Russia on Tuesday lectured Israel about the Holocaust, as the Kremlin sought to defend Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov from comparing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, to Adolf Hitler.
Lavrov, during an interview on Italian television Sunday night, said that Zelensky being Jewish “does not negate the Nazi elements in Ukraine,” repeating a line pushed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to justify invading Ukraine in February.
“I believe that Hitler also had Jewish blood, some of the worst anti-Semites are Jews,” Lavrov said Sunday.
Israel was quick to condemn the remarks on Monday. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Lavrov’s comments “unforgivable,” and “a terrible historical mistake,” and demanded an apology
Responding to Israeli outrage, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a lengthy statement titled, “About anti-Semitism.”
In a tweet that posts a link to the statement, the ministry said Lapid’s statement was “anti-historical,” adding that this “largely explain[s] the course of the current Israeli Government to support the neo-Nazi regime” in Kyiv.
“For some reason, there are still disputes in the Western press (and some of our liberals) about whether there are neo-Nazis in Ukraine. They cite ‘iron-clad’ arguments about the Jewish origin of [Volodymyr] Zelensky. The argument is not only baseless, but also misleading. History, unfortunately, knows tragic examples of Jewish collaboration with the Nazis,” said the statement.
“The president’s Jewish ancestry is not a guarantee of protection from neo-Nazism in the country,” the ministry said.
The Kremlin has repeatedly said that one of its key goals in invading neighboring Ukraine is to “de-nazify” Ukraine. Putin has accused the Ukrainian government of committing genocide against Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population, without providing evidence to support his claims.
The ministry also suggested that Lapid’s statement was “anti-historical,” adding that his office is “cynically” ignoring the “epidemic of destroying and desecrating monuments to the true righteous peoples of the world—the soldiers of the Red Army who stopped the Holocaust and saved the Jewish world.”
On April 26, Ukrainian authorities pulled down a bronze Soviet-era monument in the center of the capital, Kyiv, that was erected in 1982, and was supposed to symbolize friendship between Russia and Ukraine.
Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko said the move was in response to Putin’s invasion.
“We now see what this ‘friendship is—destruction of Ukrainian cities […] killing tens of thousands of peaceful people. I am convinced such a monument has an entirely different meaning now,” the mayor said.
Kyiv has accused Moscow of looking for justifications for the “mass killings of Ukrainians.”
“Frank anti-Semitic statements by Lavrov, accusations of Jews in WWII and the Holocaust are further evidence that Russia is the legal successor of the Nazi ideology. Trying to rewrite history, Moscow is simply looking for arguments to justify the massacres of Ukrainians,” Mikhail Podolyak, Ukrainian adviser to the presidential office, said in a statement on Twitter on Monday.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Monday also slammed Lavrov for his comments.
“This is the perverted logic of the Russian elite,” Kuleba said in a video statement. “Even Minister Lavrov, who knows what diplomacy is, cannot hide anymore the deeply rooted anti-Semitism—the anti-Semitism that is deeply rooted into Russian elites.”
Newsweek has contacted the office of Israel’s foreign minister for comment.
Update 05/03/22, 6:19 am ET: This article was updated with additional quotes and background information.