Russian official rhetoric has increasingly compared events in Ukraine to the darkest crimes of Nazi Germany, ahead of next week’s anniversary of Soviet victory in World War II.
Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, Russian television and officials have made frequent references to the “fascists” Moscow claims are now running Ukraine.
But the latest outbreak of deadly violence has seen the official Moscow propaganda reach new heights, analysts said.
The fire in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa that claimed at least 42 lives on Friday has been swiftly dubbed a new “reprisal raid” and even the “new Khatyn,” a reference to the Belarussian village where 149 residents were burned alive by the Nazis in 1943.
The entire village was punished for the death of a Nazi officer and the Nazi battalion behind the massacre consisted of collaborators including nationalists from western Ukraine.
The Khatyn massacre went down in Russian history books as one of the Nazis’ most brutal “reprisal raids,” a term the Kremlin has now adopted to describe the offensive Kiev authorities have launched against pro-Moscow rebels in the flashpoint town of Slavyansk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman on Saturday pointedly referred to the Odessa tragedy as a “reprisal raid,” saying “extremists” burned people alive.
State television and officials went even further by overtly likening the Odessa blaze to a Nazi-style massacre.
“What has happened, especially in the Trade Unions House, brings to mind the crimes of the Nazis during World War II,” pro-Kremlin lawmaker Leonid Slutsky told reporters in Moscow, referring to the Odessa fire. “These are the new Khatyn and Auschwitz.”
A senior official in the pro-Kremlin government of Crimea, Ukraine’s peninsula taken over by Russia in March, chimed in.
“The last time people were burned alive in Ukraine was by the Nazis during the Great Patriotic War,” Rustam Temirgaliyev said on Facebook, referring to the Russian name for World War II.
Putin first described Kiev’s assault against pro-Russian rebels who have taken control of a string of towns and cities across Ukraine’s southeast as a “reprisal raid” last month and the term has since become a Moscow favourite to depict events in Ukraine, used by everyone from television news anchors to Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin.
Russia’s losses and sacrifice during World War II remain a hugely sensitive subject in the country and Putin has often reached into this history to cast pro-Western authorities in Kiev as Moscow’s enemies.
He has described the Kiev government as the successors of the controversial Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which battled Soviet soldiers and collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II.
Russian officials have joined suit, with Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky taking to Twitter to call the events in the southeastern Ukraine the “anti-fascist resistance.”
Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Political Expert Group, said Moscow was flirting with danger by ramping up its rhetoric, which is expected to further stir up tensions and pit the two Slavic nations against each other.
“They are inflaming passions but how are they going to put them out?” he said.