Russian newspaper: Jewish Zelensky sending Ukrainians to die to avenge pogroms

Conspiracy theory in Communist Party mouthpiece ignores Russia’s death toll, which is double that of its neighbor

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen in a car during a visit at a military airbase in Soesterberg, Netherlands, May 4, 2023. (Yves Herman/Pool via AP)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen in a car during a visit at a military airbase in Soesterberg, Netherlands, May 4, 2023. (Yves Herman/Pool via AP)

Pravda, a Russian newspaper that was once the mouthpiece of the Communist Party in the former Soviet Union, published an opinion article alleging that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is causing Ukrainians to die in the war with Russia as payback for antisemitic pogroms by his non-Jewish compatriots.

The conspiracy theory, which is unusually far-fetched even for Pravda, appeared last week on the outlet’s website under the headline “Volodymyr Zelensky takes revenge on his people for Jewish pogroms.”

The writer, Sergei Frolov, a Pravda contributor and former editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Russkiy Kurier newspaper and the Gudok magazine, wondered in the op-ed (Russian link) why the “Jewish President Zelensky and his team, which is also full of his fellow tribesmen, suddenly became imbued with an unheard-of passion for everything Ukrainian.”

Zelensky is a former actor of Jewish descent who was elected president in 2019. He has used mild terms to express distaste for the glorification of Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, which has become widespread following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Under Zelensky, major Ukrainian cities have named streets for Ukrainian nationalists, including Stepan Bandera, who are revered in Ukraine for their alliance with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany against the Red Army.

Following the larger 2022 invasion, Zelensky appeared to adopt the image of a wartime leader, switching to fatigues even on state visits, including to Washington.

Nadiia, grandmother of Ukrainian soldier Oleksander Mykhailenko, center, says her last goodbyes to her grandson in Zhukin, Ukraine, August 11, 2023. Oleksander, a soldier in the Ukrainian army, died in battle in the Kharkiv region in March this year but his body was only identified recently. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

Frolov referenced what he described as an excessive death toll among Ukrainian troops and civilians as a result of the war with Russia.

According to a new study by the European Consortium for Political Research, the war has led to the deaths of at least 76,000 Russian troops, compared to 17,000 Ukrainian troops. Another 10,000 Ukrainian civilians have also been killed, leaving total Ukrainian fatalities at less than half of the Russian tally.

Frolov, who did not explore the study’s data in his op-ed, wrote that he does not wish to “descend into conspiracy theories” but “it is quite possible that there is a basic strategy: to kill as many representatives of the [Ukrainian] ethnic group as possible, which, in [Zelensky’s] opinion, is responsible for past atrocities.”

Frolov ended his op-ed with a challenge: “Try to convince me otherwise.”

The war that broke out last year between Ukraine and Russia has loosened the taboos instituted by President Vladimir Putin on expressions of antisemitism in mainstream media in Russia. In parallel, and amid a crackdown on what freedom of expression existed in Russia before the war, tens of thousands of Russians immigrated to Israel after February 2022 under Israel’s Law of Return for Jews and their relatives.

Last year, Vladimir Solovyov, a popular talk show host who has Jewish ancestry himself, listed on air the names of Jews he faulted for lacking patriotism.

Russia began in 2022 seeking to end the local activity of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which facilitates the immigration of Jews to Israel. A Russian administrative court has yet to decide on the matter.

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