Amid rising tensions between Moscow and NATO over ongoing the civil war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on December 9 that the situation in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass regions resembled a genocide. “We can see clearly and know what is happening in the Donbass right now. This, of course, very much resembles a genocide, about which you have spoken,” he said when speaking to Ukrainian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky. The statement was made at a meeting of the Russian council for the development of civil society and human rights, with Putin implying that the Russophobia allegedly being encouraged by the Kiev government was a step towards genocide of the country’s large Russian minority. This came as Russian state media outlets long focused on the growing bans on the Russian language and on symbols of Russian history in the country. “We need to act very carefully so as not to devalue the meaning of these concepts,” Putin said, highlighting that the concepts should reflect the realities of events on the ground.
Allegations of genocide have frequently been used as pretexts for military action or other hostile policies, and the timing of Putin’s statement amid growing Western claims of possible Russian intent to take military action against Ukraine could well raise such concerns further. Ukraine and Russia were the two largest economies in the Soviet Union and maintained relatively positive relations after 1991, but the overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014 with Western support resulted in both limited Russian intervention in the country’s eastern regions and adoption of a strongly anti-Russian stance by the new Kiev government. The mainly Russian speaking populations in the country’s Donbass regions have been waging war against the central government since 2014, with reports varying on the levels of Russian support received. The war has killed an estimated 31,000 people and displaced over 2.5 million, close to 1 million of whom currently reside in Russia as refugees