How “denazification” damaged Russian relations with Israel

The Kremlin calls “denazification” one of the tasks of the “special military operation” in Ukraine. In other words, Russia claims that Ukraine is now under the rule of a Nazi regime, and Moscow must put an end to “Nazism” in Ukraine.

Since the beginning of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine, despite rocket attacks and bombings of cities, tank attacks and constant artillery shelling, Israel has been very restrained in its statements and actions. Though the Israeli population has been rallying for Ukraine, the Israeli government has been cautiously passive not to provoke its “newest neighbor” – Russia – in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov changed the situation. On May 1, the Russian diplomat gave an interview about the war in Ukraine to the Italian TV company Mediaset. In particular, he was asked how the Kremlin’s statements about the “denazification” of Ukraine and the “Nazi” regime in Kyiv compared to the fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was Jewish. “What kind of nationalization can they have if he is a Jew? – “A family is not without a freak,” Lavrov replied. And then he added, “When they say, ‘What kind of nationalization is this if we’re Jews?’ I think Hitler was also of Jewish descent, that doesn’t mean anything.”

Intense international backlash followed. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Lavrov’s words were “unforgivable, outrageous and a gross historical error” and that Israel was waiting for an apology from Lavrov. However, the Russian Foreign Minister did not apologize: instead, his office accused Israel of supporting the “Nazis” in Ukraine. The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba commented that Lavrov’s statement was deeply offensive to Zelensky and Ukraine, as well as to Israel and the Jewish people. The German government called Lavrov’s comments “absurd propaganda.”

On May 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin called Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and apologized for anti-Semitic remarks by his foreign minister. Apologies were accepted, but relations grew colder. Moscow is frustrated about Israel leaning towards Ukraine. Russian Foreign Ministry stated on April 15 that Israel was trying “to divert the international community’s attention from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which is one of the oldest unresolved conflicts.” The Kremlin had been trying to improve relations with Jerusalem at the expense of relations with Iran. Moscow may be willing to explore other options with Iran, if Israel is principled in its support for Ukraine. Meanwhile, Israel does not look back to supporting Russia’s war and is warming up to the idea to provide military support to Ukraine: first Blue Spear land-to-sea system will be delivered to Ukraine via Estonia.


  • Maria Zolkina, analyst at Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation
  • Petro Oleshchuk, docent at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv
  • Leonid Golberg, co-editor of the local paper “Maidan”, representative of the Jewish community.

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