The New StatesmanThe New Statesman

Putin’s darkest conspiracy theory yet

By Katie Stallard

08 Sep 2023 · 4 min read

informed Summary

  1. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been using a narrative that Ukraine is controlled by "extreme nationalists and neo-Nazis" to justify his invasion of the country. He has also claimed that Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, a Russian-speaking Jew, is part of a Western plot to disguise the true character of his regime.

When Vladimir Putin launched his murderous assault on Ukraine in the early hours of 24 February 2022, he conjured a parallel reality in an address on Russian television. In this fictional version of the war, he was waging a valiant crusade to save innocent Russian-speaking civilians in Ukraine from the “genocide” being perpetrated by the “extreme nationalists and neo-Nazis” who controlled its government. His “special military operation” was not an imperialist land grab, but a laudable effort to bring about the “demilitarisation and denazification” of Ukraine.

There was a glaring hole in Putin’s argument: Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president and the man supposedly leading this fascist regime, was a Russian-speaking Jew. As Zelensky himself put it in a direct appeal to Russian citizens, in Russian, on the eve of the war, “How can I be a Nazi? Say it to my grandfather, who fought in World War II as a Soviet infantrymen and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine.” He could have added that his great-grandparents died during that war when the Nazis burned down their village, and that his grandfather's three brothers were killed during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine.

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