then to bring ultra-nationalists to power.22
The results of this were not slow to show already in the 1960s and 1970s: dozens of political regimes with more or less pronounced fascist features (so-called para-fascism) emerged in the world. The overwhelming majority of them were in the camp of US allies. […]
[The reapplication of old anti-Soviet methods in the 21st century] was especially evident in Ukraine, where such neo-Nazi organisations as Svoboda, UNA-UNSO, Right Sector, National Corps, and the Volunteer Movement of the OUN (banned in the Russian Federation) broke through to leading roles in politics after the events of 2014. Their leaders are in favour of building a “corporate-syndicalist” and essentially Nazi state in Ukraine. Russophobia, which these organisations inherited from the Ukrainian accomplices of the fascists of the 1930s and 1940s, is being imposed on the brotherly people. Inspired by the examples of Nazi Germany, Ukrainian neo-Nazis smash stores with signs in Russian, burn Russian-language books, and sometimes even people – like the Anti-Maidan activists in Odessa’s Trade Union House on 2 May 2014. Ukrainian radicals intimidate their fellow citizens and interfere with normal socio-political processes.23
When, in early 2021, Russia started openly preparing for the 2022 large-scale invasion, Patrushev was following Putin’s line of denying Russia’s war preparation while reserving the right for Moscow to take action. In an interview for the relatively liberal Russian daily newspaper Kommersant, Patrushev outlined a narrative, also popular among many Western commentators, about a division within Ukraine going far beyond those of other divided countries, while also asserting its ridiculously incompetent leadership and its nature as a dependent or client state of the United States.24
In April 2021, Patrushev says:
We are not hatching such plans [of interfering in the alleged inner-Ukrainian conflict], no. But we are closely monitoring the situation. Based on its development, specific measures will be taken. […] I am convinced that this is a consequence of serious internal problems in Ukraine, from which the authorities are trying to divert attention in this way. They are solving their problems at the expense of Donbass, as capital has long been flowing out of the country, the economy is still sustained only by onerous foreign loans, the debt on which is growing, and those remnants of industry that have managed to stay afloat are being sold off by Kiev to foreigners, as they say nowadays, at democratic prices. Even the famous Ukrainian black soil and timber are exported abroad by railroad trains, depriving the country of this asset. And in return – only the same cookies that the Americans handed out on the Maidan [i.e. Kyiv’s Independence Square, in December 2013].25
In November 2021, Patrushev argued that Ukraine had less to fear from Russia than other countries, because its population was tied to the Russians through family resemblance. Moscow’s stationing of military equipment on Ukraine’s border was thus entirely innocent:
The rhetoric of the Western press and high-ranking US officials that Russia is hatching aggressive plans has no basis in fact. The Russian Federation has never shown hostility towards any state, and especially not towards Ukraine, which is home to a people common to us in blood, language, and history. There are no unjustified movements of Russian troops and no unscheduled exercises near the border with Ukraine.26
Patrushev and the Full-Scale War since 2022
Since the start of Russia’s large-scale attack on Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the Kremlin’s propaganda line has been increasingly proclaiming an instrumental character of Ukraine within the United States’ alleged proxy war against Russia. In earlier comments by Patrushev and other Russian regime representatives, the emphasis on – or assertion of – endogenous defects in Ukraine’s history, state, society, economy, culture, and elite also played a prominent role.
By contrast, in the wake of the transformation of the Russian-Ukrainian war into the largest armed conflict in Europe after the Second World War (1939-45), the Russian official rhetoric – including Patrushev’s – shifted. On the real-world determinants of this general shift in Russian propaganda, Anton Shekhovtsov noted in early 2023:
As [the Russians] consider the Ukrainians inferior to them, they fail to cope with the military successes of the Ukrainian army on the battlefield, so their defense mechanism is to imagine that they are fighting with mighty NATO rather than with Ukrainians.27
Since early 2022, the justification for Russia’s attack on Ukraine has more and more accentuated the supposedly exogenous transformation of an initially Russia-friendly and innocent Ukraine into an anti-Russian fascist state. Influence from the West, and, in particular, the United States, according to this narrative, is mainly if not exclusively responsible for the war. The Ukrainian nationalists, allegedly mobilised by the US for this purpose, are – according to Patrushev and other Russian spokespersons – so unpopular that a purported widespread fear of them has united most Ukrainians.
For instance, in April 2022, Patrushev writes:
In an attempt to suppress Russia, the Americans, using their proxies in Kiev, decided to create an antipode of our country, cynically choosing Ukraine for this purpose, trying to divide an essentially united [pan-Russian] nation. […] However, history teaches us that hatred can never be a reliable factor in popular unity. If anything unites the people living in Ukraine today, it is fear of the atrocities of nationalist battalions.28
Throughout 2022, Russia’s official aims of a “denazification” and “demilitarisation” of Ukraine were among the most important narratives in the Kremlin’s official pronouncements and propaganda campaign explaining the war.29 The Kremlin’s propaganda line mixes, in this explanation, a missionary apology referring to Moscow’s extraterritorial responsibilities with a defensive justification alluding to an alleged threat emanating from Ukraine for the Russian people. As a result, Russia’s 2022 escalation of the war appears as the implementation of a comprehensive Russian rescue plan in, for and from a Ukrainian state and elite infiltrated by Western values, programmes, and agencies. The urgency of this operation is asserted with reference to a purported development, in Ukraine, of Western and/or Ukrainian weapons of mass destruction – presumably to be used, in the future, against Russia.
Two months after the start of the so-called “special military operation”, Patrushev formulated Russia’s at that time major official war aim in this way:
Speaking of denazification, our goal is to defeat the bridgehead of neo-Nazism created by Western efforts near our borders. The need for demilitarisation is due to the fact that a Ukraine saturated with arms poses a threat to Russia, including in terms of the development and use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.30
Like in other Kremlin pronouncements regarding Russia’s war against Ukraine since 2014, the alleged blueprint for Moscow’s behaviour vis-à-vis Kyiv is the Allies’ treatment of Germany during and after the Second World War. Within this historical framework, Ukraine is an Eastern European reincarnation of the Third Reich, and thus needs to be treated similarly. Historical lessons can be drawn not only from the Anti-Hitler Coalition’s war against the Axis Powers, but also from its early post-war policies towards Nazis in occupied Germany.
In an article published exactly three months after the start of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine, Patrushev asserts far-reaching similarities between Germany in 1945 and Ukraine in 2022:
Denazification meant a range of measures. In addition to punishing Nazi criminals, the laws of the Third Reich legalising discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, language, religion, and political opinion were abolished. Nazi and militaristic doctrines were removed from school education.
Our country had set such goals in 1945 and we are setting them now, when we are freeing Ukraine from neo-Nazism. [Back] at that time, however, England and the USA were together with us. Today [by contrast], these countries have taken a different stance supporting Nazism and acting aggressively against most of the world.31
In the same interview, Patrushev asserts a parallel of current events with the Soviet Union’s war against Nazi Germany.32 In a particularly bizarre turn, he portrays Russia’s war against Ukraine as a continuation of a special Russian mission of waging wars out of compassion:33
We are not chasing deadlines. Nazism must either be eradicated 100% or it will raise its head in a few years, and in an even uglier form. […]
All the goals set by the President of Russia will be met. It cannot be otherwise because the truth, including historical truth, is on our side. It is not for nothing that General [Mikhail] Skobelev [1843-82] once said that only our country can afford the luxury of fighting out of compassion [sostradanie]. Compassion, justice, dignity – these are powerful unifying ideas that we have always put and will always put at the forefront.34
In many statements by Patrushev and other Kremlin spokespersons, Ukraine appears as a naïve object of foreign manipulation. In other narratives, by contrast, the Ukrainian state is portrayed as a devious international actor secretly preparing usage of weapons of mass destruction. In a statement from the summer of 2022, Patrushev returns to the above-mentioned rhetorical device – reminiscent of Hitler’s January 1939 speech – of warning Kyiv that it is itself triggering Ukraine’s destruction:
Further indifference by European politicians to Kiev’s growing appetite for subversion, threatening nuclear facilities and attempting to use chemical and bacteriological weapons could ultimately lead to Ukraine’s self-destruction and irreparable consequences for the West itself.35
As the large-scale war has continued, the emphasis in Kremlin public discourse on the West’s alleged utilisation of Ukraine as a staging area for a proxy war against Russia has grown further. The claim of the United States’ instrumentalisation of Ukrainian territory and infrastructure for a delegated inter-state war against Russia is made, by the Kremlin, for obviously apologetic purposes: a deadly threat to the Russian nation emanating from Ukraine’s role as Washington’s anti-Moscow puppet provides justification – vis-à-vis both domestic and foreign audiences – for the ruthlessness of Russia’s genocidal warfare against the Ukrainian state and population.36 The supposedly existential danger of a Ukraine purportedly subverted by the anti-Russian West explains Moscow’s indiscriminate use of all means available against the Ukrainian nation.
In October 2022, Patrushev says:
Today Russia, when liberating the people of Ukraine from neo-Nazism, is fighting not only nationalist formations and the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The NATO bloc is essentially fighting against us. […]
The United States and its allies have long been implementing their plans to create biological weapons in laboratories to be deployed around the world, including near Russian borders. […]
Therefore, solving the tasks of denazification and demilitarisation of Ukraine is a necessary condition for neutralising threats to the security of our people and the people in the liberated territories, as well as for protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.37
With reference to the allegedly critical role of the West, and in particular the United States in the outbreak and course of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the inter-Slavic conflict between Russians (narrowly understood) and Ukrainians is portrayed by the Kremlin as a misunderstanding. According to this Kremlin propaganda line, also popular in some Western circles, the war’s sole explanation is that Russia is actually fighting the West in Ukraine, and not the brotherly Ukrainian people.38
For instance, in early 2023, Patrushev says:
The events in Ukraine are not a clash between Moscow and Kyiv, they are a military confrontation between NATO, and above all the US and Britain, and Russia. […] We are not at war with Ukraine, because by definition we cannot have hatred towards ordinary Ukrainians.39
Like other Kremlin spokespersons, Patrushev presents the cleansing of alleged neo-Nazis from Ukrainian society as a simple solution for the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. In January 2023, he announced:
The neo-Nazi criminals who have rampaged across Ukraine in recent years will inevitably face punishment. However, it is possible that the most odious ones will be rescued by their handlers for use in other countries, including for organising state coups and sabotage acts.40
In April 2023, Patrushev again allowed for a certain independent agency of the Ukrainian government, and speaks of assistance rather than guidance from the West to Ukraine’s ostensible anti-Russian misdeeds:
[The Ukrainian authorities] have tried, with terrorist methods, to control citizens, oppressing them on ethnic and religious grounds, cracking down on people even for their neutral attitude towards everything Russian. […]
With the assistance of the US and its allies, Kiev is increasing its terrorist activity. There is a high level of grave and especially grave crimes committed by the accomplices of the Kiev regime. The Ukrainian security services are exerting large-scale information and psychological influence on the population with the aim of intimidating them.41
Ukraine’s increasing forays into the territory of Russia, during the escalating war, confirms the worst fears of Patrushev. For him, this proves that Ukraine has become the anti-Russia. In May 2023, Patrushev says:
The special military operation (SMO) is accompanied by attempts of the Kiev regime to aggravate and destabilise the situation on the territory of Russia, especially in the border regions… The main objectives of Ukrainian saboteurs are to disrupt the activities of the authorities and local self-government, intimidate the population, and disable infrastructure, including that used to support the SMO.42
The viciousness and outlandishness of Patrushev’s above documented Ukrainophobia is typical, by current Russian standards, of the Kremlin’s siloviki faction and general Russian propaganda representatives and propagandists. It is both the result of, and justified by, the Russian Security Council Secretary’s absurd denial of the existence of a proper Ukrainian national state, people, and leadership. The insistence of Patrushev and other siloviki that an alleged Ukrainian fascism as well as subversion by the United States are determining Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policies is designed to resolve the paradox of the Ukrainian nation’s supposedly non-existing yet still functioning state, and continuing resilience in the face of Russia’s massive invasion since 2022. Despite representing the ethnic Russian people’s putative brother nation, certain Ukrainians, so Patrushev’s story goes, turn into enemies of Russia by either
(a) asserting the distinctly non-Russian national identity of the Ukrainian people, or
(b) through their collaboration with the supposedly anti-Russian United States, or
(c) via doing both – this third combined pathology being the most prevalent one.
Ukrainianness has, according to Patrushev and the siloviki, only a right to exist as a subtype of a larger Russianness embracing so-called “Great”, “Little” and “White Russians”. The source of all evil lies, within this permutation of Russian pan-nationalism, not only and not so much within radical Ukrainian nationalism, which is a minor phenomenon in Ukraine.43 Rather, Patrushev’s and similar Russian imperialists’ main problem is with mainstream moderate Ukrainian mass patriotism, its pro-Western orientation, and its more politically as well as geopolitically argued rather than culturally or racially asserted denial of the definition of Ukrainian nationality as sub-Russian.
This type of Russian imperial nationalism is less than other, more ethnocentrically oriented Russian chauvinism, fond of the concept of Novorossiya (New Russia).44 According to our findings (or rather non-findings) above, the idea of Novorossiya and its primary focus on an incorporation of Russian-speaking south-eastern Ukraine into Russia does not seem to play much of a role for Patrushev. Instead, his pan-Russianism cannot accept the growing all-Ukrainian rejection of a common historical fate with the Russians. Patrushev and similar Russian nationalists believe that all Ukrainians – if their existence as an ethnic group is acknowledged at all – and Russians – if they are seen as, at least, somewhat distinct from Ukrainians – are fundamentally bound together.
Patrushev’s assertion leads him – like other pan-Russian nationalists – to dehumanise all those Ukrainians who see their nation as a self-sufficient cultural community, are oriented towards the West rather than the East, and regard the United States as an ally or friend. Patrushev and similar Russian imperial nationalists are sensitive about all three of these issues and hysterically assert that all self-aware Ukrainians are “Nazis”, although none of these outlooks has much to do with Russia. By itself, a merely non-Russian and pro-Western Ukrainian worldview can, within the pan-Russian imagination of the Eastern Slavic world of Patrushev and similar representatives of Russian imperialism, only have an anti-Russian meaning, and thus only be fascist.45 This labelling, in turn, serves as a justification for Russian genocidal policies in Ukraine as an expression of anti-fascism.46
The paranoid Ukrainophobia of pan-Russian nationalism, as represented by Patrushev, turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Russian disrespect for such elementary Ukrainian desires as an independent identity, statehood and church, as well as for autonomous national policies in cultural, educational or foreign affairs, has triggered far-reaching counter-reactions in Ukraine. Russia’s occupation of Crimea and Donbas since 2014, as well as Moscow’s justification for it, had wide-scale after-effects not so much in western or central Ukraine, which was, in any case, already sceptical about Russian imperialism. Rather, they had sweeping repercussions in southern and eastern Ukraine. They led, already before Russia’s large-scale invasion of 2022, to an ever-broader embrace, among Ukrainian Russian speakers, of earlier Ukrainian wishes to join not only the EU, but also NATO – an aspiration that was finally included into the Constitution of Ukraine in 2019.47
Russia’s 2014 occupation and subsequent justification have also led to an accelerated nationalisation drive in Ukrainian memory, educational, language, media, and religious affairs – a campaign reminiscent of post-communist policies conducted in the 1990s, for instance, by Latvia and Estonia. From 2015 to 2021, a battery of new Ukrainian laws and decrees focused on nationalisation were adopted in the spheres of remembrance, language, education, and media. And a fully canonical, largely united as well as autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine separate from the Russian Orthodox Church was established in 2019.48
Developments such as these seemed only to confirm earlier phobias by Patrushev and other siloviki, and reaffirmed to them the idea that Ukraine had become anti-Russia. They led to a hardening of the Kremlin’s stance and co-determined the start of the Russian large-scale invasion on 24 February 2022. Moscow’s annihilation war since then has, in turn, triggered a new round of nationalising policies by Kyiv – now under the heading of decolonisation rather than decommunisation – to further separate Ukrainian domestic and foreign affairs from those of Russia’s past, present, and future.
- Ian Bremmer, Samuel Charap, “The Siloviki in Putin’s Russia: Who They Are and What They Want”, The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 1 (2006-2007), pp. 83-92; Daniel Treisman, “Putin’s Silovarchs”, Orbis, Vol. 51, No. 1 (2007), pp. 141-153; Andrei Illarionov, “The Siloviki in Charge”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 20, No. 2 (2009), pp. 69-72; Andrei Soldatov, Michael Rochlitz, “The Siloviki in Russian Politics”, in Daniel Treisman (ed.), The New Autocracy: Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin’s Russia (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2018), pp. 83-108.
- Yuri Felshtinsky, Vladimir Pribylovsky, The Corporation: Russia and the KGB in the Age of President Putin (New York: Encounter Books, 2008); Ulf Walther, Russlands “neuer Adel:” Die Macht des Geheimdienstes von Gobatschow bis Putin (Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag, 2014); Andrei Soldatov, “From the ‘New Nobility’ to the KGB”, Russian Politics & Law, Vol. 55, No. 2 (2017), pp. 133-146; Catherine Belton, Putin’s People: How the KGB Took back Russia and then Took on the West (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2020).
- Olga Kryshtanovskaya, Stephen White, “Putin’s Militocracy”, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 19, No. 4 (2003), pp. 289-306; Bettina Renz, “Putin’s Militocracy? An Alternative Interpretation of Siloviki in Contemporary Russian Politics”, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 58, No. 6 (2006), pp. 912-922; Sharon Werning Rivera, David Rivera, “The Russian Elite under Putin: Militocratic or Bourgeois?”, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 22, No. 2 (2006), pp. 125-144; Sharon Werning Rivera, David Rivera, “Is Russia a Militocracy? Conceptual Issues and Extant Findings Regarding Elite Militarization”, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 30, No. 1 (2014), pp. 27-50; David Rivera, Sharon Werning Rivera, “The Militarization of the Russian Elite under Putin”, Problems of Post-Communism, Vol. 65, No. 4 (2018), pp. 221-232.
- For an enlightening podcast on Patrushev, listen to: Mark Galeotti, “The Most Dangerous Man in Russia”, In Moscow’s Shadows, No. 6, 14 June (2020), https://www.buzzsprout.com/1026985/4169738.
- Martin Kragh, Andreas Umland, “Putinism beyond Putin: The Political Ideas of Nikolai Patrushev and Sergei Naryshkin in 2006-20”, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 39, No. 5 (2023), pp. 366-389. An important larger study that we failed to reference in the PSA paper’s long bibliography and are adding here is: Peter Reddaway, Russia’s Domestic Security Wars: Putin’s Use of Divide and Rule Against His Hardline Allies (Basingstoke: Palgrave 2018).
- Our qualitative and informal analyses are best read in combination with this formalised and quantitative survey: Ivan Fomin, “Sixty Shades of Statism: Mapping the Ideological Divergences in Russian Elite Discourse”, Demokratizatsiya, Vol. 30, No. 3 (2022), pp. 305-332.
- Kragh, Umland, “Putinism beyond Putin”, pp. 371-372.
- For the broader context of the use of “fascism” in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian war since 2014, see Marlene Laruelle, Is Russia Fascist? Unraveling Propaganda East and West (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2021).
- For somewhat comparable, narrowly focused explorations of texts by select other Russian nationalists, see, for example, in chronological order of their publication: Anton Shekhovtsov, “The Palingenetic Thrust of Russian Neo-Eurasianism: Ideas of Rebirth in Aleksandr Dugin’s Worldview”, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Vol. 9, No. 4 (2008), pp. 491-506; Andreas Umland, “Zhirinovskii as a Fascist: Palingenetic Ultra-Nationalism and the Emergence of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia in 1992-93”, Forum für osteuropäische Ideen -und Zeitgeschichte, Vol. 14, No. 2 (2010), pp. 189-215; Anders Åslund, “Sergey Glazyev and the Revival of Soviet Economics”, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 29, No. 5 (2013), pp. 375-386; Igor Gretskiy, “Lukyanov Doctrine: Conceptual Origins of Russia’s Hybrid Foreign Policy – The Case of Ukraine”, Saint Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 64, No. 1 (2020), pp. 1-21; Boris Barkanov, “A Realist View from Moscow: Identity and Threat Perception in the Writings of Sergei A. Karaganov (2003-2019)”, Journal of Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, Vol. 6, No. 2 (2020), pp. 57-112.
- Sharon Werning Rivera, James D. Bryan, “Understanding the Sources of Anti-Americanism in the Russian Elite”, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 35, No. 5-6 (2019), pp. 376-392; Danielle Lussier, “Ideology among Russian Elites: Attitudes toward the United States as a Belief System”, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 35, No. 5-6 (2019), pp. 433-449; Eric Shiraev Eric, Vladislav M. Zubkov, Anti-Americanism in Russia: From Stalin to Putin (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000).
- Taras Kuzio, Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War: Autocracy-Orthodoxy-Nationality (London: Routledge, 2022); Taras Kuzio, “Imperial Nationalism as the Driver behind Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine”, Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 29, No. 1 (2023), pp. 30-38.
- Fabian Linde, “The Civilizational Turn in Russian Political Discourse: From Pan-Europeanism to Civilizational Distinctiveness”, The Russian Review, Vol. 75, No. 4 (2016), pp. 604-625; Peter J. Katzenstein, Nicole Weygandt, “Mapping Eurasia in an Open World: How the Insularity of Russia’s Geopolitical and Civilizational Approaches Limits Its Foreign Policies”, Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 15, No. 2 (2017), pp. 428-442; Henry Hale, Marlene Laruelle, “Rethinking Civilizational Identity from the Bottom Up: A Case Study of Russia and a Research Agenda”, Nationalities Papers, Vol. 48, No. 3 (2020), pp. 585-602; Kåre Johan Mjør, Sanna Turoma (eds.) Russia as Civilization: Ideological Discourses in Politics, Media, and Academia (London: Routledge, 2020); Henry Hale, Marlene Laruelle, “A New Wave of Research on Civilizational Politics”, Nationalities Papers, Vol. 49, No. 4 (2021), 597-608.
- On various aspects of the late Tsarist Russian-Ukrainian relationship, see Faith Hillis, Children of Rus’: Right-Bank Ukraine and the Invention of a Russian Nation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013); Johannes Remy, Brothers or Enemies: The Ukrainian National Movement and Russia from the 1840s to the 1870s (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016); Serhii Plokhy, Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation (New York: Basic Books, 2017).
- Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).
- Nikolai Patrushev, “Vtoraia ‘kholodnaia’”, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 15 October (2014), https://rg.ru/2014/10/15/patrushev.html.
- See, for instance, Nikolay Mitrokhin, “Infiltration, Instruction, Invasion: Russia’s War in the Donbass”, Journal of Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2015), pp. 219-250; Andreas Umland, “The Glazyev Tapes, Origins of the Donbas Conflict, and Minsk Agreements”, Foreign Policy Association, 13 September (2018), https://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2018/09/13/the-glazyev-tapes-origins-of-the-donbas-conflict-and-minsk-agreements/; Jakob Hauter, Russia’s Overlooked Invasion: The Causes of the 2014 Outbreak of War in Ukraine’s Donbas (Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag, 2023).
- For stylistic purposes, in Patrushev’s quotes, we hereinafter use the Romanised Russian, rather than Ukrainian, versions of the names of Ukraine’s cities and regions.
- Quoted in Ivan Egorov, “Nikolai Patrushev – ob Ukraine i SShA, kiberatakh, Sirii”, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 18 May (2017), https://rg.ru/2017/05/18/nikolaj-patrushev-ob-ukraine-i-ssha-kiberatakah-sirii.html.
- Quoted in Michael Burleigh, Wolfgang Wippermann, The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 99.
- Quoted in Ivan Egorov, “Patrushev: Novoe oruzhie obespechit bezopasnost’ Rossii na desyatiletiya”, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 15 January (2019), https://rg.ru/2019/01/15/patrushev-novoe-oruzhie-obespechit-bezopasnost-rossii-na-desiatiletiia.html.
- Quoted in Ivan Egorov, “Patrushev: My stanovimsya svidetelyami zamalchivaniya krovavyh zlodeyaniy fashizma”, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 5 August (2020), https://rg.ru/2020/08/05/patrushev-my-stanovimsia-svideteliami-zamalchivaniia-krovavyh-zlodeianij-fashizma.html.
- Among non-Russian scholars – often, but not only of a radically left-wing orientation – intensely publicising varieties of these themes over the years have been Richard Sakwa (University of Canterbury), Volodymyr Ishchenko (Free University of Berlin), Tarik Cyril Amar (Koc University), and Ivan Katchanovski (University of Ottawa). See further on this phenomenon: Taras Kuzio (ed.), Russian Disinformation and Western Scholarship: Bias and Prejudice in Journalistic, Expert, and Academic Analyses of East European and Eurasian Affairs (Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag, 2023).
- “‘Nadeemsia, chto v Vashingtone vse zhe vozobladaet zdravyi smysl’”, Kommersant, 7 April (2021), https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4762137.
- Quoted in Ivan Egorov, “Nikolaі Patrushev: U Rossii net agressivnykh planov po otnosheniyu k Ukraine”, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 30 November (2021), https://rg.ru/2021/11/30/nikolaj-patrushev-u-rossii-net-agressivnyh-planov-po-otnosheniiu-k-ukraine.html.
- Anton Shekhovtsov, “Four Towers of Kremlin Propaganda: Russia, Ukraine, South, West”, Euromaidan Press, 6 January (2023), https://euromaidanpress.com/2023/01/06/russian-propaganda-war-related-strategic-and-tactical-narratives-and-their-audiences/.
- Quoted in Ivav Egorov, “Patrushev: Itogom politiki Zapada i Kieva mozhet stat’ raspad Ukrainy na neskol’ko gosudarstv”, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 26 April (2022), https://rg.ru/2022/04/26/patrushev-itogom-politiki-zapada-i-kieva-mozhet-stat-raspad-ukrainy-na-neskolko-gosudarstv.html.
- Andreas Umland, “A Neutral and Demilitarized Ukraine? Moscow’s Demands of Kyiv in Geostrategic Perspective”, SCEEUS Commentary, No. 9 (2022), https://sceeus.se/en/publications/a-neutral-and-demilitarized-ukraine-moscows-demands-of-kyiv-in-geostrategic-perspective/.
- Quoted in Ivan Egorov “Patrushev: Zapad podlo sozdal imperiyu lzhi, predpolagayushchuyu unizhenie i unichtozhenie Rossii”, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 26 April (2022), https://rg.ru/2022/04/26/patrushev-zapad-sozdal-imperiiu-lzhi-predpolagaiushchuiu-unichtozhenie-rossii.html.
- Quoted in Glev Ivanov, “‘Pravda na nashey storone’: Nikolaі Patrushev – o srokakh spetsoperatsii”, Argumenty i fakty, 24 May (2022), https://aif.ru/politics/world/pravda_na_nashey_storone_nikolay_patrushev_o_srokah_specoperacii.
- See also Olena Roshchina, “‘We’re Not Chasing Deadlines’: Chairman of the Russian Security Council on Putin’s Goals and the War in Ukraine”, Ukrainska Pravda, 24 May (2022), https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/news/2022/05/24/7348188/.
- A recent elaborate outline of this discourse apologising for Russia’s expansionist wars can be found in Sergey Dontsov, “Roskosh’ voevat’ iz sostradaniya: O voine, gumanizme i patsifizme”, Moskovskiy komsomolets, 10 October (2022), https://www.mk.ru/social/2022/10/10/roskosh-voevat-iz-sostradaniya.html.
- Quoted in Ivanov, “‘Pravda na nashey storone’”.
- Quoted in Ivan Egorov, “Nikolai Patrushev: Prestupleniya ukrainskogo rezhima dovedut Evropu do katastrofy”, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 24 August (2022), https://rg.ru/2022/08/24/terror-vyshel-iz-granic.html. Another member of the Russian elites, former president Dmitry Medvedev, argued that the Ukrainian state should be “annihilated” (“unichtozheno”, see Dmitry Medvedev, “Porazhenie Zapada na ukrainskom napravlenii neizbezhno”, Telegram, 19 August (2023), https://t.me/medvedev_telegram/376) – a rhetoric seemingly not very dissimilar from Hitler’s claim in 1940 that his coming war against the Soviet Union was a “war of annihilation” (“Vernichtungskrieg”). Patrushev’s use of eschatological rhetoric is by no means unique. Instead, his thinking should be regarded as part of a broader societal trend in Russia.
- Denys Azarov, Dmytro Koval, Gaiane Nuridzhanian, Volodymyr Venher, “Understanding Russia’s Actions in Ukraine as the Crime of Genocide”, Journal of International Criminal Justice, 13 June (2023), https://doi.org/10.1093/jicj/mqad018.
- Quoted in I van Egorov, “Patrushev: Protiv nas na Ukraine po suti voyuet blok NATO”, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 5 October (2022), https://rg.ru/2022/10/05/patrushev-protiv-nas-na-ukraine-po-suti-voiuet-blok-nato.html.
- More on this: Geraint Hughes, “Is the War in Ukraine a Proxy Conflict?”, King’s College London, 12 October (2022), https://www.kcl.ac.uk/is-the-war-in-ukraine-a-proxy-conflict.
- “Patrushev nazval sobytiya na Ukraine protivostoyaniem Rossii i NATO”, Vedomosti, 9 January (2023), https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2023/01/09/958340-patrushev-nazval-protivostoyaniem.
- Quoted in Ivan Egorov, “Patrushev: Pri sodeystvii SShA i ikh soyuznikov Kiev usilivaet terroristicheskuyu aktivnost’ na novykh territoriyakh RF”, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 5 April (2023), https://rg.ru/2023/04/05/patrushev-pri-sodejstvii-ssha-i-ih-soiuznikov-kiev-usilivaet-terroristicheskuiu-aktivnost-na-novyh-territoriiah-rf.html.
- “Riski teraktov na fone SVO sushchestvenno vyrosli, zayavil Patrushev”, RIA Novosti, 19 May (2023), https://ria.ru/20230519/terakty-1872916321.html.
- Andreas Umland, “The Far Right in Pre- and Post-Euromaidan Ukraine: From Ultra-Nationalist Party Politics to Ethno-Centric Uncivil Society”, Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, Vol. 28, No. 2 (2020), pp. 247-268.
- On the Novorossiya idea, see Marlene Laruelle, “The Three Colors of Novorossiya, or the Russian Nationalist Mythmaking of the Ukrainian Crisis”, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 32, No. 1 (2016), pp. 55-74; John O’Loughlin, Gerard Toal, Vladimir Kolosov, “The Rise and Fall of ‘Novorossiya’: Examining Support for a Separatist Geopolitical Imaginary in Southeast Ukraine”, Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 33, No. 2 (2017), pp. 124-144; Mikhail Suslov, “The Production of ‘Novorossiya’: A Territorial Brand in Public Debates”, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 69, No. 2 (2017), pp. 202-221.
- Andreas Umland, “Concepts of Fascism in Contemporary Russia and the West”, Political Studies Review, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2005), pp. 34-49.
- Anton Shekhovtsov, “The Shocking Inspiration for Putin’s Atrocities in Ukraine”, Haaretz, 13 April (2022), https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2022-04-13/ty-article-opinion/the-shocking-inspiration-for-russias-atrocities-in-ukraine/00000180-5bd0-d718-afd9-dffc6b210000.
- Andreas Umland, “Germany’s Russia Policy in Light of the Ukraine Conflict: Interdependence Theory and Ostpolitik”, Orbis, Vol. 66, No. 1 (2022), pp. 78-94.
- Kostiantyn Fedorenko, Andreas Umland, “A Triadic Nexus Conflict? Ukraine’s Nationalizing Policies, Russia’s Homeland Nationalism, and the Dynamics of Escalation in 2014-2019”, in Aadne Aasland, Sabine Kropp (eds), The Accommodation of Regional and Ethno-Cultural Diversity in Ukraine (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), pp. 53-82.