At a glance.
- Moscow to the Western press: respect us and our media outlets.
- Disinformation on food and energy shortages.
- Nuremberg and national memory.
Treat us right or go home.
The Moscow Times describes the session in which Russian authorities called Western media outlets on the carpet yesterday. If the West doesn't "normalize" its treatment of Russian media, then Western media can expect to have their credentials revoked. "'If they don’t normalize the work of Russian media on U.S. territory, there will be forceful measures as a consequence,' Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said as she invited U.S. media representatives to the ministry."
Fodder for disinformation: food and energy shortages.
The Telegraph reports that Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian representative to the United Nations, left a Security Council meeting in high dudgeon over European Commission President Charles Michel's accusation that Russia was deliberately seeking to induce famine by blocking shipment of Ukrainian grain. He said, "The dramatic consequences of Russia's war are spilling over across the globe, and this is driving up food prices, pushing people into poverty, and destabilising entire regions. The Kremlin is also targeting grain storages and stealing grain from areas it has occupied while shifting the blame on others. Russia is solely responsible for this food crisis, despite its campaign of lies." As Mr. Nebenzia walked out, M. Michel directed a taunt at the Russian envoy's departing back: "You may leave the room. Maybe it’s easier not to hear the truth, dear ambassador."
The Russian media place the responsibility for food shortages where President Putin wants it: on the EU, and on Ukraine. Sputnik reports "European politicians' short-sightedness, not Russia, provoked the energy crisis, and Russia is ready to take necessary measures to alleviate a global food crisis, President Vladimir Putin has said." And any problems getting grain out through Black Sea ports are Kyiv's fault: "Putin called on Kiev to clear areas under its control of sea mines and deliberately sunk ships to ensure the safe export of food supplies, and indicated that Russia was finishing up work to clear areas under its control, and will be prepared to ensure the peaceful transport of goods and the entry of ships into Black and Azov Sea ports. He added that there are still dozens of foreign commercial vessels still trapped in Ukraine's ports, and that their crews are effectively being held hostage." It's fair to say that Mr. Putin's account represents, at best, a minority view.
Russian spin continues to blame Ukraine in particular for the Black Sea blockade. The Guardian also reports on a press conference Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov held in Turkey. It was heavily scripted with tame questions, but at the end a Ukrainian journalist interrupted to ask how much Ukrainian gain Russia had stolen, and what Moscow intended to do with it. Mr. Lavrov seemed initially uneasy at the unscripted and awkward question, but smiled and answered, "'You Ukrainians are always worried about what you can steal and you think everyone thinks that way. Our goals there are clear, we want to save people from the pressure of the neo-Nazi regime. We are not obstructing the grain. In order for it to leave the ports, Mr Zelenskiy must give the order, that’s all.'”
Nuremberg and national memory.
Ukraine, and the many in the West who sympathize with Ukraine in the case of what the UK Ministry of Defence reminds us daily is Russia's "illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine" have invoked the memory of Nuremberg in the context of seeking formal justice against Russian leaders who initiated the invasion (which Russia continues to describe as a "special military operation"). The reasons for this seem obvious. Russia invaded Ukraine in violation of multiple international agreements, and it's conducted its war with marked brutality. The analogies with the crimes for which the Allies prosecuted German leaders seem clear enough.
The Nuremberg trial, formally the International Military Tribunal, met in 1945 and 1946 to hold leaders of Nazi Germany to account for their role in beginning and prosecuting the Second World War. The defendants were accused on four counts:
- Count One, "The Common Plan or Conspiracy." The Allies (especially the Americans, with their national experience of Mob prosecutions) saw the German leaders as engaged in a criminal conspiracy to wage aggressive war.
- Count Two, "Crimes Against Peace." This was prosecution for waging aggressive war, and was controversial at the time because the lack of international statutory law proscribing aggression seemed to render this count ex post facto. There had been treaties, notably the Kellogg-Briand pact, that took steps toward criminalizing aggression, and there was a long jus ad bellum tradition that regarded aggressive war as immoral. But this count was prosecuted more on the grounds of customary as opposed to black letter law.
- Count Three: "War Crimes." Transgressions of the formal international laws of war that governed such matters as treatment of prisoners and the conduct of war. These rules were formally set down in the Hague Rules and Geneva Conventions.
- Count Four: "Crimes Against Humanity." Crimes against noncombatants, especially the campaign of extermination against various European groups, especially the Holocaust in which the Nazi regime sought to exterminate Europe's Jews.
Telford Taylor's The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials (New York: Skyhorse, 1995), written by one of the senior US prosecutors, is a good guide to the organization and conduct of the trials. And again, it's not surprising to see Ukraine talking about bringing Russian leaders up before a court like the Nuremberg Tribunal.
What's far stranger, at least when seen under Western eyes, is the use Moscow is making of the memory of Nuremberg. Time has an account of that use. To understand it, brief historical excursus may be helpful. The Soviet Union (and remember, Russia is the proudly self-conscious heir of the Soviet legacy) concluded an agreement with Nazi Germany that enabled the Soviet Union to invade Finland in the Winter War, and to invade and conquer the three Baltic States, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. All four of these countries had been provinces of the old Russian Empire, breaking away at the end of the First World War. More significantly, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany agreed to divide Poland up between them, and Soviet forces invaded and took the eastern parts of Poland as the German invasion from the west was in progress. The invasion of Poland was one of the acts of aggression of which the Nuremberg Tribunal convicted the defendants under Counts One and Two. The Soviets weren't charged, obviously, because the scope of the trial was confined to Axis crimes. Similarly, the Soviet prosecutors sought to convict the German defendants under Count Three of having committed the Katyn Massacre, the mass execution of more than 20,000 Polish officers in 1940. Since the victims were prisoners of war, their execution was a war crime. In fact the evidence was overwhelming that the Soviets had committed the massacre, and the Tribunal, while not assigning responsibility to the Soviets, declined to convict the Germans of the war crimes at Katyn.
But in the Russian view, Nuremberg amounts to a formal exoneration of Russia. It committed neither aggression nor war crimes. As Time essay puts it:
"In this narrative, the Russians are the saviors of Europe and the main victims of the Nazi genocide. They cannot be perpetrators or fascists: these labels are reserved for the Nazi invaders and their accomplices. This narrative of World War II is protected by a 2021 Russian memory law that bans public discussion about Soviet collaboration with Nazi Germany or about Soviet war crimes during World War II—a memory law that purports to be based on 'the Nuremberg verdict.'"
That's also part of the reason for the repeated, bizarre claim that Ukraine is ruled by actual Nazis. "Putin looks to the Nuremberg verdict because the Soviet Union, as one of the victors, was not tried at Nuremberg for its own crimes against peace. Nor was it held responsible for any war crimes or crimes against humanity. No Allied crimes were tried at Nuremberg; the tribunal’s jurisdiction was limited to the crimes of the European Axis powers. But Putin is using the tribunal’s restricted scope to manipulate the past: for Putin, the fact that Soviet crimes were not judged at Nuremberg means that they never happened."