MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday said Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, was a “disgrace” to people of his faith.
“I have a lot of Jewish friends,” Putin told an annual economic forum in Saint Petersburg. “They say that Zelensky is not Jewish, that he is a disgrace to the Jewish people.
“I’m not joking,” he added.
AFP and representatives of other countries the Kremlin deems “unfriendly” were not accredited to cover the forum.
Moscow claims Ukraine’s treatment of Russian speakers in the western-backed country is comparable to the actions of Nazi Germany.
These allegations have been contested by the Ukrainian government and the country’s Jewish community.
Putin said Moscow “must fight” neo-Nazism, adding that Russia had suffered enormous losses during the country’s fight against Nazi Germany in World War II.
“We will never forget it,” Putin said. “Why is no one listening to us?”
Putin’s insult caused uproar in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s chief rabbi said he was proud of Zelensky.
“And not only me. I think the whole world is proud of him,” rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman told Ukrainian news agency UNIAN.
“He did not flee and is doing everything to help the Ukrainian people,” he added.
The rabbi also said that there were no neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine.
“There are decent people in Ukraine who are protecting their homeland,” he was quoted as saying.
Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist Victor Pinchuk, who stressed he was of Jewish heritage himself, said: “Today Zelensky is the embodiment of the fight for freedom. And freedom is one of the main values of the Jewish people.”
The American Jewish Committee tweeted: “Putin’s attempt to smear President Zelenskyy’s Jewish heritage is a desperate and disgraceful move.” — AFP