On the first day of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by кussian troops, millions of Ukrainians woke up from the sounds of explosions and missile strikes. 

Certainly, each of us perceived Moscow's open and brutal aggression in different ways. However, many of us had the question, "Why? Why is this happening?"

It was then that we learned about Putin's “special operation” and that one of its main objectives was “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine.

Surprisingly, in more than three months of the russian-Ukrainian war, none of the russian high-ranking officials was able to explain what the term meant in relation to Ukraine. Furthermore, the words of putin's secretary, dmitry peskov, "denazification means that ideally, Ukraine should be liberated from the Nazis" can hardly be considered exhaustive.

Thus, despite the blurred focus, russian officials did not completely abandon using the "denazification" as a term, although they did significantly reduced the frequency. 

Thus, on May, 24, the head of the rf Security council, Mykola Patrushev, said"We are not rushing into meeting the deadlines. Nazism must either be eradicated 100% (in Ukraine – ed.) or it will lift its head in a few years, and in an even more ugly form."

That is why, in this coverage we tried to explore the narratives of russian propaganda and understand what russia wants.

What exactly is "denazification"?

The term "denazification" was first used in Pentagon documents back in 1943. At that time, it had a narrower meaning and concerned the post-war German legal system. However, later, the term took on a broader meaning and was enshrined as a programme at the 1945 Potsdam Conference.

In general, denazification is a broad initiative of the Allies to rid German and Austrian societies, press, culture, economy, judicial system and politics of Nazi ideology after the Second World War. 

Since this is a fairly broad campaign, it can be divided into the following stages:

  • the removal from power of the members of the NSDAP and the SS, the dissolution of these organizations and other similar entities;
  • prosecution of war criminals, as part of the 1946 Nuremberg trial and other legal processes and smaller tribunals;
  • general censorship and condemnation of German militarism. Thus, for this purpose, the Information Control Department of the US Army took control of 37 German newspapers, 6 radio stations, 314 theaters, 642 cinemas, 101 magazines, 237 publishing houses, and 7384 book dealers and printing houses, as of July 1946;
  • elimination of physical symbols of the Nazi regime, such as, swastikas, and renaming of streets;
  • the general development of the German sense of collective responsibility and guilt for the crimes of the Nazi regime.

In general, the denazification process took place in all four (subsequently two) zones of Allied occupation, but with different intensity and efficiency. 

Americans were certainly the most meticulous ones . They opened a lot of denazification cases but then realized that they would not be able to manage them, including through the withdrawal of their military from Europe (as required by US society).

Thus, the Americans estimate that potentially up to 7 million cases would be pending by December, 1945. It is, therefore, not surprising that Dwight Eisenhower initially believed that the denazification process would take 50 years.

A likely explanation for the duration of the process can be found with the historian Frederick Taylor, who noted that the 1.5 million Germans who joined Hitler before he came to power were considered “fierce Nazis.”

Despite the unconditional punishment of war criminals, it was clear that the number of cases of "denazification" was unfeasible.

That is why many members of the Nazi party were essentially exempted from proceedings and trials, if their crimes were not serious. In particular, it concerned persons born after 1919. They were believed to be victims of propaganda and brainwashing. People with disabilities were also released from proceedings. In general, more than 90% of cases were found not to qualify as "serious categories", and therefore they were dealt with very quickly.

In the zone of Soviet occupation, this process was interpreted as a particularly important element for building a "socialist society", so it was directly controlled by the NKVD. 

Many former Nazi parties and functionaries were interned, many of them died in camps. However, some of the Nazi functionaries changed their roles after the war and carried out the instructions of the Soviet authorities.

Interestingly, Western Germany was portrayed by Soviet propaganda as an extension of the Nazi regime, and Eastern Germany, on the contrary, was presented as the main "anti-fascist state".

The French did not even use the term "denazification" but instead they went for the word "cleansing". They were the first to transfer the power of denazification to the Germans themselves, but with the proviso that France would have the right to overturn their decisions. 

Many French thought that all Germans were guilty, so it made no sense for them to distinguish the Nazis from the "non-Nazis", and the membership in the NSDAP alone could mean nothing in many cases. 

We can also mention collaborators from the Vichy regime, who have generally established friendly relations with the Germans.

The British were also among the first to transfer the powers of denazification to the Germans themselves – as early as in January, 1946. After all, in general, Britain avoided an excessive number of unnecessary investigations if the person did not apply for an official position. 

Some scholars note that British government officials wanted to restore German economic potential in order not to "feed Germany", that is why they opted for the policy, among other reasons.

Finally, the FRG denazification programme ceased in 1951. The Americans did not deny Konrad Adenauer, who sought to shift government policy to reparations and compensation for the victims of Nazi rule, saying that the main culprits had already been brought to justice.

What does russia want? – statements

Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, russian high-ranking officials have been talking about the "denazification" of Ukraine for at least 19 days. Such data is provided by the War Speeches portal.

On February, 24, in his appeal for the start of a "special military operation", vladimir putin stated that he was seeking "demilitarization and denazification" of Ukraine, but did not explain what he meant exactly. 

On the same day, press secretary dmitriy peskov explained: "denazification" means that ideally Ukraine should be liberated from the Nazis. However, according to russian journalists of the "Project" outlet, it turned out almost immediately that the term was "inopportune". After all, since putin's statement was "prepared in secret, the terms used were not processed by specialists." Therefore, russian propagandists had to endlessly repeat the statements about "denazification". 

There have also been reports that, according to certain sociological surveys, "russians cannot explain this term", and it is difficult for some to pronounce it at all. You can see how the residents of the russian capital interpret the term "denazification" here.

Even without looking at this information, we can firmly state that the message on "denazification" was repeated after putin by all russian high-ranking officials commenting on the war with Ukraine: the Speaker of the State Duma, vyacheslav volodin, Minister of Foreign Affairs sergey lavrov, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, maria zakharova, press secretary dmitry peskov, and even the Ambassador of russia to the United Nations, vasily nebenzya.

This term was used most often by maria zakharova. It even came to the point that she stated: "the russian federation questions the extent to which the process of denazification of Germany was completed after its defeat in World War II."

Although its leader, sergei lavrov, had a few days earlier set Germany as an example: "Ukraine must be demilitarized and denazified, as was the case with Germany."

Although every russian leader used this term, none of them were going to explain it. Even rf's ambassador to the UN, vasiliy nebenzya, only stated that “Ukraine needs to be denazified and demilitarized to ensure that it is no longer a threat to russia,” without explaining anything to the world community.

Perhaps this is why the references to the "denazification" of Ukraine gradually disappeared, and russian officials began to talk much more broadly about confrontation with NATO. In particular, they were talking about what vasily nebenzya called the "proxy war of the collective West with russia".

It even came to the point that during the parade on the red square on the occasion of the "day of victory", putin did not mention the "denazification" of Ukraine. Of course, he spoke of "banderovites and neo-Nazis" but he did not repeat one of his key demands to Ukraine. 

And we can well remember how much putin loves symbols.


Jarosz's business card

We need to understand that the narrative of russian propaganda about the "Nazi uprising in Ukraine" is not new. The first thing that comes to mind is, of course, the meme with Yarosh's business card (April, 20, 2014).

In fact, the business card became not only a joke, but also a real hit of russian propaganda, which at one time almost blamed the "Right Sector" for all crimes, describing the "horrors of Nazism" in Ukraine.

However, putin declared the mythical "Nazis" as the enemies much earlier. 

It will just suffice to mention the so-called "Crimean speech" of the russian president to both chambers of the federal assembly of the rf, in connection with the request of the Crimean parliament to join russia. 

Then, in March, 2018, putin, among other things, noted: "The main perpetrators of the coup were nationalists, neo-Nazis, russophobes."

As you can see, the rf president deliberately used a propaganda cliché against de facto all Ukrainians back then already.

A very "interesting" report by the russian ministry of foreign affairs was released a year later: "Neo-Nazism – a dangerous challenge to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law". There, the key focus is on Ukraine. For example, the introductory part to the report mentioned our country as many as 38 times. Put into context, the USA was mentioned five times, Poland – three times, and Belarus – none. 

In the report, Ukrainians were "reminded" of the memory of the heroes of the UPA, and "Right Sector", and "wrongful" political statements.

The Law of Ukraine "On Condemnation of Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) Totalitarian Regimes in Ukraine and Prohibition of Propaganda of Their Symbols", adopted in the same year to explicitly condemn Nazism and prohibit its propaganda and symbols, was not a valid reason for russia (at the time of the report it had been already registered and discussed).

Russian government officials called it a rewriting of history: "The Ukrainian authorities are trying to erase from the memory of millions of Ukrainians the chapters of the true history of Ukraine. Nazi aggressors and fighters for the liberation of the country from Nazism are put on the same board in the current Ukraine. "

Interestingly, for all these years, russia also went all lengths to reinforce their reasoning with alleged mass xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Ukraine. As soon as in 2022, there was a real scandal with the minister lavrov, who, in an interview with the Italian channel Mediaset, stated: "He (Zelensky — ed.) puts forward the argument: what kind of Nazification could we talk about if he is a Jew. I may be wrong, but Hitler also had some Jewish blood. It doesn't mean anything at all. The wise Jewish people say that the most fierce anti-Semites, as a rule, are the Jews themselves. "There is black sheep in every flock," as they say. " Later, though, the president of russia himself had to apologize to Israel for those words of the "diplomat".

This case perfectly demonstrates the essence of labels of russian propaganda and misinformation that for years has distorted the facts and spread lies that people believed, including our citizens.

"Who calls someone a name, is called indeed the same."

Therefore, it is quite clear that russian propaganda, that must have believed in the rapid occupation of Ukraine, did not try at all to pick up on the words used in foreign policy that are important for the domestic consumer. The latter, in turn, rejoiced: "There are Nazis there, and soon we will defeat them. Again.

This might be the reason why russian propaganda changes its slogans so easily, and why the consumers are so happy to believe it. After all, does it matter who to defeat: either "Nazism in Ukraine" or "the collective West", if "we can defeat them all"? 

Eventually, why explain to russians what denazification is, if thousands of war crimes in Ukraine prove that denazification means deukrainization – in linguistic, cultural, and physical terms.

Ultimately, putin himself said: "Who calls someone a name, is called indeed the same." As to Nazism, it must be eradicated in a completely different country.

P.S. The portal "ruZZia Is a New Nazi" collected hundreds of cases of war propaganda samples in russia that have direct links to Nazism. We recommend reviewing it to understand the domestic context of propaganda and how tens of thousands of russians support the war.


Original publication: Ukrainian Pravda