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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Kremlin Now Playing Down Contribution of Non-Russians during World War II and Playing Up Their Role in Crimes in Ukraine, Buryat Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Increasingly catering to his ethnic Russian base, Vladimir Putin is now playing down the real contribution non-Russians made to the Soviet victory in World War II and playing up the supposed role of the non-Russians in war crimes in Ukraine, according to émigré Buryat activist Radjana Dugar-DePonte.

            That not only violates the historical record – non-Russians made a significant contribution to the triumph of the Red Army and have not been uniquely to blame for crimes in Ukraine – but is highly offensive to the non-Russians within Russia, deepening the divide which separates them from Moscow.

            Those conclusions are suggested by Dugar-DePonte’s remarkable discussion of “The Buryats and the Russian World” that first appeared in Russian on the SibReal portal and now has been translated and disseminated online in English (sibreal.org/a/buryaty-i-russkij-mir-/31844184.htmlandtherussianreader.com/2022/05/23/buryats-russian-world).

            While she talks about how offensive Putin’s revisionism on World War II is to her nation, she focuses most of her attention on what he is doing in the case of Buryats and other non-Russians in Ukraine. “It is convenient,” she writes, “to encourage Ukrainians to think that their enemies are not ethnic Russians” but other “nations Russia has colonized.”

            Moscow propagandists have tried to pin the blame for atrocities in Bucha and other Ukrainian locations on the Buryats if not on the Ukrainians themselves. But preliminary investigations have concluded that these crimes were in fact “committed by ‘burly Slavic guys’” and not Buryats or other non-Russians.

“I am sure there will be a new Nuremberg trial after the war,” she continues; “and if it transpires that there were Buryats among the war criminals, they will have to be punished. But I hope that there will also be room in the dock for warmongering propagandists, and for the Kremlin’s disinformation agents in Ukraine.”

Many are asking why so many Buryats and other non-Russians are fighting in Ukraine as members of the Russian army. There may be as many as 10,000 Buryats there, most attracted to military service because of national traditions and increasing poverty rather than because they view Ukrainians as their enemies.

And the Buryat nation is suffering because of this: even though Buryats make up only 0.3 percent of the population of the Russian Federation, they form 2.8 percent of the official war dead, a figure that means the war is costing Buryats their future as a nation just as Putin is trying to take away the future of Ukraine.

“I understand perfectly well,”  Dugar-DePonte continues, “that many readers will now accuse me of trying to whitewash my own people. There is most likely some truth to this. But I repeat that if it transpires that there are war criminals among Buryats, I will be the first to demand that they be punished.”

And she adds that “it is possible to understand on a personal level Ukrainians who believe that the majority of war crimes have been committed by Buryats. They are under stress, they are distraught and grief-stricken, and in many cases, they are not up to rational arguments now.”

What is not understandable and forgivable, however, is something else, she says. “Some Russians comport themselves much worse in this situation, and I’m not talking about Putinists and my completely brainwashed fellow citizens. Rather I am referring to the so-called ‘cultured’ liberal crowd.

Alexander Nevzorov is typical of far too many. “A Russian imperialist and erstwhile champion of Russian armed force in Chechnya,” he has become an idol of the Russian opposition crowd” for his opposition to Putin’s latest war. But he has repeatedly made statements suggesting that “the Buryats don’t care who they rape.”

“The views of the flip-flopping hybrid democrat are especially congenial to those who, wrapped in the redesigned flag of “the other Russia, the good Russia,” want to shift the collective blame for all crimes onto the country’s minorities. But the shame of this war will have to be shared equally by our whole country which has gone off the rails.”

Window on Eurasia — New Series

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