The entire premise of Russian propaganda behind their illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is that they are there to fight against “Ukrainian Nazis” and the “genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime.” That theme of fighting against the “Nazi junta in Kyiv” has been repeated in every speech by Vladimir Putin, on the floor of the U.N. by Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya, and especially in the endless television appearances of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
This week, Lavrov elaborated on this theme. After it was pointed out that Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy is himself Jewish, the foreign minister made a slightly controversial statement. “Zelenskyy is a Jew?” said Lavrov with mock surprise. “Hitler also had Jewish origins. The greatest antisemites are precisely the Jews."
That claim generated immediate outrage around the world, where it was recognized as a not at all subtle variant on the idea that Jews were themselves the agents of their own destruction, both during the Holocaust and today. It stirred an immediate furor in Israel which, for the first time since the invasion began, announced that it would send not just humanitarian, but military assistance to Ukraine. That, in turn, led to Putin getting on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to apologize for Lavrov’s remarks.
At the same time, Russian media continued to claim that the Jewish president of Ukraine was the leader of a Nazi regime intent on committing genocide. Which seemed awkward.
To clear this up, Russia’s top Tucker Carlsons got on the job and went back to something Putin said in the speech he gave to initially justify the invasion. In that speech, Putin tied together a charge of “neo-Nazism and Russophobia." Now Russia has gone one step further and simply redefined Nazi to better fit their needs.
Anyone who opposes Russia is now, by Russia’s definition, a Nazi. So Zelenskyy is a Nazi. Biden is a Nazi. Chances are good you’re also a Nazi. It’s a very handy thing to be able to use the most vile label in at least the last two centuries against anyone who opposes your will. It allows any action to be justified, and for Russian soldiers to feel good about torturing and killing children in dark basements. Because, after all, Nazi children.
Threaten someone, and if they don’t surrender, you can kill them. Because resisting makes them a Nazi. So handy.
Of course, by removing all context from the word “Nazi” and turning it simply into a synonym for anyone who opposes Russia, Putin and company have also destroyed even the pretext for justification in their propaganda. If Nazi is simply a term for someone who refuses to do what you say, it hardly justifies starting a bloody war and engaging in actual genocide, complete with industrial-scale murder, mass burials, and tens of thousands being shipped across borders to labor camps.
Perhaps the word Putin is looking for isn’t Nazi, but untermensch. Because that certainly fits better with how it’s being applied. And now, with that terminology problem under control, Putin can get back to finding someone to make a film about his upcoming parade. Wouldn’t want to miss a goosestep.
On Friday morning, we’re still getting claims that Ukraine conducted “successful counteroffensive operations” near both Kharkiv and Izyum, but there still doesn’t seem to be any detailed results that can be pinned to a map. This could be because the results were not all that spectacular.
On the other hand, it could easily be that Ukraine isn’t ready for every move they made in the last 24 hours to be diagramed by the army of Telegram and Twitter analysts who constantly search for a long list of place names, hoping to get some confirmation of troop movements so they can change the pins on their map and … yes, I am completely guilty of this.
There do seem to be indicators that in another area, down near Kherson, Ukrainian forces captured a series of villages. From the indications given so far, those villages seem likely to be at the southwest edge of the line, and could include some of those known to be in dispute (yellow markers) before Thursday.
Russia is busy in Kherson putting up Russian-language signs, blocking the entry or exit of anyone from the city, and making declarations like this:
Meanwhile Ukrainian soldiers in the area are trying to get messages to those in the city that they are working to drive Russia out of the area.
The shout at the end of that message is “Kherson is Ukraine!” But right now, the nearest Ukrainian forces are at least 15 kilometers outside the city, and it’s genuinely unclear whether Russia is on the offense or defense in this region.
One Ukrainian account has a more explicit response to the idea of Russia being in Kherson forever.
Oh, and a translation of her profile clears up something for Putin. “I’m not a Russophobe,” it says. “I don't fear them. I hate them.”
Using NASA’s FIRMS data requires a little caution, because sometimes a fire is just a fire. Someone burning off a field for spring, a smoldering trash pile, or a plain old house fire can look no different than conflagrations raised by artillery strikes. With that in mind, there does seem to be something worth noting in these images from Popasna.
Looking back across the last month, Russia has genuinely pounded the town over and over.
When reducing the data to show only the last week, there is an expected drop in the overall number of strikes, but there is also a change in the locations that Russia is targeting.
Russia no longer seems to be firing into the southeast section of the town. Instead the fire is restricted to the western edge and northern parts of Popasna.
Over the last month, there have been numerous reports that Russian forces have “reached Popasna” and even videos of fighting within residential streets of the town. This data would seem to indicate that Russia feels it has either cleared, or more likely simply reduced, the southern and eastern half of Popasna, and is now fighting against Ukrainian positions that are in a more reduced area of the town.
Popasna, home of a deadly cycle where Russian forces are drawn in, then put under artillery fire, seems to be getting gradually reduced. But it also doesn’t look as if Russia is likely to be announcing any victory there in the next few days.
For a few minutes there, Russia seemed to be getting a thrashing from its own embassy. However, the officials involved are now claiming this was a hack.
This location has been geolocated right on the edge of Izyum. Ukrainian forces are working much closer to the city than expected, indicating that some substantial gains have been made in by the announced counteroffensive in the area.
Starting to get some information about the situation near Kharkiv, consider this still unconfirmed for now, but Ukraine seems to have focused the counterattack on those towns between Kharkiv and the recently established position in Staryi Saltiv. It appears that Ukrainian forces have not just recaptured the towns along the major highway, but some other nearby locations, which should help protect traffic along that highway from artillery strikes.
The checkmarked locations are those reported to have been taken by Ukraine in the last day. Ukrainian forces are in Cherkasskiye Tishki, but there is reportedly a downed bridge on the main road connecting that town with the still in dispute Ruski Tyshky.
Ukraine’s progress in pushing Russian-occupied territory back from Kharkiv seems to be continuing at a good pace. Where Ukraine goes next doesn’t seem as clear as taking Shestakove and Fedorivka, which was the clear target after taking Staryi Saltive.
Russian forces near Petrivka just above the highway are likely an upcoming target, as are those near Nove on the southwest end of the Russian-occupied zone. Taking Nove would open a crossroads west of Velyki Prokhody, allowing that town to be pushed from two directions and possibly opening a route to come at Ruski Tyshky from another angle.