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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/6/22

Guests: John Sparks, Maksym Borodin, Sudarsan Raghavan, Alyona Minkovski, Timothy Snyder

Summary

MSNBC`s continuing live coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Transcript

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Ryan Reilly, great to have you on board, thank you very much.

RYAN REILLY, NBC NEWS REPORTER: Thanks for having me.

HAYES: That is all in on this Wednesday night, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW with Ali Velshi starts now.

Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. We`ll see you tomorrow evening.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

I am joining you once again tonight from the city of Lviv in western Ukraine. And today, about 300 miles east of here in the suburbs of Ukraine`s capital, a welcome sight for residents. Ukrainian army tanks rolling into the town of Bucha. This is the town where Ukrainian forces have for the last several days been finding the bodies of civilians who appeared to have been summarily executed during the several week occupation by Russian troops.

Bucha is now back in Ukrainian hands, but the town is largely destroyed. Some of the few remaining residents are emerging from basements, even attempting a bit of normalcy. Children playing on swings in a miraculous undamaged playground.

But elsewhere in Bucha, police and volunteers are gathering bodies, bringing them to the cemetery. The cemetery manager says they collected around 300 body so far, but many remain in makeshift graves, gardens and yards. Bucha is just one of the Kyiv suburbs and northern towns where Ukrainian forces are slowly uncovering what`s Russian troops have left on their break as they withdraw.

Today, NBC News foreign correspondent Richard Engel travelled to the nearby town of Borodyanka and filed this report, which again I must warn you, as you would expect, some of the images in this report are deeply upsetting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Destroyed tanks are all that remain of Russia`s occupation of the town of Borodyanka outside Kyiv, and the holes in the skyline, yawning the gaps in rows of apartment buildings.

Today, Ukrainian rescue workers weren`t digging for survivors here. They were trying to recover bodies. Local officials believe hundreds of civilians, many of them women and children, were hiding in shelters beneath these buildings entombed under the remains of their homes.

Residents today came back to salvage, mostly memories, photos and what else could be saved. In nearby Bucha, Russian troops killed civilians up close, shooting people in the head. In Borodyanka, most were killed by airstrikes, but as many or perhaps more civilians died here.

Tatyana and her husband came back today. They escaped to another town.

What is it like to come here now and see your home like this?

I have no words. My husband is a builder, she says, 30 years, we made this house for our children. Now we have no future here.

We went up to their apartment.

How many of your friends and neighbors died of these attacks?

We just buried our colleague and her family. There were three of them, she says.

A number of her friends, Alona (ph), her father and her brother in law are under the rubble next door.

Deliberately attacking civilians is a war crime unless Russia can somehow prove that these were military targets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: NBC`s Richard Engel north of Ukraine`s capital. Russia may not see any difference between civilian and military targets at this point. As its propaganda machine at home is portraying most of the Ukrainian population as Nazis and therefore, fair game. We will have more on that insidious propaganda later on the show.

But meanwhile, in a new video message tonight, Ukraine`s president pointed to the atrocities that have been uncovered in the Kyiv suburbs and asked Western nations what more they needed to make, what more they needed to see to make them punish Russia more severely?

He said, quote, some politicians are still struggling with deciding how to stop the flow of oil dollars and oil euros to Russia in a way that does not put their own economies under attack. But that is why people go into politics, to solve such difficult task. If you are not able to, then you should not have gone into politics in the first place.

The question is only how many more Ukrainian men and women the Russian soldiers will have time to kill before an oil embargo is put into place?

President Biden did announce new sanctions today blocking several major Russian banks and imposing sanctions on Vladimir Putin`s adult daughters, and the wife and daughter of Putin`s longtime foreign minister. In an interview with NBC News` Andrea Mitchell, Secretary of State Antony Blinken touted the amount of weaponry that the U.S. and its allies are providing to Ukraine and pledged to continue providing it as the war drags on.

[21:05:06]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: For every Russian tank in Ukraine, we have provided or will soon provide ten anti-tank systems, ten for every single Russian tank. So, in terms of what they need to act quickly and act effectively, to deal with the planes that are firing at them from the skies, the tanks that are trying to destroy their cities from the ground, they have the tools that they need. They`re going to keep getting them. And we`re going to keep sustaining that.

As much as we want to see this come to an end as soon possible, to stop the death and destruction that`s been wrought by Russia in Ukraine, there is also a very likely scenario by which this goes on for sometime.

The Russians, even as they`re moving their forces, they retreated from Kyiv, they retreated from the north and the west, they are consolidating forces in the east, in the Donbas. They have a lot of force still left.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Secretary Blinken was gathered with NATO`s other top diplomats in Brussels today, where the head of NATO echoed Blinken`s warning that the war could go on for sometime, months, or even years.

And right now, as Russian forces withdraw from the north and the capital region, they appear to be regrouping for a major assault on the east, which is already bearing the brunt of Russia`s area bombardment. Ukrainian officials in the east say they are expecting the Russian assault to come as early as 3 to 4 days from now. They are urging civilians to evacuate the region.

Thousands of civilians are doing just that, as in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, where people thronged the central station hoping to get on a train that was leaving.

Residents are also fleeing the city of Severodonetsk, in the eastern Donbas region. The town has been heavily shelled. As of earlier today, the regional governor said ten high-rise buildings were on fire.

Sky News John Sparks is in Severodonetsk, where police are searching damage buildings for remaining residents to try to get them out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN SPARKS, SKY NEWS REPORTER (voice-over): Nobody knows how many people are left in Severodonetsk, but Officer Anton Borokoff (ph) knows where to look. There are sick people living in this overcrowded cellar, but they refused to evacuate it. Some are scared, others do not trust the police.

But there are others, like 84-year-old Tamara Trekeliv (ph) who have made a decision to flee. She was carried to the vehicle at speed in the arms of an officer. It is wonderful, she said.

How are you madam? It`s scary, isn`t it, it is very frightening? How long have you been -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never thought I`d have to leave, I went through the war when I was a child, at the age of three, and now I just want to die in peace.

SPARKS: There is a building on the front line where half a dozen people live underground, we see them emerge in the darkness, covered in soot and dirt. The people that live in this shelter rarely leave it because it is the most dangerous part of the city. They do their cooking here, the fire keeps them warm, but the air is difficult to breathe. Unsurprisingly, they do not really care who wins the war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: WE don`t mind who wins, the most important thing is peace, peace and calm.

SPARKS: There was one more task for the district police at the end of a difficult day, with a small group of orphans to look after. Their cares had made arrangements to send them to Dnipro, 400 kilometers to the west.

Are you excited about going to the new pro?

No, home is better, says Alexei, my dog is there.

Officer Borokoff and his team say their goodbyes as the regional governor warns of a Russian assault, a matter of days, not weeks, he says in Severodonetsk may bear the brunt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Sky News John Sparks in Severodonetsk, one of the eastern cities bracing for a likely Russian assault.

And there is the devastated city of Mariupol. After weeks of constant bombardment, much of the city appears uninhabitable. Yet there are an estimated 160,000 people still trapped there under Russian siege, with no water, no heat and no electricity.

The mayor of Mariupol said that over 5,000 civilians had been killed there.

[21:10:02]

And we may eventually learn of more even worse. Today, the Mariupol city council said the Russians are using mobile crematoriums to cover up the evidence of civilian killings.

Joining us now from western Ukraine is a member of the Mariupol city council, Maksym Borodin.

Mr. Borodin, thank you for taking time to be with us tonight.

MAKYSM BORODIN, MARIUPOL CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: (INAUDIBLE)

VELSHI: Mariupol mayor has said today that more than five dozen civilians had been killed over the last several weeks, including more than 200 children. A lot of Ukrainians who saw the images out of Bucha this week told us that they worry that is what is happening in Mariupol is going to be far worse, we just can`t see yet.

What do you know about the latest information in Mariupol and how bad it is?

BORODIN: Today is very hard to get real information from the city because Russians totally disconnected this city from the auto world and from Ukraine. They destroyed our telephone towers. So, there are no Ukrainian telephone in Mariupol. They try to establish their own, so-called, republic telephones. But today, we do not have enough connection. We had no connection with people.

The situation you said about casualties, the situation is more tragic because for one month, no one can count the real count of bodies of citizens from Mariupol, which are dead. A lot of people that stay under the rubble, dead people. Before someone can check the rubble, no one knows the real count. I think the numbers are a lot higher than 5,000. I think it is about a minimum of 10,000 or more.

VELSHI: Minimum 10,000 or more.

The International Red Cross says it`s not managed to get inside Mariupol. Do you know if there has been success in establishing humanitarian corridors either to help the residents who are still trapped there to evacuate to the west, or to get food and needed medical supplies and water in? We keep hearing about efforts on both sides and it never working.

BORODIN: There is no will from the Russian side. They only get some humanitarian help from their side and without any problems. They get some people from the Mariupol to the Russian side to the occupied territory.

But they strongly do not allow for the Ukrainian side to get into the city. They do not allow the journalist to get into the city, the Red Cross and other humanitarian help.

So, we think there are a lot of atrocities in the city which they don`t want to show the world. Because if there is no problem, why don`t they let humanitarian convoy, which they can check for from hundreds of times from Zaporizhzhia, to Berdyansk, to Mariupol, so there are no problems to check it.

But they do not allow it. They only show their help from their side. They make TV video of the scenes and show that Ukraine does not help their people. The Mariupol citizens, no one cares.

But it is not true. Ukraine and the government have tried to get help here, but Russians do not allow it. They say they only want to totally surrender the city, so it is what they allow after that.

For now, I know that they use filtration camp near Mariupol, and they do not allow any people to get in for about the minimum of four days. The filtration camp is a camp where they check the people, where they check them in a list, if they are activists, pro-Ukrainian activists, or some another activists or some military. They get all the people and take them to the prison.

They check all the people no matter if they`re young or old. This is a long line, about thousands of people. All the people that want to get out of the city need to be checked from them.

[21:15:06]

They do not allow anyone to pass out.

VELSHI: I want to ask you about a statement today from the city council that you are a member of about the mobile crematoriums that the Russians you say are using. The council said that it`s an effort to cover up war crimes committed by Russian forces, so they deployed these mobile crematoriums.

Tell me more about these claims and what evidence you and your council members have to prove them?

BORODIN: I think it is possible, but we cannot prove it for now because as we say, there is no mobile connection with the city. It is only sometimes. If there are no problems and no were crime atrocities from the Russian side, why did they not allow any journalists, the Red Cross or any humanitarian organization, or representative any country, which Turkey or I know other countries wants to go into the city, why don`t they allow it?

If there are no atrocities and they do not need something to hide, there are no problem to let people and tell the truth.

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: The mayor has said today that Russia has installed a member of the city council, Konstantin Evaschenko (ph) as the new head of the administration in Mariupol. Can you tell me a bit about who this is and what he is doing in that job?

BORODIN: This man is only interested in the power and money, nothing else. He left the city in the first days of the war and only returned when Russian said to him to return. It is obviously that he is only a puppet of Moscow to show that the people to someone. But in Russia, no one chooses presidents or mayors. It is only in Ukraine and other democratic countries that the mayor is chosen is by people.

VELSHI: Right. It`s a good point you make.

Maksym, thank you for joining us tonight. Maksym Borodin is a member of the Mariupol City Council. We appreciate your time tonight.

BORODIN: Thank you.

VELSHI: Still to come tonight, new reporting about the Azov Battalion. The battalion has been a key part from the Ukrainian defense, but it is a militia that was formed under the basis of far-right, racist ideology. "The Washington Post" reporter Sudarsan Raghavan has been interviewing members of the group. He`s going to help us make sense of it when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:22:30]

VELSHI: Now if you have been watching our coverage of the war in Ukraine the past six weeks, you probably heard me mention something called the Azov Battalion. It is one of the more complicated and controversial parts of Ukraine`s defense against the Russian invasion. The Azov Battalion began as a far-right, ultranationalist militia that`s sprung up to fight Russia`s invasion of Crimea in 2014. The group was known to have ties to neo-Nazi movements, and its leader was quoted once as saying Ukraine`s purpose was to, quote, lead the white racist of the world in a final crusade against Semite-led untermenschen. Untermenschen being the Nazi term for inferior races.

Their members were known to display Nazi iconography on their uniforms. And today, that same group has 10,000 forces fighting Russia across Ukraine. It has been incorporated now into the Ukrainian military and is leading the fight against Russia in places like Mariupol, on behalf of a pluralistic, liberal Ukrainian government, led by a Jewish president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Like I said, this is complicated. The Azov Battalion of today denies being motivated by any neo-Nazi or fascist ideology. They say they`ve grown to include fighters of all different ideologies, although they admit they still count neo-Nazis among their ranks.

Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin has tried to use Azov Battalion`s ties to the far-right as justification for its campaign of so-called denazification in Ukraine. We`re going to talk more about that a little later on in the show. It is no secret that war makes for strange bedfellows. Ironically the most famous example of this is probably the alliance between Western countries and the Soviet Union in World War II.

Between 1939 and 1941, almost two years, the Soviet Union and Germany, Nazi Germany were allies. That worked until Hitler decided to invade the Soviet Union in 1941. But the question of how to think about the Azov Battalion looms large today.

"The Washington Post`s" Sudarsan Raghavan, along with three other "Post" reporters, published a new detailed report today examining the Azov Battalion`s role in the current fight against Russia. He interviewed fighters from across the battalion as they shot at pictures of Vladimir Putin for target practice. Some of its soldiers with whom he spoke had neo- Nazi tattoos and espoused far-right ideologies.

[21:25:03]

The leader of the Azov Battalion told "The Washington Post" that their force now includes rioters and other liberals, even members of the extreme left and anti fascists. Quote, we are at war for the very existence of Ukraine at the moment. In the past month, I had never asked the person that came to join us about his political views. Today, Ukrainians only have one option of political orientation, for or against Ukraine, end quote.

He told "The Washington Post" that they are trying to weed out a neo-Nazi tattoos and other symbols among as a fighters but in the current war, he cannot afford to lose any soldier because of political ideology, left or right. Quote, every soldier that fights for Ukraine is a value now, he said, and a value to the Western world because if Ukraine will break, then the next in trouble will be the collective West, end quote.

Joining us now is Sudarsan Raghavan, "The Washington Post" correspondent who is the lead byline on that report. He just left Ukraine after a long time here.

Sudarsan, good to see. What did the soldiers you talk to think about the Azov Battalion`s bad history?

SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN, CORRESPONDENT AT LARGE, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good to be with you, Ali.

So, the soldiers we spoke to were pretty much dismissive of the Azov neo- Nazi links. In fact, everyone we spoke to believe this is all part of Russian propaganda. Many of them that joined the forces had friends already in the forces, and they did not perceive their friends as Nazis or other form -- espousing another form of extremism.

VELSHI: What do you make of Vladimir Putin`s use of the Azov battalion as justification for the idea that Ukraine needs denazification?

RAGHAVAN: You know, the thinking on the Azov is outdated from what we found. It is based on what happened eight years ago, and all of the statements that you mentioned earlier that came up publicly. But since then, there has been a big effort by the Ukrainians to alter the Azov. When they joined the Ukraine National Guard, there were strong efforts to weed out extremist within the ranks.

Also, we are looking at a much different situation here in this war. It is less about political ideology and more about patriotism and just moral outrage of what the Russians are doing in Ukraine, especially with all the civilian casualties that we have been seeing, and all of the brutal potential war crimes that have been unfolding by Russia.

So, yeah, it is an outdated view but it is also -- you have to understand that what`s Vladimir Putin is saying is something about a very small amount of Ukrainian society. Even the analyst we spoke to, the fighter spoke to the leader say, yes there are still extremist months are ranks, but it is a small portion.

One clear indication of how small the far-right movements are in Ukraine is that the political arm of Azov ran for elections a couple years ago. They only generated about 2 percent of the entire vote, even when they combined with other far-right parties. So, the battalion is extremely popular because they are fighting in Mariupol and are defending Ukraine. But in terms of the political arm, it does not generate that much popularity in Ukraine.

VELSHI: You know, obviously, men of fighting age are not allowed to leave the country. The president has invited people back. You and I have both run into people in Kyiv or Lviv who had come from other countries to fight. They maybe have Ukrainian heritage, some more Canadians or Americans who come here.

Why would anyone join the Azov battalion as opposed to the open invitation to join the Ukrainian military or national guard?

RAGHAVAN: That is a very good question. A clear answer is that this is one of the most adept fighting units in Ukraine right now. They are considered to many Ukrainians heroes especially because of what their special forces units are doing Mariupol. They have been able to literally single-handedly hold down and prevent the Russians take the entire control of the city. So, there is a lot of goodwill from that.

I think the second thing is, look, it is impossible to avoid and prevent any extremists coming from Europe with United States to join the Azov. Analysts who spoke to said that they are still coming, but is a small number. That is perhaps one reason.

[21:30:00]

The danger of course, which we won`t know now, perhaps we will learn a few months or years, is whether or not some extremists did join the Azov and will return to their home countries and possibly create violence or some sort of anti-government activity. But we don`t know that for sure.

For now, the big concern amongst everyone here is just liberals, left-wing right-wing, is getting together, picking up arms and putting back the Russians.

VELSHI: Sudarsan, thanks for your amazing reporting from here. And, of course, you will continue to outside of Ukraine.

"Washington Post" correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan, we always appreciate your time.

Of course when Vladimir Putin says Ukraine`s fools Nazis, he doesn`t actually just mean the Azov Battalion. Increasingly, his propaganda machine has been depicting Ukrainian civilians as Nazis. Meaning, they are fair game for Russian soldiers.

Up next, we go inside the chilling propaganda campaign with someone who knows how it works from the inside.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:35:41]

VELSHI: As we just discussed, there is no doubt that the Ukrainian Azov battalion has its roots in the far-right neo-Nazi ideology. But the Kremlin and the country`s press have taken that kernel of truth to argue something that is definitely not true, that Nazism is pervasive in Ukraine, or in its government.

While this is not the only Russian falsehood being spread, it is certainly a pervasive one, and one that you will see repeated in some U.S. right wing and conspiracy theory cycles.

At the onset of the war, Putin justified the invasion by saying that Ukraine`s government was openly neo-Nazi, despite Ukraine being under the leadership of a Jewish president who lost ancestors in the Holocaust. Perhaps it is no wonder than that numerous reports have emerged of Russian soldiers going door to door in Ukraine, literally asking where the Nazis are hiding. And now it seems Putin`s government and the Russian state controlled press are using the same narrative of supposed to Ukrainian Nazism to not only justify further attacks on Ukraine, but to erase atrocities of their own.

In the Russian press, the first mention of the mass civilian casualties in Bucha were because Russia called for a U.N. Security Council meeting. Not to address the mass casualties, but to accuse Ukraine of spreading quote, deliberately false information, end quote, about what took place. Russia`s deputy representative to the United Nations said he was shocked at the scale and brutality of the, quote, staging and cinema by Ukraine. He claimed that, quote, Ukrainian neo-Nazis are completely faithful to the Joseph Goebbels old Nazi school of provocations and are trying to shift the blame to Russia, end quote.

In order to tow this line, the largest Russian TV networks have started doing things like this -- putting a graphic of a stamp that says fake over footage from Bucha, or from officials talking about Bucha. There are whole segments trying to catch videos out of Bucha, saying if you look closely, you can see the dead bodies moving. So there must be actors. Or that the timeline of discovering the body supposedly does not add up.

Today, Russian press began circulating supposed intelligence with says that Ukraine is going to stage more fake massacres like the one scene in Bucha, claiming that the actors get 25 U.S. dollars each.

Aside from denying the reality on the ground, there are narratives that go a step further, like the one in this Russian tabloid that cites a Russian political scientist claimed that the civilian massacre in Bucha was not only staged, but staged to create a pretext for Ukrainian Nazis to start an anti-Russian genocide. Quote, the West is preparing a Russian holocaust, the genocide of the Russian people. They have already closed their eyes to the murders of thousands of Russian people in Ukraine.

From Bucha, we must draw the only conclusion -- to stop fussing. We must not repeat the mistake of the Jewish people in the 20th century who believed that everything would work out on resolve itself. We must defeat those who started the Russian holocaust, end quote.

One of the most watched Russian TV news networks went so far today as to say that they had intelligence saying that Ukrainian Nazis had planned to carry out a series of murders and the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv this evening.

Tonight, quote, Ukrainian Nazis are preparing a series of murders of peaceful residence in Chernihiv. The preparation for this bloody crime has already begun. The massacre can happen this evening. The 6th of April, end quote, which is especially concerning considering that the Pentagon says that as of today Russian forces have fully withdrawn from Chernihiv.

So, now, that the Russian troops are gone, the press can finally get a closer look, but no matter with the Western press finds, Russian prices likely ready to say that what we see was either staged, or carried out by an extremist Nazi faction within Ukraine. So how does the west help tackle this problem? Especially if Russia can just create its own reality out of whole cloth and tell their people whatever they want?

[21:40:02]

Joining us now is Alyona Minkovski. She`s a Russian American journalist who worked at the Russian state run news agency RT America from 2009 to 2012. She also brings a unique insight into what is going on inside Russia. Her mother is currently a member of the Duma, the Russian parliament.

Alana, thank you for joining us tonight.

Talk to me about this. Do you think the Russian people are going to buy the idea that neo-Nazi Ukrainians are trying to enact some sort of anti-Russian holocaust?

ALYONA MINKOVSKI, RUSSIAN-AMERICAN JOURNALIST: Thanks for having me, Ali.

Well, of course, not all Russian people are going to buy this, are buying it, you do see a small little moment of people still trying to protest in the quietest, most brave ways that they can considering how dangerous it is to do there. In that society right now, we see people putting crosses out there in order to honor the people that were massacred in Bucha.

But at the same time, you have to realize that there is an informational vacuum in Russia right now, that the only real news that most Russians are seeing, except for those who go out of their way to get a VPN who are seeking out that information is coming from the official channels on TV, on radio. Those are the channels that are spreading these stories that you are showing, that are terrifying, and also baffling, and how outrageous and outlandish the lies we`re getting.

And yet these are coming from the official channels from the government. So, you know, a lot of Russian people will believe them, and will buy into them. The other thing is, the more and more you hear something repeated no matter how untrue it is, you might start to buy it.

VELSHI: Uh-huh. So help me understand this. Certainly in America, we know no matter what type of news you consume, or where it is on the political spectrum, you are aware that there is news from somewhere else on the political spectrum. I am assuming that that is similar in Russia.

So how are Russian people being sold on the idea that there was an independent press that just up and vanished?

MINKOVSKI: Well, I think everything that you are seeing here has been part of a years-long effort, you know, within Russia, by Putin`s regime, to kind of normalize and prime the Russian public for what is happening right now. It starts with just this nostalgia for World War II patriotism and bravery in Russia. That is something that has been nurtured. There have been some victory day parades of -- one is coming up on May 9th in Russia, that has spawned the collective memory of what it was that the Soviet people did during world war ii to fight back Nazis.

Don`t forget, 27 million Soviet Union residents, or people, were estimated to have died during that conflict. My grandparents took part in it. Every Russian has some relative, family member that they can relate to there. It is a real manipulation of this kind of collective memory to use that and then start building this narrative of Nazism within the Ukrainian government.

So it is just these kind of slow drips of information, of resentment against the west, that I think have primed people disloyally start normalizing, accepting the dehumanizing, and increasingly radical information that they are starting to get there. I don`t know how you necessarily break through it.

As I mentioned, there are still people who don`t believe this. Perhaps it is a scary environment for them to talk about it. But they are using VPNs, they are accessing other information. You know, so many young people that have grown up in Russia with access to the internet, with access to an independent media, I don`t think that they are just going to forget that that existed.

But how to create a political environment where Putin`s regime can still be stopped in that way, by those people, I think that is a bigger question.

VELSHI: Alyona, it is a big question. We thank you for helping us at least get started in this discussion. Alyona Minkovski is a Russian-American journalist, we thank you for your time tonight.

The historian Timothy Snyder`s book on tyranny helped many of us understand leaders like Vladimir Putin and in just a moment, Professor Snyder is going to join us to help make sense of the Russian propaganda campaign and whether there is anything that the rest of the world can do about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:49:02]

VELSHI: Tim Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University. He`s an author of bestselling books about authoritarian regime, books like "On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century," and "The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America." Also, "Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin".

Tim Snyder has been studying authoritarianism for years. So, when he`s got something to say about Putin`s war in Ukraine, I listen. Snyder wrote today that Vladimir Putin is intent on crushing the Ukrainian people but at great cost the Russia. In his piece entitled, "By denying a Ukrainian culture, Putin flattens his own," Snyder writes, quote, Vladimir Putin wants to crush people into one. He says God told him that Ukrainian souls are Russian. History revealed to him that Ukrainian strives to be one with Russia, the very language he speaks and titles him to invade any country where Russian is spoken.

[21:50:04]

An official new service removed any ambiguity a few days ago, publishing a text advocating the complete elimination of the Ukrainian nation as such. And so, Ukraine must be crushed, and anyone who thinks or speaks of Ukraine must be eliminated, end quote.

Joining us now is Professor Timothy Snyder, who`s a professor of history at Yale University.

Professor Snyder, thank you for being with us tonight.

We talked earlier tonight about how Russia is using propaganda and disinformation. Your piece today focuses on what this war is doing to Russian culture and identity. I would love if you could tell us a bit about that.

TIM SNYDER, YALE UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Yeah. I mean, the central idea of empire is that the other side has no state, the other state has no nation. Therefore, we disappear people, hear the Russians, had the right to go in and say, who should be in charge and who`s who.

The problem is that as you attempt to carry out these things, you find yourself confronted with a real state and real people who resist you. And as you attempt to crush them, you do terrible things yourself. As he showed in the last segment, the attempt to justify and find some kind of circular logic that makes all this somehow acceptable or understandable forces you into all kinds of contortions.

By the end of it, the word propaganda does not really begin how to describe it. It is a preferred hate speech. All you have is television, and all television is doing is this kind of hate speech. Then at the end of the day, among the many other evils you committed, is it destruction of your own culture.

VELSHI: As Alyona Minkovski said in the last segment, tens of millions of Russian Soviets died at the hands of the Nazis. So, this idea that neo- Nazis are running Ukraine and the country needs to be denazified sounds bizarre to many people in our audience. But maybe that is why it was settled on by Putin as the reason given to many Russians in support of the mission?

SNYDER: One thing we have to say about the history is that we need to remember that more Ukrainian civilians, not just proportionally, but in absolute terms, died in the Second World War than Russian civilians. Ukrainian soldiers also died in huge numbers fighting the German army. More Ukrainian soldiers died fighting the Germans, not just the Americans, then Americans and Frenchman and British combined.

So, I say that because Ukrainians also have every right to interpret the Second World War, and it is very reasonable for them to say that the Second World War was about somebody invading Ukraine. Right now, someone is invading Ukraine.

As to Nazi business, I think it`s very important to understand what is happening here. The word Nazi has been stripped of any content. It is just kind of a general condemnation. There was an article on Sunday in the official Russian press service which made this very clear. It called for a complete destruction of Ukrainian nation, beginning with the murder of everyone who identifies with it.

On the logic that all Ukrainians are Nazis. It cleared something up, it also said that what we mean by not see is that they actually have any objective characteristics of a Nazi, it just means that they`re not Russian, they refuse to be Russian. They insist on being Ukrainian or European, that is what we mean by Nazi.

And, frankly, that is very clarifying. With they`re getting at here is that all that mean by Nazi is not us. The other consequence of that is when you strip the word Nazi of any meaning, you cannot notice when you yourself are doing things that are very much like what the Nazis did. You will notice that you just invaded the country, that you are trying to destroy its educated classes, right? You could not notice that because all the word Nazis mean is the other people.

VELSHI: It is a enlightening. And it`s one of the reasons why you and others have been writing about authoritarianism and other things specific with your language, and that the Holocaust does not mean all thing, Nazi doesn`t mean all things, they had specific meetings.

We appreciate it. Timothy Snyder is the author of "On Tyranny", he is a professor of history at Yale University -- and as always, sir, we thank you for your time.

Well, coming up next, what happens when a volunteer poll worker faces off against a fake elector for Donald Trump?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:58:42]

VELSHI: We spent a good deal of tonight`s show talking about Russian disinformation, and antidemocratic behavior. Of course, back home in the United States, we have had to contend with our fair share of both. You may recall the fraudulent electors scheme conducted as part of Donald Trump and his allies attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.

Trump allies in at least seven states won by President Biden signed election certification documents falsely declaring themselves the real electors, even though they weren`t. That fake elector plot overseen by Trump campaign officials, including Rudy Giuliani, is now being investigated by the Justice Department. At least eight of the 84 Republicans who signed their names falsely listing themselves as electors were elected officeholders.

One of those elected officials was Kelly Ruh. She`s an alderperson from a town in Wisconsin, though she won`t be for much longer. That fraudulent elector Kelly Ruh was up for a second term of office as a municipal official in De Pere, Wisconsin, it is south of Green Bay. And last night, Ruh, just like the former president she supported, lost her bid for reelection.

In a triumph for Wisconsin Democrats, Pamela Gantz, a volunteer poll worker, ousted Ruh by 118 votes. The Democratic state party chair acquitted that the victory was a win in a small election that sends a big message, if you try to undermine Wisconsin`s democracy you will be held accountable. Voters like democracy.

Gantz herself spoke to a voting rights-focused magazine immediately after her win and told them, quote: I promise not to use my position to influence any national elections or support conspiracies. I promise to keep it local, and promote fair and free elections for our community, end quote.

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.

It`s time now for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."

Good evening, my friend.