An antagonistic Israel isn’t in Russia’s interest.
Lavrov was defending one of Putin’s central rationales for Russia’s invasion—the denazification of Ukraine—by pushing back against the mainstream narrative that Ukraine couldn’t be Nazi-friendly because Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is a Jew.
A widely reported 2010 Belgian study of the DNA of 39 of Hitler’s relatives found that they had the Haplogroup E1b1b1 chromosome, which is rare in Western Europe, except among Jews. E1b1b1, in fact, is considered one of the major founding lineages of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. Scholars have also debated the credibility of the posthumous memoirs of Hans Frank, a top-level Nazi executed in 1946 for war crimes, who claimed to have discovered letters linking Hitler’s father to his presumed Jewish grandfather.
While Hitler’s heritage is debatable, the outsized presence of Nazis and other white nationalists in Ukraine is not. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine changed the mainstream media’s narrative, Ukraine’s Azov Battalion, which sports swastikas and other Nazi insignia, was widely described as “openly neo-Nazi,” whether among media outlets such as The New York Times and The Guardian or progressive magazines such as The Nation, which in 2019 reported that in Ukraine “anti-Semitism and fascist-inflected ultranationalism are rampant.”
According to Foreign Policy, “The Azov Battalion, whose emblem also includes the ‘Black Sun’ occult symbol used by the Nazi SS, was founded by Andriy Biletsky, head of the neo-Nazi groups Social-National Assembly and Patriots of Ukraine.”
The article quotes Azov’s website saying that “Unfortunately, among the Ukrainian people today there are a lot of ‘Russians’ (by their mentality, not their blood), ‘kikes,’ ‘Americans,’ ‘Europeans’ (of the democratic-liberal European Union), ‘Arabs,’ ‘Chinese’ and so forth, but there is not much specifically Ukrainian. … It’s unclear how much time and effort will be needed to eradicate these dangerous viruses from our people.”
The Azov Battalion, which is now formally part of the Ukraine military, is fully embraced and promoted by Zelenskyy. In April, after Zelenskyy addressed Greece’s parliament, parliamentarians across the political spectrum were shocked and scandalized to see Azov members follow him with a presentation of their own.
“The speech of members of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion in the Greek Parliament is a provocation,” stated Alexis Tsipras, leader of the official opposition. “The solidarity with the Ukrainian people is a given. But the Nazis cannot have a say in Parliament.”
Lavrov’s argument—that Zelenskyy’s Jewish heritage doesn’t prevent him from associating with Nazis and other white nationalists who are willing to advance his political career—is shared by Putin. Yet Putin apologized despite knowing that many could see his apology as a repudiation of Lavrov, a star diplomat respected for his skills in the West and Russia.
Putin’s apology came after Italy’s prime minister called Lavrov’s view “obscene,” Canada’s termed it “ridiculous,” and a German government spokesman called it “absurd.” Israel was harshest in its denunciation and seemed hurt, calling Lavrov’s comments lies “meant to blame the Jews themselves for the most terrible crimes in history and thus free the oppressors of the Jews from their responsibility.” Putin’s apology also came after Russia’s foreign ministry doubled down on Lavrov’s statement by attacking Israel’s bitter rebuttal.
Putin may have apologized because his friend and opponent of the war, Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, stated publicly that “I do not consider myself entitled to give advice to the head of Russian diplomacy—but it would be nice if he apologized to the Jews and simply admitted that he was mistaken. I think it would then be possible to consider the incident settled and turn the page.”
Lazar—known as “Putin’s rabbi”—did not want relations to sour between Russia and Israel, a view Putin evidently shared. Putin wouldn’t have believed the Israeli accusation that Lavrov wanted to “free the oppressors of the Jews from their responsibility.”
Russians hate Nazis as much as Jews do, and hold Nazis responsible for the death of 27 million Russians. Unlike the West’s neutral term, “Second World War,” the Russians pointedly call it “The Great Patriotic War Against Fascism.”
But Putin would have recognized that the sides were arguing over nothing—Lavrov himself said Hitler’s ancestry was irrelevant. By calling Israel’s prime minister on the occasion of its independence day to offer a private apology along with well wishes, Putin saved face for Lavrov, who wasn’t made to eat crow, and for Israel’s leaders, who needed to find a way to continue to cooperate with Russia’s military in Syria to keep their Middle Eastern enemies at bay.
Most of all, Putin recognized that an antagonistic Israel wasn’t in Russia’s interest. The West and Russia are fighting an intense propaganda war over the invasion of Ukraine, where the stakes could not be higher—the United States, Ukraine, and Russia have all raised the specter of nuclear war. If accusations and counteraccusations that daily fly between the camps get increasingly heated, today’s conventional war could spin out of control.
Israel, which has excellent relations with the United States, Ukraine, and Russia, to date, has been a moderating influence and, in the future, could help negotiate a ceasefire. Putin’s apology maintained that status quo.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Patricia Adams is an economist and the President of the Energy Probe Research Foundation and Probe International, an independent think tank in Canada and around the world. She is the publisher of internet news services Three Gorges Probe and Odious Debts Online and the author or editor of numerous books. Her books and articles have been translated into Chinese, Spanish, Bengali, Japanese, and Bahasa Indonesia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lawrence Solomon is an Epoch Times columnist, author of 7 books, and executive director of the Toronto-based Consumer Policy Institute. He can be reached at LS@lawrencesolomon.ca.