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Yale 62

Yale Historian Snyder Deconstructs “Russophobia”

Tim Snyder

By Lee G. Bolman

When journalists or television news anchors want an informed source who can provide depth and historical context around the war in Ukraine, they’re likely to call on Yale’s Professor Timothy Snyder, an expert on Eastern Europe. His course on the history of Ukraine this semester is so popular that he’s made it available online. A central theme is that “Ukraine must have existed as a society and polity on 23 February 2022, else Ukrainians would not have collectively resisted Russian invasion the next day?” which leads to a broader question, “What does it mean for a nation to exist?” The full playlist of the course is accessible here.

An example of Snyder’s visibility and impact is an appearance before the United Nations Security Council on March 14 to discuss the idea of “Russophobia” in a session, initiated by the Russian Federation. (A summary of the session is online here.) Snyder offered a succinct and devastating takedown of Russia’s argument. Some excerpts:

The term “russophobia” is a rhetorical strategy that we know from the history of imperialism. When an empire attacks, the empire claims that it is the victim. The rhetoric that Ukrainians are somehow “russophobes” is being used by the Russian state to justify a war of aggression…. The term “russophobia” is being used in this setting to advance the claim that the imperial power is the victim, even as the imperial power, Russia, is carrying out a war of atrocity. This is historically typical behavior. The imperial power dehumanizes the actual victim, and claims to be the victim. When the victim (in this case Ukraine) opposes being attacked, being murdered, being colonized, the empire says that wanting to be left in peace is unreasonable, an illness. This is a “phobia”…. The imperialist says: “We are the only people here. We are the real victims. And our hurt feelings count more than other people’s lives.”

The full text of his UN briefing and is available at Snyder’s Substack blog.

The video of Snyder’s talk is below:


We welcome your comments below.

2 comments to Yale Historian Snyder Deconstructs “Russophobia”

  • Bill Weber


    Thanks; this is a great compilation of where Tim Snyder is today.
    Yale62 continues to follow the war in Ukraine and this is most helpful. Bill

  • Tim Hall

    Yes, this is an excellent overview of Tim Snyder’s ideas, Lee. Many thanks! And the video of Prof. Snyder’s address to the U.N.shows how much eye-opening content he can put into a 12 minute address!