An oligarch with Russian ties reportedly paid Ukrainian locals to spray-paint swastikas around the city of Kharkiv in the months leading up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In a report Wednesday, Rolling Stone cited multiple sources that identify the oligarch behind the alleged plot as Pavel Fuks, a Jewish-Ukrainian businessman who has accumulated most of his wealth from ventures in Russia.
Fuks, who reportedly held Russian citizenship in the past, was allegedly approached by Russian agents and persuaded to pay local criminals anywhere between $500 and $1,500 through intermediaries to vandalize the streets of Kharkiv with Nazi symbols.
According to the report, this lasted for three months, between December and February, and up until Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24.
The report cited several Ukrainians, including former top kickboxer Oleg Plyush, who said Fuks had employed intermediaries in order to track down people who would be willing to carry out the antisemitic acts of vandalism.
Furthermore, the report quoted a US official speaking on condition of anonymity who confirmed the allegations, saying that Fuks’ activities were well known throughout the American intelligence community.
Pavel Fuks, on the right. https://t.co/RxWmpYJIaz
— Sandy TennisBall???????????????? (@LaurelBunce) March 24, 2022
Russia has repeatedly insisted that its large-scale invasion of Ukraine is a “special military operation” meant to “demilitarize and de-Nazify” the country, claims that have largely been dismissed by the international community.
Plyush, who reportedly confronted Fuks about the scheme, told Rolling Stone that the businessman said “he had no choice” and was given the option to play along or stop doing business in Russia.
He noted that he was personally aware of three cases of antisemitic graffiti being paid for with Fuks’ money and noted that the campaign was extended to the capital, Kyiv, as well.
Here’s Kharkiv, a major target. That last piece of graffiti is all over the city. Nazis paint swastikas on walls, and locals turn them into windows. pic.twitter.com/4ayUMQsUjr
— Carl Beijer (@CarlBeijer) February 24, 2022
Swearing by his account, Plyush said he was willing to testify under oath to his encounters with Fuks and knowledge of the scheme.
Fuks has declined to comment on the report.
The allegations put forth against Fuks are surprising, considering his Jewish heritage and history of donating to Jewish causes in Ukraine, including to the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial in Kyiv.
If confirmed, the scheme would appear to be part of a larger Russian effort to use Nazi symbols to sow unrest.
Former KGB general Oleg Kalugin referred to this tactic in his memoir, and noted that Soviet spies used similar methods during the Cold War, vandalizing synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in New York and Washington.
The Holocaust, World War II, and Nazism have been important tools for Putin in his bid to legitimize Russia’s war in Ukraine, but historians see his use of disinformation as a cynical ploy to further the Russian leader’s aims.
In February 2020, Russian lawmakers voted in favor of lifting a ban on displays of Nazi symbols, as long as they promote a “negative attitude to Nazi ideology and extremism” and when there are “no signs of propaganda or justifying Nazi and extremist ideology.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also been accused of weaponizing the Holocaust in his bid to draw support from the West.
Addressing the Knesset on Sunday, he pleaded with Israeli lawmakers for help in preventing a Russian “final solution” in Ukraine, repeatedly making comparisons to the Holocaust and attacking the Jewish state for not doing more in order to help.
His speech was met with mixed responses, with some accusing him of attempting to distort history and ignoring Ukraine’s complicity in the Nazi-led genocide.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.