Dehumanizing the Enemy

The word “Russophobia” has been used very widely in the past couple of years by Russians and by “friends of Russia” abroad to describe the campaign of vilification of President Putin in particular and of the Russian people more generally that the U.S. led West has practiced with rising volume and shrillness ever since the start of an Information War launched in 2007.

In the course of the “Special Military Operation,” the Kiev regime has taken the lead in disseminating vicious calumny about the Russian military. We have heard about “massacres of civilians” in Bucha by retreating Russians. We have heard about Putin dispensing Viagra to his soldiers so that they might carry out sexual violence against Ukrainian women in occupied areas under their control. These and similar allegations have been repeated endlessly in Western media as if they were proven facts. They were not and are not anything more than bare-faced lies. The image of savage Buryat and Chechen units within the Russian armed forces has been so widespread that even Pope Francis spoke publicly against these peoples from the Vatican. The apologies later extended by his Secretariat were made privately to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so the damage of this calumny will not be undone.

I suggest that we consider the Russophobia as just a new manifestation of an old trick of those preparing the public for war and managing popular emotions in a jingoist direction. It is all about dehumanizing one’s opponents to make killing more acceptable than Scripture and the basic disposition of civil society would allow.

In many essays I have remarked on Russian foreign policy as being “reactive” rather than aggressive. And so it is in the Information War domain. The Russians took it on the chin when the Bucha narrative was spun in Western media. They whined and complained, but did not fire back.

Russia had sound strategic reasons for initiating and prosecuting the war in Ukraine. To be sure, these reasons changed from pacifying Ukraine (demilitarization and de-Nazification) at the outset to the present objective of de-fanging NATO itself ever since NATO began supplying state of the art weaponry to Kiev, together with military advisers on the ground and real time intelligence.

However, these strategic considerations are apparently deemed to be too abstract for the broad home population to be properly motivated to back the war effort. And so the Kremlin has moved moved into the more emotive domain of dehumanization. Last night’s Evening with Vladimir Solovyov was a case in point.

The past couple of weekends Solovyov went down to the Donbas where Minister of Defense Shoigu arranged for him to spend time on the front lines and mingle with the fighters, from infantry and tank soldiers up to senior officers. Solovyov has presented on his show clips of the more impressive people he met down there.

Last night we were treated to a long “interview” with the officer who took Solovyov on a drive along the front. Vladimir Rudolfovich was glowing with pride that chaps like this one, who looked to be about 37 but has 25 years as a warrior in his record, are given units to command. He hopes that the General Command will reward them by raising them in the ranks and giving them still greater responsibilities. Solovyov recommended the interview to the audience, because of his admiration for the “profound thinking” of the young officer.

And so we were treated to a five minute “diatribe” against the West as this officer explained what Russia is fighting for, what “victory” will mean for them. The war is about defeating “Satanism,” which has taken the West in its grips and is destroying Western civilization. Ukrainian neo-Nazism is just a subset of this Satanism, as is the West European promotion of LGBT+ culture. The Anti-Christ has landed in the West and it is for Russia now to vanquish him in defense of traditional values.

The panelists on last night’s show were the usual mix of academics and Duma committee chairmen. One or two looked stupefied at this display of “profound thinking.” None decided to follow up the outrageous remarks of Solovyov’s hero of the moment. I have heard much of the same rant from the occasional crackpot taxi driver taking me on hour long trips from my Pushkin apartment to the Petersburg city center; fortunately no one ever thought of giving them a microphone on national television.

My only observation is that it is truly sad that both sides to the conflict in and over Ukraine are now deeply engaged in the destruction of all the mental restraints that keep men from barbarism.

Several weeks ago, Russian society was deeply shocked and outraged by videos circulating in social media showing the point blank murder of prone Russian Prisoners of War by gloating Ukrainian soldiers. In the meantime there is quiet talk on Russian television to the effect that Russia’s Wagner mercenary units and Chechen brigades “take no prisoners.” We can well imagine what that means.

As these violent trends continue on both sides of the confrontation between Russia and the West, the chances for peace talks being held diminish dramatically. And the return of international relations to something resembling the status quo ante becomes ever more improbable.

Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book is Does Russia Have a Future? Reprinted with permission from his blog.

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2022