Ukraine-Russia War: Putin not antisemitic, demonizes Zelensky - Sharansky

Sharansky: Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it his business to demonize Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewish background to cast Ukraine as the Nazis.

 Ukrainian Jews find refuge in Moldova (photo credit: IOSIF SNEGOVIK)
Ukrainian Jews find refuge in Moldova
(photo credit: IOSIF SNEGOVIK)

Russian President Vladimir Putin isn't actually antisemitic, former Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky said in an interview on Monday morning.

According to Sharansky, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons as a refusnik, Putin “isn’t an antisemite, on the contrary.” He went on to add that in reality, “there are four times more Jews who have left Putin's Russia than [Volodymyr] Zelensky's Ukraine.” Sharansky spoke to journalist Yanir Cozin Sefi Ovadia on Army Radio. 

Putin cast a public slur on Ukrainian President Zelensky's Jewish roots on Friday, saying without evidence that some Jews considered him a disgrace to their faith. “I have many Jewish friends. They say Zelensky is not a Jew, he is a disgrace to the Jewish people,” Putin said at an economic forum in St. Petersburg.

The Ukrainian president, who was born to Jewish parents in Kryvyi Rih, has become one of the most influential Jews in the world since Russia’s invasion of his country catapulted him into the international spotlight.

Sharansky: Russia's Putin isn't an antisemite, but he needs to demonize Zelensky

“Putin is not antisemitic, isn’t an antisemite, on the contrary, he sympathizes with Jews for many reasons but he is now building a new dictatorship,” Sharansky explained. He elaborated that Putin has made it his business to demonize Zelensky’s Jewish background since he wishes to return to the days when the Red Army of the Former Soviet Union freed the world from the Nazis.

“He has decided to renew the Russian empire and wants to restore its national dignity. In order to do so, he wants to take over Ukraine and for that, he needs to mobilize his people, because no one is interested in war except him,” Sharansky said. 

“The Red Army saved the world from the Nazis and therefore Putin says that is why Russia should fight in Ukraine,” since they are Nazis, according to Sharansky’s theory of Putin's strategy. But Shransky explained that the Ukrainian people have “elected a president who does not hide his Jewishness and his connection with Jews, as well as the people of Israel.”

Russia is returning to the “period of the Iron Curtain that forbids people to say what they think or want,” Sharansky continued, adding that “Russia 'limits freedom.' There are four times more Jewish who have left Putin's Russia than Zelensky's Ukraine.”

Sharansky added that most Jews support Ukraine and articulated that “Jews in America have raised money for Ukraine.” But explained that speaking about Zelensky’s Judaism “is a message to [Putin’s] people. His people can try to understand that Nazis are bad and Ukrainians are Nazis and if so, then Zelensky cannot be Jewish in their eyes.”

Asked about the lack of Israeli support for Ukraine in military aid, Sharansky agreed with the anchors that “I think we need to mobilize more. Today, as Iran and Russia have become stronger allies, it is strange that we maintain this situation,” he said of the cautious Israeli approach to Russia.

“I agree that we should support Ukraine with weapons as well. I met with Zelensky six months ago and he told me, ‘If Israel cannot give us an Iron Dome, there are so many types of weapons that we need in order to defend ourselves.’ Until now, we weren't ready to give any weapons for defense. Now that it's Iran's drones [attacking in Ukraine], we are more open to helping and I am happy about it.”

Reuters and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.