The Drama Theater in Mariupol had the word “children” written in Russian in clear white letters – so clear satellites could see them from space.
But for the Russian pilots who dropped a huge bomb on the theater, under which more than a thousand people were taking shelter from an incessant Russian bombardment, those words might as well have been target markers.
Ukrainian authorities in Mariupol, a port city on the Azov Sea coast that has been under siege since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, say 130 people have so-far emerged alive from the rubble of the destroyed theater.
But while the bomb shelter under the theatre appears to have survived intact, the fate of the possibly more than 1,000 other people inside remained uncertain four days after the March 16 airstrike, as urban warfare went on around the site and authorities were unable to mount a rescue response. Anyone still alive under the rubble would have already endured six days of freezing temperatures, darkness, and no food or water.
The barbarity of the Russia attack on the theatre, while shocking, should be unsurprising to those who have been paying attention over the years to what Russia was turning into – a horrible successor to Nazi Germany.
From the destruction of Grozny in the Second Chechen War in 2000 (the United Nations later described the Chechen capital as “the most destroyed city on Earth”), to the siege and destruction of much of Aleppo in Syria in 2016, Russia has been grimly ticking the boxes that mark it as fascist state.
In Syria, the Russian Air force practiced the terror tactics of bombing civilian targets, hospitals, schools and residential neighborhoods. Now, having invaded parts of Ukraine, the Russia army has joined the air force in turning Mariupol into a second Aleppo – officials in the city estimate that 80-90% of the city’s buildings have been destroyed. Perhaps 39,000 people according to some estimates have been able to flee the city of 433,000. Thousands may have been killed.
Eerily, there are reports that the Russians have been collecting city residents in “filtration” camps. There, they are stripped of their mobile phones, today’s identity papers, and sent on to remote parts of Russia – a fate that recalls the deportations carried out by the Nazis and in the Soviet Union under its dictator Stalin.
The parallels don’t stop there.
Like the Nazis before him, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has crushed the domestic press, and in place of the movies and radio, he possesses a propaganda apparatus that Goebbels could only have dreamed of – social media.
Putin’s OMON – black-clad, truncheon-wielding thugs in riot gear, ape Hitler’s S.A., while the Federal Security Service, the FSB, is his S.S. and Gestapo in one.
Moreover, Putin, like Adolf Hitler, is consumed with imagined grievances, and determined to regain past glories.
Like the Nazi dictator, he confuses language with ethnicity and political allegiance. For him, Russian speakers in other countries are lost comrades to be gathered into a greater Russian state – just as Sudetenland Germans were for Hitler.
Like Nazi Germany, fascist Russia is awash with nostalgic militarism. For the Putin regime, the downfall of the Soviet Union was not a triumph of humanity over a brutal, wretched, repressive and failed system of government, but a geopolitical disaster – the collapse of an empire. Putin uses the Second World War, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, to fire up his population with pride and grievance simultaneously. The enemy, be it NATO or Ukraine, is at the same time both weak and strong, both a deadly threat and something to be derided.
While anti-Semitism is an ever-present undercurrent in Putinist Russia, fascist Russia’s “Jews” are LGBTQ+ people. The Kremlin mocks the West, accusing it of being decadent and corrupt, and its societies rotting from within due to the insidious presence of people with “non-traditional” sexual identities and orientations. The language used by the Putin regime about LGBTQ people echoes that used by the Nazis of the Jews, whom they accused of corrupting societies.
As common in late-stage dictators, Putin, having crushed opposition at home, is fast running out of scapegoats to blame for the effects of his corrupt, inept and destructive rule. He has had his “remilitarization of the Rhineland” (sending troops into places such as Moldova, Georgia and the Donbas) to test the resolve of the West. Like Hitler, he found the response of the democracies weak and wanting. He was encouraged to press further.
He has since had his Anschluss – the invasion of Crimea capped with a sham referendum carried out under the guns of his troops.
Syria has been his Spanish Civil War.
Now he wants his Poland – a full-on invasion of Ukraine to gain “Lebensraum” for Russians. The land stolen from Ukraine will be ethnically cleansed of its former inhabitants’ language and culture. Those that are not killed or driven away will be absorbed by the greater Russian state.
The Ukrainians understand this well – that’s why they’re fighting with all their fury to stop the Russians in their tracks.
Finally, since the invasion of Ukraine, fascist Russia has unveiled its swastika – the Latin letter “Z”. It is also an element of a tripartite slogan that echoes the Nazis’ “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuehrer.”
“Za mir bez Natsizma, za Rossiyu, Za presidenta” the new Russian slogan goes – “For a world without Nazism, for Russia, for the president.” The Latin letter is even used in place of its Russian equivalent, apparently for emphasis.
And that’s why I have dubbed the Putin regime “the Zazis” (pronounced ‘ZAT-sees’), as there can be no more doubt: Zazi Russia is a fascist state, an unmistakable bastard heir to Nazi Germany.
In future historians will point to the numerous similarities between the Zazis and the Nazis, and ask themselves, “Why didn’t they see them coming?”
But we don’t have to repeat all of history. It’s not too late to stop these new fascists, the Zazis, from wreaking even more of their deadly havoc on the entire world. The world need not abandon Ukraine to be carved up, raped and looted – like it abandoned Poland last century.
Ukrainians know their present enemy well. They have fought them before, they have defeated them before, and they know they can defeat them again. But to do that, they desperately need help from the West: more supplies of anti-tank weapons, and also counter-artillery radars, to destroy the enemy on the ground; and more, and more powerful anti-aircraft defenses, to defeat the Zazis in the air.
Meanwhile there should be no talk in the West of easing sanctions on Zazi Russia – they should be maintained until this fascist state is no longer a threat, with its economy in ruins, and the dictator Putin overthrown or dead.
And after that, it is to be hoped, the Zazis will have their Nuremburg Trials – in The Hague.