Ukrainian artillery
Ukrainian soldiers fire a canon on the front line in Bakhmut. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

 For the past half year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has received a lot of media attention. Thankfully, the war has shifted in favor of Kyiv, which has embarrassed the Russian army on numerous occasions and has displayed the hollowness of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda.

Yet Ukraine has suffered immensely in what many believe is a campaign of genocide. I would argue that Putin — the Russian dictator with fantasies of a new Russian Empire — is committing genocide not only in Ukraine, but also within his own country. 

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Vladimir Putin’s so-called “special military operation” into Ukraine was allegedly to “de-Nazify” a country with a Jewish president; to eliminate “drug dealers” in the government; and to “protect” ethnic Russians within Ukraine. Yet these declared so-called goals in Ukraine don’t hold up when examining Russia’s treatment of its own minorities.

“Slavs Only” advertisements for apartment rentals were commonplace in major Russian cities up until 2021. Turkic and indigenous peoples from central Asia and the Siberian steppe are usually the targets, although Jews, Armenians, Ukrainians, Georgians, and non-Slavic Europeans often also find themselves victims of this kind of discrimination — and more.

Putin’s war is a continuation of old Imperial Russian habits — sending these “undesirable” minorities as cannon fodder in a colonial war of conquest against an enemy state. For Russia, many minority groups—such as Chechens, Tajiks, Dagestanis and Buryats — pose a dual-issue.

First, their existence and maintenance of their distinct cultures and identities poses a threat to the future unity of the Russian Federation. Chechnya’s long war in the 1990s with the Kremlin, along with Russia’s occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after invading Georgia in 2008, are testament to this. The second issue is that their continued existence and resistance to Moscow’s dictates makes it more difficult for Putin’s regime to cover up past crimes committed against such peoples in Tsarist and Soviet times.

In addition, Putin has been trying to increase his popularity among the Russian ultra-nationalist, far-right crowd, which explains his decision to partially mobilize his military. This mobilization, much like other recruitment measures so far for invading Ukraine, will hugely consist of ethnic minorities in Russia’s countryside and villages. And yet this is part of the plan — a convenient way to continue the brutal occupation and bombardment of Ukrainian territory, while sending unwanted and loathed minorities to their deaths, avoiding a challenge to a unified Russian Federation. 

One might wonder just why it is that Vladimir Putin would do such a thing. After all, Russia has hardly any immigrants (certainly not during wartime) and a record-high abortion rate. Its young people are increasingly fleeing the country when they aren’t jailed; other young folk are sent to their deaths in the fields of Ukraine. The Russian birth rate has plummeted alongside its life expectancy. In short, the country is aging rapidly, and has lost hundreds of thousands of people during the pandemic and during this war.

So why would the country’s supposedly patriotic dictator send even more Russian citizens to their deaths? It’s simple: a genetically engineered population replacement through war. Putin will send undesirable minorities from the far-flung rural reaches of Russia into the battlefield, alongside criminals and political dissidents. These people will kill some of his Ukrainian enemies before likely perishing on the battlefield themselves.

What about young people who disapprove of the war fleeing the country? Putin is fine with this, as it weakens the liberal opposition. Plus, he has found a new way to make up for them — thousands of kidnapped Slavic children, brought from the occupied Ukrainian territories to be “adopted” by Russian families.

Putin knows that his far-right base is largely xenophobic and hostile towards non-Slavs and religious minorities. Given that Putin needed to partially mobilize to maintain their support for his failing war, he decided to win their approval by killing two birds with one stone: instead of sending their Slavic children to their deaths, he would send the children of minority groups his base despises.

This would make him look tough on the mobilization front and possibly give him more wiggle room for negotiations, or more military victories. But it would also result in the extermination— partially at least — of Turkic and indigenous peoples within the country.

Ultimately, this partial mobilization will not be able to win the war for Russia — indeed, a full mobilization wouldn’t be able to either. Yet the fact that Putin pursued it anyway shows that part of his goal isn’t necessarily an outright victory, but simply more cleansing of Ukraine and Russia. 

Already, the West has picked up on and criticized the abhorrent and beyond-barbaric systemic kidnapping of Ukrainian children. But these countries have been slow to act on the micro-scale genocide of Russian minorities and their abysmal treatment over the past 30 years.

If the West wishes for Ukraine to push the Russian Army out of its 1991 borders, it must come to the reality that Vladimir Putin — like Chinese dictator Xi Jinping — is a genocidal maniac, determined to purge his own country within of “troublesome” and “inconvenient” ethnic minorities while colonizing foreign, democratic, and independent nations on the basis of mythical “brotherhood” and old empire. Already, several human rights organizations and resistance groups of these ancient minority communities have risen up to protest Putin and his unjust war, alongside deeper Russian racism.

It is about time that the West pay attention to these developments as well and empower resistance groups, while ramping up arms for Ukraine, in order to demilitarize, defeat and de-Nazify Russia.

Dmitri Shufutinsky is a freelancer with Jewish News Syndicate and a junior research fellow with the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism Policy. He earned his BA in international relations in 2017 and MA in international peace & conflict resolution from Arcadia University in Philadelphia. He is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces and has been widely published in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Rudaw, and other publications. He currently lives in Hadera, Israel.