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Ukraine and the Kremlin’s myth of the “polite” invader

Protest against Russia’s invasion, Kyiv, October 14, 2016
Ukraine and the Kremlin’s myth of the “polite” invader
Article by: Larysa Masenko
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

Russian colonialism has one feature, which was analyzed by Myroslav Shkandrij in his book Russia and Ukraine: Literature and the Discourse of Empire From Napoleonic to Postcolonial Times, 2001 (Ukrainian translation: In the empire’s embrace: Russian and Ukrainian literature of the modern age, 2004). Russia wants to be loved even when it annexes neighboring territories by force and enslaves the people that inhabit them.

In the Russian society of the 19th century, there was a commonly held belief that Russian expansion was not violent and that the Russian language and the Russian state possess some unique power that make them extremely attractive to other nations. The Slavophile Mikhail Pogodin contrasted the Russian Empire, which supposedly expanded without coercion at the invitation of other nations, to the Western powers: “Our state is founded on love, and the Western one on hatred,” he claimed.

The Eurasian concept of “brotherly nations” in the Russian Empire

In the 1930s, the Russian theoreticians of Eurasianism who had emigrated abroad developed a concept of the “brotherly nations” of the Russian Empire, where supposedly there were no “superior” and ” inferior” peoples and “the mutual attraction was stronger than the repulsion.” In 1920s-1930s ,the slogan “brotherhood of nations” became an integral part of the rhetorical Soviet propagandist discourse.

The events of WWII and the role of the Soviet Union in the defeat of Hitler’s Germany contributed to the popularization of the myth about Russia’s “brotherly” attitude toward other nations. This enabled Moscow’s agitprop to present the Red Army as a liberating army to the world, even though in reality it brought the countries of Central Europe, hypocritically named with the euphemism ” people’s democracies,” not freedom but the slavelike dependence on the Soviet empire.

Current projects for the “brotherly” absorption of Ukraine

"Little green men" occuupying Crimea, March 2014
“Little green men” occupying Crimea, March 2014

The “brotherhood of nations” rhetoric also continues appear in the current projects to absorb Ukrainian territory that the Russian intelligence services began to develop shortly after the establishment of the Ukrainian state.

In 1998, Viacheslav Chornovil’s newspaper Chas (Time) published the document “Conceptual principles of the strategy of counteracting the main external threats to the national security of the Russian Federation,” which had been developed in October 1995 by the Moscow Institute for Security Studies. It noted that “In general one should expect that in 3-5 years the economy of Ukraine will come to a final collapse and the republic will most likely fall apart. Under these conditions the eastern and southern parts of the country will obviously express the desire to voluntarily reunite with Russia. Realizing this, the West and the nationalist forces in Western Ukraine may try to provoke a conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Crimea may serve as a pretext. The goal will be to create a conflict between the two nations, to sow hatred between them, and thereby to prevent any reunification of Russia and Ukraine in the future.”

Moscow’s hopes for the rapid collapse of Ukraine have not materialized, but the weakness of the state, especially its inability to protect its informational-cultural sphere, has given Russian intelligence services great opportunities for subversive work within the country.

During the presidency of Yanukovych, it appeared that Russia had almost reached its goal of reintegrating Ukraine. The plan’s implementation was blocked by the Revolution of Dignity, which proved that Ukrainians do not want to return to the “brotherly” embrace and prefer a European civilizational model.

By occupying Crimea immediately after Yanukvych’s escape, Russia violated the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, which Russia signed in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as well as the international peace and security agreements that were concluded after the Second World War.

Moscow’s aggressive actions in Crimea and the Donbas have no justification. Their insolence and cynicism are absolutely obvious and irrefutable. But here, as well, Russia relies on its traditional fraudulent practices, discovering new forms of propagandist manipulations designed to give a noble appearance to abhorrent actions.

The “polite people” label becomes the new symbol of the Russian Armed Forces

Russian paratroopers detained in the DOnbas, August 2014
Russian paratroopers detained in the Donbas, August 2014

The “polite people” ploy, invented by the intelligence services and implemented in Crimea, became the tactical method for masking the illegal military seizure of foreign territory. According to the Russian Wikipedia, the “polite people” and “little green men” labels are euphemisms for designating the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, who, dressed in camouflage uniforms without identifying insignia, blocked strategic locations in Crimea during Russia’s annexation of the peninsula in 2014.

The fact that the “polite people” theme was developed by military strategists is confirmed by the statement by Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu on April 17, 2014. “As for the claims about the use of Russian Special Forces in the events in Ukraine, I will say only one thing,” he said. “It is difficult to look for a black cat in a dark room, especially if it is not there. This is all the more meaningless when this cat is smart, courageous, and polite.”

The song “Polite People” was created immediately after the occupation of Crimea. It was performed on April 13, 2013, by the A. Alexandrov Academic ensemble of the Russian Army as a hymn dedicated to the “reunification” of Crimea with Russia. The song begins with the following words:

“Polite people with a polite look// Look politely, ask carefully // They stand politely // They carry arms politely.”

Experts believe that the “polite people” label is turning into a new symbol of the Armed Forces of Russia and that Russian philologists attribute its popularity to the comic effect of using “polite” to describe armed forces. The label has gained enormous popularity in Russia and the occupied Ukrainian territories. In April 2014, the local authorities in Bakhchisarai voted to install a monument to the Polite Soldier, and in Simferopol such a monument was unveiled in June 2016. In May, Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced the launch of a line of clothing under the “Polite People” label.

A children’s magazine “Polite Men” has been published since 2016 in the territory under the control of the “LNR” (Luhansk People’s Republic) group. Therefore, children in the occupied Ukrainian territory are being raised to love and respect the “polite” Russian soldiers, even though in the Donbas, these soldiers not only “politely” carry the weapons but also use them for their intended purpose. However, the children are taught that the Russian soldiers are “good” and that the “evil” Ukrainian fascists are destroying their cities and villages and killing civilians.

The myth about “polite people” in military uniform and its popularity in Russia suggests that Russia is not going to give up its neo-imperialist claims to control territories within the borders of the former USSR and also that it continues to live in an atmosphere of total lies.

The future will show whether the prediction of historian Oleg Panfilov will be realized. He believes that lies led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and that they will also lead to the collapse of the Russian Federation.

Larysa Masenko — sociolinguist, professor, head of the Ukrainian Language Department at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Kyiv).

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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