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The Great Patriotic War

Section 3 from “Old Wine in a New Bottle: Russia’s Modernization of Traditional Soviet Information Warfare and Active Policies Against Ukraine and Ukrainians”.

by Taras Kuzio, the Department of Political Science, National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Kyiv, Ukraine

Putin began to re-Sovietize Russia before the 2004 Orange Revolution.47 This could be clearly seen in the revival of three inter-connected ideological tenets integrated from the conservative era from the 1960s to mid-1980s, when the Soviet Union was ruled by Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko. These were the formative years for Putin at school, socialization into Soviet life, and in his career in the KGB. The first is the revival of the Great Patriotic War as the new ‘state religion’, the second is a cult of Joseph Stalin,48 and the third ideological tirades (now information warfare) and disinformation against the perfidious West and treacherous Ukrainians. Russia’s defeat of Nazism in the Great Patriotic War is a central element of the ideology of Putin’s regime, ‘Presenting Ukrainians as Nazis stands centrally in the attacks on Ukraine that target Russian audiences, so that they view Ukraine as an acceptable target of Russian military aggression’.49

Putin’s promotion of the Great Patriotic War has monopolized the victory over Nazi Germany to the extent of claiming that Russia would have been victorious, even without Ukraine’s contribution. Soviet and Russian information warfare on the Great Patriotic War share a number of similar narratives:50

  1. Believing that Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians were ‘Nazi collaborators’;

  2. Targeting Ukrainians as supporters of nationalist leader Stepan Bandera. The term banderivtsi is used against ‘Ukrainians in general and pro-Ukrainian activists in particular’;51

  3. Discussion of Nazi-Soviet collaboration in 1939–1941 is forbidden;

  4. The terms opolchentsy (resistance fighters) and karateli ([Nazi] pun- ishers) with the former associated with pro-Russian Donbas proxies and the latter with Nazi occupiers (i.e. Ukrainians);

  5. NATO and the EU are linked to Nazi and US hegemony;

  6. Nazi collaborators after World II began working for Western intelligence agencies.

The threads tying Soviet and contemporary Russian information warfare are readily available. When attacking Ukrainian dissidents and the Ukrainian diaspora, Soviet propaganda often attacked ‘Nazi collaborators to link them to the Nazi occupation of the USSR during the Great Patriotic War’. The Ukrainian Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries was controlled by the KGB and published Ukrainian (Visti z Ukrayiny) and English-language (News from Ukraine) weekly newspapers, which were unavailable in the USSR, geared to the Ukrainian diaspora and Western media and policy makers. Its activities and newspapers were dominated by stories of ‘Nazi collaborators’ lurking am