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Russian FM’s Words on Hitler Echo Soviet Anti-Zionist Propaganda
Russian President Vladimir Putin ( L) and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) attend the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, 22 June 2006. (Denis Sinyakov/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian FM’s Words on Hitler Echo Soviet Anti-Zionist Propaganda

Lavrov’s statements could lead to rise in anti-Semitic incidents, show Kremlin is escalating propaganda efforts amid ongoing war losses, analysts warn

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statements on Hitler and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy echo Soviet-era anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist propaganda, according to regional experts.

In an interview with Italian media on Sunday, Lavrov was asked how Russia can purport to be “denazifying” Ukraine when its president is himself Jewish.

“I could be wrong but Hitler also had Jewish blood,” Lavrov responded. “[The fact that Zelenskyy] is a Jew doesn’t mean anything. Wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews.”

Claims that Hitler was of Jewish descent are unfounded and have been repeatedly disproved by historians.

Izabella Tabarovsky is a senior program associate at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington, DC, a think tank for advanced Russia and Eurasia studies.

Tabarovsky, who grew up in the Soviet Union, specializes in Soviet anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. She told The Media Line that she was “disgusted” by Lavrov’s statement, which she called an “anti-Semitic dog whistle.”

“It’s the kind of talk you would hear inside Russia and during Soviet times,” she said. “They spent decades during Soviet times trying to smear Jews. The point of what [Lavrov] is saying is to try to smear Zelenskyy.”

The Kremlin understands that the Ukrainian president’s Jewish identity undermines Russia’s claim that Ukraine is run by Nazis, Tabarovsky explained. For this reason, Russia is relying on old propaganda models to attack Zelenskyy and delegitimize him.

“In Soviet times they used to compare Zionists – but ultimately it was any Jew who disagreed with them – to Nazis and fascists,” she said. “There was this idea that the Jews were taking over from the Nazis.”

There are many visual representations from that period that attempt to draw parallels between Jews and Hitler, she noted. Lavrov’s remarks could lead to an increase in anti-Semitism.

“The danger is that once you start saying these things out you’re waking up the beast. The virus [of anti-Semitism] is always there,” Tabarovsky said.

Others also saw parallels between Lavrov’s remarks and Soviet propaganda.

Yigal Liverant, an Israeli-Ukrainian historian and expert on Russian history and political affairs, said that such rhetoric is closely tied to the anti-Zionism that first became prevalent in the Soviet Union in the late 1960s.

Anti-Zionist caricature from the Soviet magazine Krokodil, 1972.

“Lavrov is a Soviet man, he comes from that generation and these statements come from all of these ideas that colored Israel as a new personification of Hitler,” Liverant, who is currently completing his doctoral studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line. “[They lay out] the new Jewish nationalism as feeding off of the same roots as Nazism.”

Like Tabarovsky, Liverant believes that Moscow is finding it challenging to provide a convincing justification for the war and its claims of “denazification.”

“The fact that Zelenskyy is Jewish and his defense minister is Jewish makes it difficult for them,” Liverant argued.

Lavrov’s words sparked outrage in Israel, with several officials swiftly condemning the remarks and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stating that he viewed them “with utmost severity.” Meanwhile, Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, said that Lavrov was propagating an inversion of the Holocaust – whereby the victims are turned into perpetrators.

According to Yair Navot, an analyst and expert in Russian affairs, the remarks demonstrate that the Kremlin is escalating its propaganda efforts amid ongoing military losses in Ukraine.

“This was a very grave statement coming from a senior official, especially since he’s Russia’s foreign minister,” Navot, who was also a former Moscow correspondent for Israeli Public Radio and Yedioth Ahronoth, told The Media Line. “It’s unusual, but it also shows us how severe Russian propaganda has gotten with regards to Ukraine.”

Such statements not only serve to “cheapen the Holocaust,” but could also lead to a rise in violent anti-Semitic incidents, he warned.

“This is a [form of] victim-blaming that says that the Jews are responsible for what happened to them,” Navot said. “It’s a blatant lie.”

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