Putin calls on Ukraine’s Jewish president to halt ‘frenzy of neo-Nazism’
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Putin calls on Ukraine’s Jewish president to halt ‘frenzy of neo-Nazism’

Russia has a history of accusing its neighbor of fascism and state-sponsored anti-Semitism

Vlodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine's newly elected Jewish president, meets with rabbis in Kiev in early May 2019. (Courtesy of the Jewish Community of Dnepro/ via JTA)
Vlodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine's newly elected Jewish president, meets with rabbis in Kiev in early May 2019. (Courtesy of the Jewish Community of Dnepro/ via JTA)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on Ukraine’s newly elected Jewish president to stamp out an alleged “frenzy of neo-Nazism” convulsing his country.

In an interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera posted on the Kremlin website Thursday, Putin said he would be willing to establish a dialogue with Ukraine, which Russia invaded in 2014, should the new president tackle several issues that concern the Kremlin.

Dialogue is possible if Volodymyr Zelensky begins direct negotiations with Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine “and stops labeling them separatists,” he said.

“Forced Ukrainization, bans on using the Russian language, which is native for millions of Ukrainian citizens, including teaching in Russian in universities and schools, frenzy of neo-Nazism, civil conflict in the southeast of the country, attempts of the previous government to break the fragile interfaith peace – it is only a small part of the ugly baggage the new president will have to deal with,” he said.

Following the 2014 EuroMaidan revolution, in which Ukraine’s Kremlin-aligned president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia, Putin denounced what he described as “the rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine.” Soon after, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula and helped spark separatist uprisings in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. During the course of the conflict, Russian media and diplomats frequently accused Ukraine of anti-Semitism and Nazism.

Ukraine has come under fire from Jewish groups for its celebration of nationalist figures who collaborated with the Nazis, but local community leaders have consistently stated that anti-Semitism is far from the pervasive problem described by Moscow.

Zelensky was supported by more than 70 percent of the electorate in this year’s Ukrainian presidential election, making the former Soviet republic the only other country in the world aside from Israel to have both a Jewish president and prime minister.

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