Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. (Yuri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty Images)
Once again, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has sparked widespread outrage by comparing his country’s international isolation – the result of last year’s unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine – to the murder of European Jews during the Holocaust.
“Just as Hitler wanted a ‘final solution’ to the Jewish question, now, as you read them, Western politicians are clearly saying that Russia must suffer a strategic defeat,” Lavrov, a close and longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Wednesday.
Israel sharply condemned Lavrov’s self-pitying view of European history — and European present, in which Russia, not Germany, is seen as the greatest threat to peace and prosperity on the continent.
“Any comparison or reference of current events to Hitler’s final solution plan for the annihilation of the Jewish people distorts historical truth, desecrate the memory of those who died and those who survived, and must be firmly rejected,” the Foreign Office said.
A view of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. (Ronen Zvulun/Portal)
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem, criticized what Lavrov called “an affront to the real victims of Nazism,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
In Washington, Lavrov’s comments – which singled out the United States, the organizing force behind the coalition in support of Ukraine – were met with an equally strong rebuke.
“Our first reaction is, how dare he compare anything to the Holocaust – let alone a war they started?” said Adm. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told Yahoo News at a news conference on Wednesday. “It’s almost so absurd that it’s not worth responding to,” Kirby said of Lavrov’s provocative musings.
Kirby pointed out that victimhood claims made little sense since it was Russia that invaded Ukraine – first in 2014, then much more broadly in early 2022. “Today and from the beginning,” Kirby said, “Putin has tried to as a threat to Mother Russia. NOT CORRECT.”
The story goes on
He went on to call the comparison to the Holocaust “ridiculous” and “ludicrous,” a departure from the carefully crafted rhetoric White House officials commonly use when discussing sensitive international issues. When it comes to Russia, those concerns are long gone.
John Kirby, Coordinator of Strategic Communications for the National Security Council at the White House, speaks during a press briefing at the White House January 12, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
The so-called final solution to the Jewish question was genocide, carried out in stages by the Nazis as they conquered much of Europe. The murderous campaign culminated in the establishment of several death camps, mainly in Poland, where millions of Jews and other people were murdered.
Although the Soviet Union lost millions of civilians and soldiers during World War II, it was instrumental in defeating Hitler. The victory over Nazism remains a central tenet of Russian national identity.
When he first invaded Ukraine, Putin said his intention was to “denazify” the nation’s leadership, a claim particularly dubious given that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was the first Jewish person to enter the country post was chosen.
As the invasion faltered, Russia began to invent stranger and stranger reasons for a war that was poorly conceived from the start.
In an apparent attempt to revive the original justification for the war, Lavrov told an Italian newspaper last spring that Hitler “had Jewish blood.” The untruth, however absurd, seemed to serve to argue that Zelenskyi’s legacy does not absolve him from letting Ukraine fall into fascism.
Former and Israeli Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Israeli Parliament during a discussion on a new government to be sworn in at the Israeli Parliament December 29, 2022 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Amir Levy/Getty Images)
Despite international outrage, Russia’s foreign ministry deepened the conflict with a social media post that alluded to “tragic examples of Jewish-Nazi collaboration,” a willfully grotesque misreading of history.
Finally, Putin apologized to then-Israeli President Naftali Bennett.
The Kremlin’s recent incantations about the Holocaust could sour the tense relationship between Russia and Israel, where Benjamin Netanyahu’s new, far-right government is now taking shape. Although domestic issues, including the ongoing conflict over Palestinian territorial claims, have dominated Israeli politics, the long-term view of the Russia issue is conspicuous.
Netanyahu, returning for his sixth term, boasts a close relationship with Putin – and none at all with Zelenskyy. Russia’s ties to Syria and Iran make it difficult for Netanyahu to offer meaningful military aid to Ukraine. At the same time, Israel’s closest ally, the United States, is leading the pro-Ukrainian alliance.
The United States recently transferred some munitions stored in Israel to the battlefield in Ukraine.
“These are sovereign decisions for nations to make,” Kirby said Wednesday of Israel’s cautious approach to the war in Eastern Europe. “We don’t twist our arms.”