by Ben Cohen

July 11, 2022



A new report issued by the US State Department on Monday charged Russia with having invoked “Nazism and the horrors associated with World War II and the Holocaust” as justification for its invasion of Ukraine, asserting that Moscow’s bid to tar the Ukrainian leadership as “neo-Nazis” in the eyes of the world had unleashed a revival of antisemitic conspiracy theories.

The report — titled “To vilify Ukraine, the Kremlin resorts to antisemitism” — reviewed a number of episodes since the Russian invasion at the end of February that involved Russian officials disparaging Jews or distorting the Holocaust.

It accused President Vladimir Putin’s regime of trying to “manipulate international public opinion by drawing false parallels between Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine and the Soviet fight against Nazi Germany, a source of pride and unity for many people of the former Soviet republics who made enormous sacrifices during World War II, including both Ukrainians and Russians.”

It emphasized that Holocaust research institutes around the world — including Yad Vashem in Israel and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC — had denounced “Russia’s completely inaccurate comparisons with Nazi ideology and actions and the false claims that democratic Ukraine needs to be denazified.”

The report also cited a statement signed by 140 historians at North American, European and Israeli universities that protested the Russian propaganda offensive, stating as well that while they did not “idealize” Ukrainian society, there was “no Nazi government for Moscow to root out in Kyiv. There has been no genocide of the Russian people in Ukraine. And Russian troops are not on a liberation mission.”

The difficulties encountered by Russia in persuading world opinion that Ukraine, a country with a Jewish president in Volodymyr Zelensky, was run by a national socialist regime had resulted in “increasingly ridiculous — and often self-contradictory — justifications,” the report argued.

“The Kremlin falsely claims the worst Nazis were actually Jews, and seeks to downplay the role of antisemitism in Nazi ideology,” the report stated. Among the examples cited was that of the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, who told an Italian broadcaster in May, “I may be mistaken but Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood, too. The wise Jewish people say that the most ardent antisemites are usually Jews.”

In the same vein, the State Department report pointed to two other prominent Russian figures — Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov and nationalist intellectual Vladimir Solovyov — who had similarly accused Zelensky of distorting and even betraying his Jewish background. It noted that “Solovyov and other pundits on Russia’s state television asserted Nazism does not necessarily imply antisemitism, but can instead reflect so-called ‘Russophobia.’ Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem then sought to buoy officials’ false claims by further attacking Zelensky, alleging Hitler’s alleged Jewish origins, and attempting to discredit Israeli leaders.”

The report went to warn that Russian propaganda was becoming even more grisly, claiming that the FSB, Russia’s feared internal security service, concluded Russia had “inadequately supported” the “denazification” claims, and that it recommended instead a “massive injection of allegations accusing Ukrainian nationalists of killing children in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic” — parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk provinces that Russia has occupied since 2014.

“President Putin and his disinformation and propaganda apparatus exploit the historical memory of the Soviet fight against Nazi Germany to fabricate a pretext for their unprovoked brutal war against Ukraine,” the report stated. “To serve its predatory ends, the Kremlin is exploiting the suffering and sacrifice of all those who lived through World War II and survived the Holocaust.”

While the State Department report did not examine how the historic antisemitism that prevailed in the Soviet Union has influenced Putin’s approach, one dissident Russian observer said that Moscow’s propaganda had allowed “the old kind” of Soviet antisemitism to “creep in.”

In an interview with the Ukrainian news outlet Gordon, Oleksandr Nevzorov — a Russian journalist who served as an advisor to Putin until the 2014 invasion of Crimea — said he doubted whether the Kremlin would be able “to keep this antisemitic crap inside itself.”

Nevzorov remarked that the “idiots” currently in power in Russia were channeling the “ferocious antisemitism of the Soviet Union.”

The Soviet antisemitic policy had broader implications, Nevzorov said, in that it had “cultivated this disgustingly contemptuous attitude towards any so-called [national minorities].”