Russia Calling for ‘Desatanization’ of Ukraine

On October 25 2022, Daily Beast columnist and Russian media watcher Julia Davis tweeted that Russia’s security council “called for … the desatanization” of Ukraine:

Davis referenced Russia’s previous attempts to smear Ukraine by comparing Ukrainians to “Nazis.” A July 2022 press release from the United States Department of State’s Global Engagement Center, entitled “To Vilify Ukraine, The Kremlin Resorts to Antisemitism,” provided extensive background that particular strain of Russian propaganda.

Fact Check

Claim: “Russia’s Security Council is absurdly calling for the ‘desatanization’ of Ukraine.”

Description: Russia’s security council has been reported to call for the ‘desatanization’ of Ukraine, a claim that follows Russia’s previous attempts to smear Ukraine by comparing Ukrainians to ‘Nazis’. The ‘desatanization’ claim was confirmed through a publication by, a Russian state-sponsored news outlet, and follows a surge in similar rhetoric likening Ukraine to various negative entities.


Rating Explanation: The claim is based on the tweet by Julia Davis, a Daily Beast columnist and Russian media watcher, and was later supported by the publication by The claim is in line with Russia’s known propaganda tactics against Ukraine.

That release was divided into sections, the second of which was titled “Targeting Ukraine’s Jewish President.” It began with a recap of Russian propaganda, designed to damage Ukraine’s reputation on the world stage (and justify Russia’s invasion of the country):

One of the Kremlin’s most common disinformation narratives to justify its devastating war against the people of Ukraine is the lie that Russia is pursuing the “denazification” of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has referred to Ukraine’s democratically elected government as a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis,” while Russian state media and propagandists have repeatedly called for the “denazification” of the entire population of Ukraine.

By evoking Nazism and the horrors associated with World War II and the Holocaust, the Kremlin hopes to delegitimize and demonize Ukraine in the eyes of the Russian public and the world. The Kremlin attempts to manipulate international public opinion by drawing false parallels between Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine and the Soviet fight against Nazi Germany, a source of pride and unity for many people of the former Soviet republics who made enormous sacrifices during World War II, including both Ukrainians and Russians.

More than 140 international historians have denounced Russia’s “equation of the Ukrainian state with the Nazi regime to justify its unprovoked aggression,” calling Moscow’s propaganda “factually wrong, morally repugnant and deeply offensive” to the “victims of Nazism and those who courageously fought against it.” Renowned Holocaust remembrance institutions Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum also condemned Russia’s “completely inaccurate comparisons with Nazi ideology and actions” and the false claims that “democratic Ukraine needs to be ‘denazified’.”

A July 2022 New York Times interactive report used visual data to measure the reach of Russian propaganda, specifically when and where Russia’s claims that the invasion’s purpose was to “denazify” Ukraine began:

A data set of nearly eight million articles about Ukraine collected from more than 8,000 Russian websites since 2014 shows that references to Nazism were relatively flat for eight years and then spiked to unprecedented levels on Feb. 24 [2022], the day Russia invaded Ukraine. They have remained high ever since.

The data, provided by Semantic Visions, a defense analytics company, includes major Russian state media outlets in addition to thousands of smaller Russian websites and blogs. It gives a view of Russia’s attempts to justify its attack on Ukraine and maintain domestic support for the ongoing war by falsely portraying Ukraine as being overrun by far-right extremists.

News stories have falsely claimed that Ukrainian Nazis are using noncombatants as human shields, killing Ukrainian civilians and planning a genocide of Russians … A key feature of Russian propaganda is its repetitiveness, Ms. Richter said. “You just see a constant regurgitation and repackaging of the same stuff over and over again.” In this case, that means repeating unfounded allegations about Nazism. Since the invasion, 10 to 20 percent of articles about Ukraine have mentioned Nazism, according to the Semantic Visions data.

Davis’ “desatanization” tweet included a screenshot of what appeared to be material published by Russian state-sponsored news outlet TASS, without a visible link to the material. Its headline read, in English:

The apparatus of the Security Council of the Russian Federation considers it increasingly urgent to carry out “desatanization” of Ukraine

An October 25 2022 page loaded with the title “В аппарате Совбеза РФ считают все более насущным проведение “десатанизации” Украины.” When automatically translated by Google, the title matched the screenshot, and text of the item read in part:

MOSCOW, 25 October [2022]. /TASS/. The “desatanization” of Ukraine, where hundreds of sects now operate, is becoming increasingly urgent, said Aleksey Pavlov, assistant secretary of the Russian Security Council, in an article for

“I believe that with the continuation of the special military operation, it becomes more and more urgent to carry out the de-Satanization of Ukraine, or, as the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov aptly put it, its “complete de-Satanization,” he noted … Pavlov specifically pointed out that the “Church of Satan”, which “spread across Ukraine,” is “one of the officially registered religions in the United States.” “Is it any wonder that in 2015 in Kyiv a group of pagans broke and desecrated a worship cross erected for the 1000th anniversary of the repose of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Duke Vladimir, the Baptist of Russia,” he asked.

In addition to similarities with Russian propaganda likening Ukraine to “Nazis,” the TASS report shared characteristics with other anti-Ukrainian Russian propaganda. In May 2022, Russia attempted to seed claims Ukraine used “black magic” against invading forces, again through state-sponsored media.

Epithets involving “Satanic activity” or references to “demons” are part of a popular antisemitic trope. According to the American Jewish Committee, calling Jewish people “Satan” comes from a deliberate misreading of a Biblical passage:

Referring to Jews as Satan or the devil stems from the interpretation of John 8:41-44 in the Christian Bible. Here Jesus says to his fellow Jews, “For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does…. When [the devil] lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

In medieval Christian folklore and artwork, Jews were depicted with grotesque characteristics such as devil’s horns, sharp claws, jagged teeth, pointy ears, and other satanic features to portray the differences between Christianity and Judaism.

Today Jews, and the Jewish State, continue to be cast as Satan, demons, vampires, or other demonic figures.

The “denazification” claims ran along similar lines, referencing another set of antisemitic narratives that gained mainstream American popularity in the first months of the COVID-19 global pandemic such as “white genocide” and “the Great Replacement,” as columnist Yair Rosenberg noted in January 2022:

Indeed, once you start looking, it’s hard to escape the fact that people just love accusing Jews of genocide. “The Jews will use the vaccine to change DNA making the person susceptible to designer viruses the Jews will create,” wrote one poster on the neo-Nazi forum Stormfront in December 2020. “This is one way the Jews will attempt to kill off the White Race.” That same month, the Anti-Defamation League reportedthat Ishmael Muhammad, a student minister in Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, had “referenced the ‘Synagogue of Satan’ (an antisemitic phrase used to refer to Jews) for allegedly promoting vaccines to sterilize Black people,” in a live sermon from the organization’s headquarters in Chicago. “Those of you who are really big supporters of the vaccination program, whether you realize it or not, you are a new Nazi,” intoned the antisemitic pastor Rick Wiles last month. “This is mass genocide.” (Wiles is best known for dubbing the impeachment of President Donald Trump a “Jew coup.”)

So far, so fringe. But the same cannot be said for the broader “white genocide” conspiracy theory, which posits that Jews are conspiring to wipe out the White race through the promotion of mass immigration, interracial marriage and other supposedly sinister social schemes. Fear of this farcical “great replacement” infamously inspired the neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, who in 2017 chanted that “Jews will not replace us.” And it featured prominently in the social media feeds of Robert Bowers, the white supremacist who is accused of massacring 11 Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.

Yale’s Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies was more succinct:

The atrocity talk is an expression of antisemitism. To claim falsely that Volodymyr Zelens’kyi is guilty of “genocide” and deserving of “denazification” is to revive an old antisemitic canard. It is to say that the Jews are the real Nazis, and others are the real victims. It thus justifies “revenge” against Jews.

It is thus a pretext for war crimes. To maintain (falsely) that a genocide has taken place is to build the rhetorical foundation, as Mr. Putin has done, for a tribunal to judge the (falsely) accused. The mendacious atrocity talk sets the stage for a sham Nuremberg in which the innocent are to be punished according to the whim of a dictator.

The atrocity talk is a trivialization of the Holocaust. When the language we need to describe the Holocaust is twisted in order to lie, to divert attention from fascism, to express antisemitism, and to prepare the way for war crimes, then the memory of the Holocaust has been willfully debased. The last time Kyiv was bombed and taken by force was in 1941 by Germany. Then followed the largest massacre of the Holocaust, at a ravine outside Kyiv known as Babyn Yar.

The change in terminology appears to reflect a major escalation in Russia’s rhetoric that coincides with an upswing in antisemitic conspiracy theories heavily pushed on and off social media, perhaps most notably by artist Kanye West.

An October 25 2022 tweet appeared to depict Russian state-sponsored “news” which “called for … the desatanization of Ukraine,” and the tweet compared the claim to Russia’s sustained attempts to smear Ukraine as a “Nazi” state; the US Department of State described that assertion as anti-Semitic. On October 25 2022, published the material in the screenshot, swapping “desatanization” in for “denazification,” referencing two known conspiracy theories amid a flurry of sharply heightened antisemitic rhetoric.