Despite having “Jewish blood,” Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted that other Jews do not believe Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to be Jewish.
“I have a lot of Jewish friends,” Putin said on Friday at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. “They say that Zelensky is not Jewish, that he is a disgrace to the Jewish people.”
Putin also reportedly claimed that Zelensky has “Jewish blood,” but he places “neo-Nazis, Hitler’s disciples,” on “a pedestal as heroes of Ukraine,” according to the Times of Israel, which cited the TASS Russian News Agency.
Putin has frequently claimed that Russia is fighting in Ukraine in part to stop the spread of neo-Nazism, a position that experts worldwide have categorically dismissed as propaganda.
Although Zelensky does not frequently discuss his Jewish heritage, he has claimed to have had an “ordinary Soviet Jewish upbringing,” adding that his family was not religious because “religion didn’t exist in the Soviet state as such.” Zelensky lost family members to the Holocaust and has invoked the genocide in public criticism of Russia and requests for assistance from Israel in the war effort.
“When Russians are telling about neo-Nazis, and they turn to me,” he said shortly after the start of the war, “I just reply that I have lost my entire family in the war because all of them were exterminated during World War II.”
In response to Putin’s remarks, Natan Sharansky, a well-known human rights advocate who served nine years in a Russian prison in the 1970s and 1980s, released a statement.
“We Jews can be happy that a representative of our people performs a historic and crucial role in unifying the entire globe for the sake of defending our future,” he stated. “Zelensky unifies the Ukrainian people against barbarous attack.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov remarked in 2017 that “even Hitler had Jewish origins” and that “the biggest antisemites are Jewish themselves,” remarks that attracted criticism from Israeli leaders.