How the Kremlin Exploits Anti-Semitism to Disrupt Arms Supplies to Ukraine: The New Old Front

Written by Marianna Prysiazhniuk, UCMC expert

In geopolitical terms, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is heavily based on information campaigns and disinformation campaigns conducted abroad. Given that Western partners’ supply of weapons to Ukraine is a critical factor in its successful defense against aggression, discrediting such support is a strategic goal of Russian propaganda. As a result, in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Russia uses the attack by Palestinian armed groups on the state of Israel as a new information front.

The Palestinian armed groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on Saturday, October 7. Approximately 5,000 rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel. According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel is at war. Israeli media have reported that more than 800 people have been killed, 2,200 have been injured, and more than 100 have been kidnapped.

Iran, Russia’s ally in its aggression against Ukraine, backed the attack on Israel. Using influence networks, Russia quickly began to spread the narrative that Ukraine allegedly supplies militants with weapons that it receives from partners in exchange for protection, thereby promoting the narrative that Israelis are allegedly killed by “Ukrainian weapons.” Previously, Russian propaganda attempted to frame this issue in terms of troubled regions in order to discredit Ukraine and accuse it of smuggling.

Strategic Narrative

According to Ukrainian intelligence, Russian propaganda is investing millions of dollars in spreading the narrative of Ukraine’s “smuggling of Western weapons,” indicating that the topic is strategically important for the Kremlin, and the next escalation is used by Russia as an additional context for waging war against Ukraine, while Iran supports militant attacks on the ground.

Currently, the information attack is aimed at creating the belief that Ukraine is illegally supplying weapons to the region of Southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, which are then used against Israeli citizens. 

For example, Russian websites disseminated information claiming that “during the Syrian war, militants of various Islamist groups actively used weapons supplied by Ukraine. “It is now being actively supplied to Palestine, and it is clear why after recent events.”

Terrorists have already been recorded using Russian-made weapons, specifically AK-103 assault rifles. However, Russian news outlets are spreading rumors that Hamas militants thanked Ukraine for the weapons.

“The Israeli military detained Hamas militants in the vicinity of Ashkelon, from whom weapons purchased in Ukraine were seized.”

Mobilizing Anti-Semitism

In addition, Russia has used anti-Semitic sentiments as mobilization propaganda, both at the highest levels and at the level of information work.

The intensification of this approach was observed just before the escalation of the conflict in the Gaza Strip, indicating that Russia was aware of Palestinian militant groups’ preparations for the campaign. Russia employs these types of sentiments as an information weapon with the aim to manipulate its audience in order to gain public support, such as in the context of cooperation with its allies, Palestinian armed groups, and Iran.

Furthermore, an intriguing aspect in this context is how instrumentalized anti-Semitism is used by Russian propaganda to discredit the image of Ukraine’s President. During the St. Petersburg Forum plenary session in June, Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “a disgrace to the Jewish people.”

This is not the first time Russia’s top leaders have made such statements.

“He (Zelensky) raises the question of what kind of Nazification they can have if he is a Jew. I could be wrong, but Hitler had Jewish ancestors. This means nothing,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the start of the full-fledged invasion.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s rhetoric sparked global outrage at first, but it has since become a distinguishing feature of Russian official communications and propaganda style. The consequences of “instrumentalized anti-Semitism” are clearly demonstrated by ordinary Russians rejoicing in the murders of Israelis in social media comments.

Such aggressive rhetoric is part of a larger information context and aims not only to discredit the president’s image as an institution, but also to create a tense climate between Ukraine and Israel. 

“So, it’s actually gone and happened: President Volodymyr Zelensky’s neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine appears to have gotten itself into a story that could put and end to his existence,” writes the Russian website, which is part of the state-owned Rossiya Segodnya holding.

The main goal of Russian propaganda in the context of Israeli attacks is to create a discourse of disorientation and destabilization in order to create tension between Ukraine and Israel, as well as between both countries’ Western partners. Russian media outlets attempt to persuade their audiences that “Israelis kill with Ukrainian weapons” and that “the US gave Ukraine weapons meant for Israel.” 

Russian propaganda hopes to undermine Western unity in opposing regimes (both Russian and Iranian). This not only jeopardizes regional stability, but also has serious implications for international relations and security, so the risk assessment of the new information confrontation must be taken seriously.