Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged in a television interview on Tuesday, without citing evidence, that Western powers had installed Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, as president of Ukraine to cover up the glorification of Nazism.
In seeking to justify its invasion of Ukraine, which it calls a “special military operation”, Moscow accuses Kyiv’s leaders of pursuing a neo-Nazi “genocide” of Ukraine’s millions of native Russian-speakers - something Kyiv and its Western allies call a baseless pretext for a war of acquisition.
It was not the first time Putin had tried to associate modern Ukraine’s democratically elected government with the mass murder of Ukrainian Jews in World War Two by Nazi German occupiers of Soviet Ukraine and their local collaborators.
Zelenskyy, himself a native Russian-speaker who was democratically elected in 2019, has said some of his grandfather’s brothers were killed in the Nazi Holocaust, and has repeatedly rejected Russian accusations that he has supported neo-Nazis in Ukraine.
Putin told Russian television reporter Pavel Zarubin:
“Western curators have put a person at the head of modern Ukraine - an ethnic Jew, with Jewish roots, with Jewish origins. And thus, in my opinion, they seem to be covering up an anti-human essence that is the foundation ... of the modern Ukrainian state,” Putin said.
“And this makes the whole situation extremely disgusting, in that an ethnic Jew is covering up the glorification of Nazism and covering up those who led the Holocaust in Ukraine at one time - and this is the extermination of one and a half million people.”
In answer to a request for comment, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Putin himself was disgusting “when he tries to justify mass crimes against citizens of another country with a monstrous lie.”
In June, Putin told an economic forum in St Petersburg, again without evidence, that some Jews considered Zelenskyy a disgrace to their people, as he interrupted his own address to show newsreel footage of Nazi atrocities in Ukraine.
And in January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov drew a sharp rebuke from the White House for accusing Washington of marshalling European countries to solve “the Russian question” in the same way that Adolf Hitler had sought a “final solution” to eradicate Europe’s Jews.
Yale University historian Timothy Snyder has said at least 1.7 million Soviet Jews were killed by Germans and their collaborators by the end of 1942.