This report is the first to address one of the more contentious and consequential questions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: whether the war is genocidal in character.
This is a project of the New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, which assembled three teams of experts to assess the subject. This included a team of legal scholars and genocide experts, a second group of open-source intelligence investigators, and linguists who were able to make use of the extensive primary source record this war has already created — of communications intercepts and testimonials.
The New Lines Institute and Raoul Wallenberg Centre have done extensive work on the Rohingya and Uyghur genocides — including producing the first report to make a determination of genocide in Xinjiang applying the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Researchers have concluded that Russia bears state responsibility for breaches of Article II and Article III (c) of the Genocide Convention to which it is bound.
The Ukrainian national group is recognized domestically, internationally, and expressly by Russia in formal interstate relations and is thus protected under the Genocide Convention.
Under Article III (c) of the Genocide Convention, direct and public incitement to commit genocide is a distinct crime whether or not genocide follows.
According to the research, high-level Russian officials and state media commentators repeatedly and publicly deny the existence of a distinct Ukrainian identity, implying that those who self-identify as Ukrainian threaten the unity of Russia or are Nazis, and are therefore deserving of punishment. Denial of the existence of protected groups is a specific indicator of genocide under the United Nations guide to assessing the risk of mass atrocities.
According to researchers, “accusation in a mirror” is a powerful, historically recurring form of incitement to genocide. A perpetrator accuses the targeted group of planning, or having committed, atrocities like those the speaker envisions against them, framing the putative victims as an existential threat and making violence against them seem defensive and necessary. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian officials did exactly this, making the utterly false claim that Ukraine had committed genocide or exterminated the civilian population in Russian-backed separatist-controlled areas, as their pretext for invading Ukraine.
Russian officials and state media repeatedly invoke “denazification” as one of the main goals of the invasion and have broadly described Ukrainians as subhuman (“zombified,” “bestial,” or “subordinate”), diseased or contaminated (“scum,” “filth,” “disorder”) or existential threats and the epitome of evil (“Nazism,” “Hitler youth,” “Third Reich”). This rhetoric is used to portray a substantial segment or an entire generation of Ukrainians as Nazis and mortal enemies, rendering them legitimate or necessary targets for destruction.
According to the report, in the Russian context, the state-orchestrated incitement campaign overtly links the current invasion to the Soviet Union’s existential battles with Nazi Germany in World War II, amplifying the propaganda’s impact on the Russian public to commit or condone mass atrocities. On April 5, 2022, Dmitry Medvedev, current Deputy Chair of the Russian Security Council, posted: “having transformed itself into the Third Reich … Ukraine will suffer the same fate … what it deserves! These tasks cannot be completed instantaneously. And they will not only be decided on battlefields.” The day before the widely celebrated Victory Day, marking the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, President Putin sent a Telegram to Russian-backed separatists claiming Russians are fighting “for the liberation of their native land from Nazi filth,” vowing that “victory will be ours, like in 1945.”
In addition, experts said that the Russian Orthodox Church has publicly reinforced this historical parallel and praised Russia’s fight against Nazis.