During a recent interview, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov defended the invasion of Ukraine by invoking “Nazi elements” in that country. Confronted with the inconvenient fact that President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish, Lavrov claimed (falsely) that “Hitler also had Jewish blood,” before declaring that “the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews.” Peter Dickinson assesses Lavrov’s “very public descent into . . . anti-Semitic conspiracy theories,” and what it suggests about the current state of the Putin regime.
It is now clear to all but the most credulous and partisan of observers that Russian tales of Ukrainian fascism are mere window dressing for Moscow’s war of imperial aggression. This was explicitly acknowledged in a recent article published by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, which provided a step-by-step guide to the destruction of the Ukrainian state while explaining that “de-Nazification” actually means “de-Ukrainization.” Such twisted logic is entirely in line with Putin’s many public statements denying Ukraine’s right to exist and branding the country an “anti-Russia” that lacks historical legitimacy and can no longer be tolerated.
As Lavrov’s unhinged recent outburst indicates, Volodymyr Zelensky’s landslide victory in Ukraine’s spring 2019 presidential election was particularly painful for the Kremlin. As a Russian-speaking Jewish Ukrainian, Zelensky’s unprecedented popularity among Ukrainian voters rendered Russia’s whole “Nazi Ukraine” narrative ridiculous and forced Kremlin propagandists into all manner of bizarre mental gymnastics in order to maintain the fantasy of a fascist threat.
In reality, independent Ukraine has established itself . . . as an imperfect but vibrant democracy with a pluralistic political culture that is light years away from modern Russia’s own authoritarian model. Since 1991, the post-Soviet generation of Ukrainians have grown used to a highly competitive and often unruly democratic climate which bears no resemblance whatsoever to the fascist tyranny of Kremlin fairytales.