Just when you think that Vladimir Putin has no more lines to cross, he and his government find yet another drum to bang.
Asked on Italian television how de-Nazification of Ukraine could possibly by a reason to invade, Lavrov said that Ukraine could still have Nazi elements even if some figures, including the country’s president, were Jewish.
“So when they say ‘How can Nazification exist if we’re Jewish?’ In my opinion, Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn’t mean absolutely anything. For some time we have heard from the Jewish people that the biggest antisemites were Jewish”.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Lavrov’s statement “unforgivable and scandalous and a horrible historical error.”
“The Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust,” said Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor. “The lowest level of racism against Jews is to blame Jews themselves for antisemitism.”
This should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows Russian history.
Russia has long been a virulent antisemitic society.
Centuries of pogroms in which tens of thousands of Jews were killed with horrible regularity or went into exile, and a legal system that made the Jews virtual prisoners in the country underscore Putin and Lavrov’s strategy of reaching deep into the Russian psyche to justify the invasion and ensure public support.
Putin believes in rewriting history.
Russian history books make no mention of the country’s antisemitic past, nor do they make any reference to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 in which the then Soviet Union and Nazi Germany joined forces to carve up Poland leaving Hitler free to attack Western Europe.
The Russian attempt to trivialize the Holocaust met with contempt around the world.
Israel, that has to date maintained a low profile in the war, was enraged.
Ukraine also condemned Lavrov’s remarks.
“By trying to rewrite history, Moscow is simply looking for arguments to justify the mass murders of Ukrainians,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Lavrov’s remarks exposed the “deeply-rooted antisemitism of the Russian elites.”
Russia seeks to rewrite history and is trying to hide both Russian responsibility for starting the war and for the international sanctions that are seriously affecting its economy and the lifestyles of its citizens.
By using presumed Ukrainian “Nazism” as a reason for going to war, and accusing Ukrainian President Zelensky (himself Jewish), Putin is stoking the fires of Russian antisemitism that have always burned in the psyche of the average citizen.
Indeed, Putin may use this traditional canard to explain to Russians that the sanctions are caused by an international Jewish cabal, a traditional excuse for antisemitic violence that stokes the fear of the average antisemite.
Hitler used this idea effectively in promoting antisemitism in Nazi Germany.
There is no doubt that Ukraine has traditionally had its share of antisemitism (as has all of Europe), but the fact that Ukrainians have elected a Jewish Prime Minister and a Jewish President underscores the acceptance of Jews as equal citizens by the majority of Ukrainian voters.
The loyalty that they have shown Zelensky throughout the war is indicative that their respect for him and his leadership which counteracts any argument that he could be a “Nazi”.
Ukrainian Russophiles in the Eastern part of the country are loyal to Putin and may well share this traditional antisemitism, but the majority of Ukrainians want their independence, want to be European, and have left the darkness of certain episodes of the past behind.
Every day Russia isolates itself further through its cruelty and mendacity.
The use of antisemitism as a military weapon is abominable.
One more nail in the coffin of Russia’s credibility.
Eduardo is a former deputy spokesperson for Ban Ki-Moon.
He is an expert in public diplomacy.
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