On July 11, the U.S. Department of State released a report condemning Moscow’s attempts to justify the brutal invasion of Ukraine under the pretext of “denazifying” Ukraine and its government. In the words of the report, “the Kremlin is detracting from critically important global efforts to combat antisemitism and is instead propagating one of antisemitism’s most insidious forms, Holocaust distortion.”
In the report, the State Department described the persistent attempts by the Kremlin to delegitimize Zelensky’s government as a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis.” Zelensky is the Ukrainian nation’s first Jewish president, a man whose great-grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust. When international reporters questioned the accusation that a democratically elected Jewish man was a neo-Nazi, the document claims Russian state media began to accuse Zelensky of not really being Jewish and “betraying” his family and faith. The report also states that Zelensky’s Jewishness had been a target of Russian propaganda since at least 2019, when Sergei Glazyev, former economic advisor to Putin, accused Zelensky of a plot to replace Russian-speaking Ukrainians with Israeli Jews.
When the personal attacks against Zelensky’s character failed to gain traction, the report states, the Kremlin devolved to broader forms of antisemitic libel. “In May, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attempted to counter an Italian journalist’s question about Zelenskyy’s heritage with an antisemitic conspiratorial rant and a Holocaust distortion” said the State Department, stating that Lavrov both “speculat[ed] that Adolf Hitler ‘had Jewish blood, too” and asserted that “wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews.” Putin later apologized to then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for these remarks.
The document also describes the global rejection of the Kremlin’s claims by historians, Holocaust scholars and the Israeli government. The State Department quotes Yair Lapid, who was Israel’s Foreign Minister at the time of his statement, in his assertion that the “lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism.”
The State Department closed their report with a call to counteract the “unconscionable narratives” presented by Russian propaganda. “With antisemitism on the rise around the world, it is imperative for all to call out this particularly pernicious kind of Russian disinformation.”