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Russia’s new schoolbook aims to justify war on Ukraine

Russian Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov holds a new schoolbook for high school students on world history and Russian history on August 7, 2023.

Authorities in Moscow have unveiled a new schoolbook which aims to justify the war on Ukraine and accuses the West of trying to destroy Russia.

According to excerpts published by Russian media, schoolchildren will now be taught that human civilisation could have come to an end had Vladimir Putin not started his “special military operation” against Ukraine.

The textbook, called “Russian History, 1945 – early 21st century”, was co-authored by presidential adviser Vladimir Medinsky, formerly Russian culture minister.

This is the first officially approved history book to be used in Russian schools which mentions events as recent as the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which started in February 2022.

From September, it will be studied in the last year of secondary education in Russia – the 11th year – which is attended by pupils aged 17-18.

The textbook claims that “the West is fixated on destabilising the situation within Russia” and to achieve this aim, Western powers spread “undisguised Russophobia”.

Then, it goes on, they started “dragging” Russia into various conflicts. The West’s ultimate objective is to destroy Russia and take control of its mineral wealth, the schoolbook says.

It repeats numerous clichés from Kremlin propaganda, portraying Ukraine as an aggressive state run by nationalist extremists and manipulated by the West, which allegedly uses the country as a “battering ram” against Russia.

According to the book, Ukraine is little more than a Western invention created to spite Russia, and even Ukraine’s blue-and-yellow flag was supposedly invented by the Austrians keen to convince Ukrainians that they are different from Russians.

The textbook is also rife with distortion and manipulation.

For example, it describes Russia’s initial attack on Ukraine in 2014 as a popular uprising of eastern Donbas residents who “wanted to stay Russian” and who were joined by “volunteers” from Russia. It makes no mention of the military hardware and personnel Russia sent to Donbas at the time or over the next eight years.

It argues that one key reason for the full-scale invasion in 2022 was the possibility of Ukraine joining Nato.

If Ukraine had joined the alliance and then “provoked a conflict in Crimea or Donbas”, the textbook says, Russia would have been forced to wage war against the whole of the Nato alliance.

“This would have possibly been the end of civilisation. This could not be allowed to happen,” the schoolbook says.

However, Ukraine’s accession to Nato was, back then – and remains now – a distant prospect.

The textbook also falsely claims that before Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine had plans to turn Sevastopol – the seat of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet – into a Nato base and that later Kyiv said it wanted to acquire nuclear weapons.

Another false assertion in the textbook is that until 2014, 80% of Ukraine’s population considered Russian as their mother tongue. According to a poll published by the reputable Razumkov Centre in 2006, only 30% of residents of Ukraine named Russian as their mother tongue, while 52 said Ukrainian was their native language.

In an apparent reference to the abundance of online material implicating Russian forces in atrocities committed in Ukraine, the textbook warns schoolchildren to be mindful of “a global industry manufacturing staged clips and fake photos and videos”.

“Western social networks and media all too enthusiastically spread fake information,” the textbook says in a chapter about the “special military operation”.

Authorities in Russia have previously jailed activists who have accused Russian troops of targeting civilians in Ukraine. For example, Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin was jailed for eight-and-a-half years in December 2022 after discussing suspected Russian war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha in an online live stream.

The textbook is critical of Western sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine and presents them as an attempt to “destroy Russia’s economy”. It also wrongly argues that these sanctions “violate all the norms of international law which the West is so fond of quoting”.

At the same time, the exodus of Western businesses from Russia in the wake of the full-scale invasion is presented as a “fantastic opportunity” for Russian businesspeople.

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