By William Echols, for Polygraph

Yevgeny Tomikhin
Russian Ambassador to Thailand
“Europeans still don’t understand that Russia is saving them [from] Nazism. It was done in 1945, and now we are facing another threat of Nazism in Europe.”
Source: Bangkok Post, March 15, 2022

On March 15, Russia’s ambassador to Thailand, Yevgeny Tomikhin, held a news conference to give Russia’s perspective on its invasion of Ukraine.

According to some media reports, journalists from Japan, the United States and other countries were not allowed to attend the event.

During his roughly hour-and-a-half talk, live-streamed by Thailand’s Bangkok Post newspaper, Tomikhin reiterated false claims about Russia’s war of aggression.

As required by Russian law, Tomikhin did not call the invasion a war, but rather a military operation. He repeated the claim that Russia does not “shell civil infrastructure” or “apartments,” disproved by a multitude of videos and deaths.

He said “a top priority” of the Russian armed forces is to avoid civilians, despite evidence suggesting the Russian military is intentionally targeting civilian areas.

Tomikhin “advised” anti-war protesters gathered outside the embassy to study “the historical background of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.” And he later claimed that Russia, as during the World War Two, is defending Europe.

“Europeans still don’t understand that Russia is saving them [from] Nazism. It was done in 1945, and now we are facing another threat of Nazism in Europe,” he said. has previously debunked Russia’s efforts to play up the far-right threat in Ukraine and claims to be engaged in the “de-nazification” of Ukraine. Russian propagandists have gone so far as to warn of Holocaust-like scenarios in eastern Ukraine, where Russia launched a clandestine war in 2014.

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But the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) shot down Russia’s assertion that it is halting genocide in its war to “de-nazify” its neighbor. On Wednesday, March 18, the ICJ ruled it had not seen evidence proving Russia’s claims of genocide, and asked Russia to immediately stop its war.

Moscow rejected the ruling.

At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions have had fascist overtones, despite his claim to be battling Nazism.

On Wednesday, March 16, Putin delivered an angry speech targeting a so-called fifth column – a purported secret group looking to undermine Russia from within.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Putin said:

“Of course they (the West) will try to bet on the so-called fifth column, on traitors – on those who earn their money here, with us, but live over there. And they live, not in the geographical sense of the word, but by their thoughts, by their slavish thinking.

“I do not judge those with villas in Miami or the French Riviera. Or who can’t get by without oysters or foie gras or so-called gender freedoms. The issue here is not in that, but in the fact that many of these people, by their very nature, are located exactly there, and not here, not with our people, not with Russia.

“This, in their opinion, [is] a sign of belonging to a higher caste, to a higher race. Such people are willing to sell their own mother if only they are allowed to sit in the hallway of this highest caste.”

Putin then claimed that U.S. and European sanctions, enacted to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and speculation about Russia’s military losses are actually intended to provoke a civil conflict in Russia. The so-called “fifth columnists” are being used to reach this goal of “destroying Russia,” he said.

But any people, and even more so the Russian people, will be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors, and simply spit them out like a gnat that flew into their mouths.

Spit it out onto the pavement. I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, our cohesion and readiness to respond to any challenges.

Commentators were quick to notice the fascist parallels.

“The language of national ‘self-purification’ that Putin invoked today is the standard vocabulary of fascism, all in the name of a war for supposed de-nazification,” Seva Gunitsky an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said on Twitter.

Andrei Kolesnikov, a Moscow-based political analyst, told Reuters: “Putin in an Orwellian way has divided the citizens of Russia into clean and unclean.”

In his 2004 book, The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton, a professor emeritus at Columbia University, defined fascism as:

A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

In his 1995 essay, “Ur-fascism,” the cultural theorist and author Umberto Eco identified a number of characteristics of fascism.

Eco noted that fascist societies view disagreement as “treason,” condemn “nonstandard sexual habits,” are obsessed with plots in which “followers must feel besieged,” and use Orwellian ‘newspeak’ to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

Russian citizens have also begun displaying the letter Z, which was marked on some Russian military vehicles at the onset of the invasion.

Videos have been posted showing young people dressed in black with the letter Z on their clothing, angrily chanting, and sometimes raising their fists in unison. Some evidence suggests participants were forced to join these rallies.

Political strategist Igor Mangushev identifies as a “retired captain of the Luhansk People’s Republic,” one of the two secessionist provinces in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, where Russia has been in a proxy war with Kyiv since 2018.

Mangushev has been linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, a troll farm suspected of participation in cyberattacks in the U.S. and elsewhere. He told the Latvia-based news site Meduza “he likes the totalitarian aesthetic of the student rally with the Z’s and the Sieg Heiling,” referring to the WWII German salute.

Two days before invading Ukraine on February 24, Putin gave a speech denying that Ukraine had “real statehood,” calling it part of Russia’s “own history, culture, spiritual space.”

Analysts at the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C, think tank, have said Putin’s “de-nazificiation” is a guise for “extinguishing Ukrainian statehood and eradicating all traces of a separate Ukrainian identity.”

That, some analysts say, is tantamount to genocide.

“This is not merely a ‘land grab.’ Putin has made no secret of his intention – and his professed right – to subjugate Ukraine, a complex multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious state,” wrote Olga Andriewsky, an associate professor of history at Trent University.

“[Putin] regards the very existence of Ukraine as an affront to his own sense of Russian identity. What subjugation will mean is the destruction of a vibrant democratic society, the loss of countless numbers of lives and the annihilation of an entire culture. Genocide, in short.”

Others contend Putin’s justification for war against Ukraine mirrors actions taken by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler during World War II.

“The argument that Hitler made [to dismember Czechoslovakia] is very, very similar to the one Putin’s made,” Dov Zakheim, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the Washington Post.

Mirroring Hitler’s actions, Zakheim said Putin accused the Ukrainian government of “mistreating these poor Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine” as a pretext to invade. “So it’s the same playbook,” Zakheim said.

“When [Hitler] bit off the Sudetenland, his argument was: ‘These people don’t want to be part of Czechoslovakia. They’re Germans.’ Putin’s saying the same thing about these people in Donetsk and Luhansk: ‘They don’t want to be part of Ukraine. They’re Russians.’ Same exact argument.”

A soldier from a unit of Ukraine's airborne assault brigade sits in a light tank in a warehouse serving as a forward position at Novoluhanske, opposite Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region, on February 22, 2022. (Marian Kushnir/RFE/RL)
A soldier from a unit of Ukraine’s airborne assault brigade sits in a light tank in a warehouse serving as a forward position at Novoluhanske, opposite Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region, on February 22, 2022. (Marian Kushnir/RFE/RL)

Putin also cited the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians when he annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014. He claimed Crimea had historic sites as important “as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for those who profess Islam and Judaism.”

That has been disputed.

Also in 2014, Putin said he had a right to protect ethnic Russians anywhere in the world. Russia has often carried out a so-called campaign of “passportization” – giving passports out to Russian citizens living abroad.

Analysts note this practice has been used twice in recent decades to justify Russian military intervention in Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetian republic and in Crimea.

In 2015, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared this policy to Hitler’s “Heim ins Reich” resettlement policy, which focused on having ethnic Germans who were living outside of Nazi Germany help reincorporate their land into “Greater Germany.”

“[This is like] what Hitler did back in the ‘30s,” Clinton said, referring to Russia’s decision to hand out Russian passports to Crimeans.

“All the Germans that were … the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people, and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”

By William Echols, for Polygraph