A Holocaust expert said Newsweek that Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine, a conclusion he reluctantly came to following mounting evidence of atrocities committed by Vladimir Putin’s forces as well as rhetoric coming from Moscow.
The United States has not agreed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Russia is committing genocide, even though President Joe Biden has declared the alleged atrocities in the kyiv region a “war crime”.
Zelensky told CBS that photos of dead civilians in the kyiv suburb of Bucha after Russian forces withdrew showed Putin was seeking “the elimination of the whole nation, of the people.”
Biden called Putin a “war criminal,” but White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said they “have yet to see the level of systematic deprivation of life” of Ukrainians, placing it at the “level of a genocide”.
This is not the case, according to Eugene Finkel, author of Ordinary Jews: Choice and Survival During the Holocaustwho said Newsweek“I am in fact firmly convinced that we are dealing with a genocide.”
“For me, as an outside but well-informed observer, the tipping point was yesterday morning,” he said. Newsweekfollowing reports by Ukrainian officials that Russian soldiers killed at least 400 Bucha residents as they retreated from the area amid shocking footage of the carnage.
“From the Russian perspective, I think the tipping point was when they found out that the Ukrainians actually had no desire to be ‘liberated,'” he said as people were capable of “fighting back fiercely”.
“When exactly this happened, we may never know without having access to Russian documents,” he added.
The Kremlin denied charges related to the killing of civilians in Bucha and said “the facts, the timeline of events also do not support the credibility of these claims.” Newsweek contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.
Finkel, who was born in Lviv, western Ukraine, and raised in Israel, is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
In a Twitter thread that drew widespread comment on Monday, he said he had resisted the application of the term genocide. What changed his view was “increasing evidence” that Bucha “was no exception” combined, “more importantly, with explicit official rhetoric” from Moscow.
He referred to an article published Monday by the state news agency RIA Novosti by expert Timofei Sergeitsev titled “What Russia should do with Ukraine” which spoke of the “final solution to the Ukrainian question”.
He developed ideas about the illegitimacy of the Ukrainian state that Putin endorsed, adding that most of the Ukrainian population “passively” allowed a “Nazi regime”.
Sergeitsev proposes “re-education” based on “ideological repression” that includes control of mass media and school curricula, among others.
Finkel tweeted that it was “one of the most explicit statements of intent to destroy a national group as such that I have ever seen.
“I’ve read a lot of Russian nationalist rhetoric in my life,” he wrote, “it’s not some wild intellectual fantasy, it’s a clear and achievable statement of intent from an agency. State. The UN definition is problematic, but in this case it fits like a glove.”
However, war crimes expert Philippe Sands told CNN that proving genocide “in legal terms is more difficult.”
“You have to prove an intent to destroy the group, the Ukrainian group, in whole or in part,” he said, “I think when President Zelensky calls what is happening genocide, he uses it in a political sense rather than a legal sense.”
Sands, a law professor at University College London, said the images emerging from Ukraine pointed to Russian targeting of civilians and “it looks like war crimes crossing a threshold”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it has documented cases of Russian forces committing war crimes against civilians in occupied areas of Ukraine’s Chernihiv, Kharkiv and kyiv regions. The cases included rape, summary executions and other forms of unlawful violence and threats.
In the media comments shared with NewsweekGissou Nia, a human rights lawyer and director of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Litigation Project, said the latest revelations represent “the most damning evidence yet” that Moscow was committing war crimes.
Nia said that unlike the conflicts in Syria, Ethiopia or Myanmar, “war crimes investigators investigating accountability in Ukraine will have the advantage of having access to it.”
Michael Ignatieff, professor of history at Central European University, Budapest and Vienna, said Newsweek in a phone interview last month, he was ‘always suspicious when people use the word genocide’, but that Ukraine faced a threat ‘to its existence not just as a state but as a people “.
He also said it was an “absolute moral outrage” that Putin called the Ukrainian government Nazis and used “denazification” as a justification for war.
“It tarnishes the heroic role of the Soviet military in saving us from the Nazis and genocide [during World War II]. What’s so horrible is that it’s an unforgivable abuse of the one aspect of the Soviet record that everyone respects,” Ignatieff said, “it destroys the moral prestige of what he claims -even believe”.