Putin made a number of bogus and farcical claims when justifying his attack on Ukraine.
He said he wanted to prevent a "genocide," protect Russian speakers, and aim for the "de-Nazification" of Ukraine.
There is no genocide in Ukraine, and the country's president is a Jewish man whose native language is Russian.
Russian President Vladimir Putin made a brazen declaration when announcing an unprovoked military assault on Ukraine on Thursday.
In addition to calling on Ukrainian forces to lay down their weapons and warning other countries from interfering, Putin said he was acting to prevent a genocide against Russian-speakers and aiming for the "demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine."
It was a farcical and unfounded statement for a host of reasons.
For one, there's no evidence of a genocide being carried out in Ukraine. As the US State Department, former Ukrainian diplomats, and experts on information warfare have pointed out, Putin makes this claim to aid in a broader disinformation campaign aimed at creating a pretext to invade Ukraine, a sovereign and democratic nation.
"We have no evidence of Ukrainian aggression or, as Putin talked about in his speech the other day, of — quote, unquote — 'genocide' by the Ukrainian army," Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Wilson Center studying eastern Europe, told PBS News. "There's just no evidence that any of this exists."
Putin's claim that he ordered a military offensive against Ukraine to protect Russian-speakers also has no basis in reality. Among other things, Ukraine's president himself speaks Russian as his native language and spoke in it a moving appeal to Russian citizens on Wednesday. In fact, this facet of his upbringing was a key factor that propelled Volodymyr Zelensky to victory in Ukraine's election back in 2019; according to France 24, Zelensky enjoyed particularly strong support in Ukraine's Russian-speaking regions.
The Russian president's claim that he's working toward the "de-Nazification" of Ukraine is also nonsense because Zelensky, who was democratically elected to office in 2019 following a free and fair election, is Jewish.
Zelensky referenced Putin's accusations on Wednesday saying in an impassioned and emotional appeal to Russia's people: "You are told we are Nazis, but how can a people support Nazis that gave more than 8 million lives for the victory over Nazism? How can I be a Nazi? Tell my grandpa, who went through the whole war in the infantry of the Soviet Army and died as a colonel in independent Ukraine."
Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador to Ukraine, also derided Putin's claim.
"In his attempt to justify the unjustifiable, #Russia's assault on #Ukraine, Putin referred to a fictional genocide & set goal of 'denazification of Ukraine,' a country that overwhelmingly elected a Jew president," Pifer said in a tweet.
Though Putin's claims of genocide in eastern Ukraine were demonstrably outlandish, they're also part of a playbook the Russian president has repeatedly used before.
When justifying Russia's military actions against Ukraine in 2014, Putin claimed to be protecting ethnic Russians. Russia in 2014 invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, and in the years since supported rebels in a war against Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region. The US at the time categorically rejected Putin's claims that ethnic Russians were under threat.
"What's happening there is not based on actual concern for Russian nationals or Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, but is based on Russia seeking, through force, to exert influence on a neighboring country. That is not how international law is supposed to operate," President Barack Obama said of the situation in Ukraine at the time.
Putin in 2008 also accused Georgia of genocide in South Ossetia, even though there wasn't evidence to back up the allegation. Russia invaded Georgia that year and continues to occupy South Ossetia and Abkhazia, territories recognized as part of Georgia by the international community. The European court of human rights in early 2021 ruled that Russia committed human rights violations in the war, including the murder of Georgian civilians.
In a speech to the United Nations Security Council last Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, whose stepfather was a Holocaust survivor, warned that Russia would "manufacture a pretext for its attack."
"Russia may describe this event as ethnic cleansing or a genocide, making a mockery of a concept that we in this chamber do not take lightly, nor do I do take lightly based on my family history," Blinken added.
A week later, Putin proved Blinken right.
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