Vladimir Putin’s English-language news channel launched an extraordinary attack on the British royal family’s historical links to the Nazis, as a row over Prince Charles’s comparison of Putin to Adolf Hitler deepened.
Russia Today broadcast a graphic highlighting the British royals’ links to various Nazis while its presenter asserted, “If anyone knows real Nazis, it’s the royal family.”
Among the highlighted connections Russia Today showed were a picture of Charles’s great uncle, Prince Edward the Duke of Windsor, visiting Hitler at his Obersalzberg mountainside retreat in Bavaria, accompanied by the assertion that the American wife of the prince, Wallace Simpson, “hung out with Hitler.” (Edward had to abdicate the monarchy in 1936 to marry her, since she was divorced.)
The broadcast also noted that the late Princess Sophie — the sister of the current Queen’s husband — Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh — was married to an SS officer; this was Sophie’s first husband, Prince Christoph of Hesse.
And it screened a photograph of Charles’s son, Prince Harry, wearing a Nazi uniform at a 2005 fancy-dress party, with the commentary: “Prince Charles’s very own son likes to dress up like a Nazi even if it’s just for Halloween.”
Russia Today’s Thursday assault on the royals came after Moscow demanded an official explanation for Charles’s reported comparison — not denied by the royals — of Putin’s actions in Ukraine to those of Hitler.
“If these words were really said, then undoubtedly they are not worthy of a future British monarch,” Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in Moscow. “We have requested an official explanation from British authorities over the statements.”
Lukashevich slammed Western media for using Charles’s reported words in what he said was a propaganda campaign against Russia. “We consider it is unacceptable, disgusting and low that Western media are using members of the British royal family to unroll a propaganda campaign against Russia on a contentious international issue like the situation in Ukraine,” he said.
Russia and Britain’s positions “differ widely and that is obvious, we see that from the statements of British politicians,” Lukashevich said. “To discuss these topics, we have absolutely legal two-way channels and that does not call for pronouncing judgements in a broad public forum.”
The heir to the British throne made the apparently unguarded comments during a trip to a museum in Canada this week, in a private conversation with a Polish-born woman who had fled the Nazis as a child.
“I had finished showing him the exhibit and talked with him about my own family background and how I came to Canada,” 78-year-old Marienne Ferguson told the Daily Mail newspaper. “The prince then said: ‘And now Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler.'”
The remark made headlines around the world, and Russian media said it threatened to further “complicate” relations between Britain and Moscow.
Charles and Putin are both attending commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, although royal aides said no formal meeting was scheduled.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron declined to comment on a private conversation, but said: “Of course, everyone is entitled to their private opinions.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the future king was “free to express himself.”
Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband went even further, saying: “I think he has got a point about President Putin’s actions, and I think he is absolutely entitled to say that there are real concerns about that.”
The prince’s office would not confirm or deny the remarks but said he would not have intended to make a political statement. “We do not comment on private conversations. But we would like to stress that the Prince of Wales would not seek to make a public political statement during a private conversation,” a spokeswoman said.
The prince reportedly made the remark during a tour of the Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as part of a four-day trip to Canada with his wife Camilla.
Ferguson, who moved to Canada with her Jewish family when she was 13 and who lost relatives in the Holocaust, confirmed her account of their conversation in a later interview with the BBC. She added that it was “just a little remark — I didn’t think it was going to make such a big uproar.”
Members of the royal family by convention do not comment on political affairs, and Queen Elizabeth II is famous for keeping her own counsel.
However, her 65-year-old son Charles has come under criticism in the past for his outspoken remarks about everything from genetically modified food to architecture.
Ties between London and Moscow were plunged into deep freeze following the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident, in London.
Relations began to improve in 2011, but the crisis over Ukraine has led to fresh tensions as the United States and the EU imposed sanctions on Russia for its intervention in the former Soviet state.
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton made a similar comparison at a private event in March, according to a local newspaper report.
Describing how Moscow justified sending more troops into Crimea as a way to protect Russian speakers from a pro-Western government, Clinton said: “If this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30s.”
The Russian foreign ministry last month complained to the German ambassador after Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble reportedly drew parallels between Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and Hitler’s aggression in Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II.