Russia has doubled down on its bizarre insistence that its invasion of Ukraine is not an illegal power grab but simply a valiant effort to rid the world of Nazis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said he only sent troops in to “de-Nazify” neighboring Ukraine; a claim widely dismissed and condemned as a lie internationally. Putin’s claims are particularly puzzling, given Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish and lost family members in the Holocaust.
Nevertheless, propagandists on Russian state TV launched a fresh bid to shore up the Nazi narrative this week. One Russian commentator took to the airwaves to argue that European leaders are simply “heirs” to the same Nazis who waged World War II. Another Russian commentator alleged that Ukraine and several other countries are actually being “governed by the Nazis” at present.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s ministry of internal affairs who describes himself as an “official enemy of Russian propaganda” in his Twitter bio, shared clips from two Russian TV shows online.
Introducing the first segment, on Monday, he shared a clip in which one Russian commentator alleged that Europeans who supported Ukraine were simply “the heirs of [Nazis],” while Russians are the heirs of the world’s saviors. “Honestly, it is one of the worst and most disgusting videos of Russian propaganda shows I’ve ever seen,” Gerashchenko said.
Russian propaganda discusses Holocaust. Honestly, it is one of the worst and most disgusting videos of Russian propaganda shows I've ever seen. pic.twitter.com/6o16w3AYDR— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) January 23, 2023
The clip opens with a panel discussing the European Union‘s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who last week outlined the need to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to help them “not only to repel, which is what they’re doing, but also to regain terrain [from Russian occupation].”
The furious Russian commentator, who was not identified by Gerashchenko, said: “[Borrell] begins to tell us what we are entitled to and what we are not entitled to, on behalf of the European community. So here, any Russian or heir to the Soviet man who won World War II, wants to do a very rude and cruel thing to Mr Borrell… 6 million Jews were exterminated by Europeans led by Adolf Hitler. They exterminated! Europeans! 6 million Jews.
“They carried out the Holocaust, and all these people are the heirs of those who did it— including Mr Borrell, who has already distinguished himself many times with Russian fixations. And here they are, the heirs of those who burned 6 million and murdered, and we are the heirs of those who prevented the final resolution of the Jewish question in the world! Because if it were not for the Soviet soldiers, the civilized European people would have solved the Jewish question completely. And that’s something we should never forget, no one! Who burnt, and who saved?”
Newsweek has asked Borrell’s office for comment.
Borrell is a Spanish Socialist. Spain officially espoused neutrality throughout World War II.
The speaker, who Newsweek is attempting to identify, seems to ignore the fact that European countries and the U.S. also fought against the Nazis during World War II.
Nor does he explain how the Holocaust has any relevance to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was also unclear whether he was alleging that Borrell and other European leaders are literally the descendants of European Nazis, or whether simply by being of European descent they must each in some way be an “heir” to their fascist politics.
On Tuesday, Gerashchenko tweeted footage from another TV show that was broadcast on Russian state TV, and which also sought to draw parallels with the Holocaust.
"Moldova, Ukraine, Baltic countries are occupied and ruled by Nazis"— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) January 24, 2023
Note the facial expressions of other propagandists in the studio. pic.twitter.com/OEE2G0Xu5I
Another panel of Russians was assembled to analyze their country’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in February last year.
One speaker, unnamed by Gerashchenko, suggested Ukraine was not really a separate country at all since it had once been part of the Soviet Union along with Russia. He also claimed Ukraine, Moldova, and other Baltic states were led by governments of Nazi politicians. Newsweek is attempting to identify the speaker.
The commentator said: “In 1945, we ended [WW2] in Berlin… But now the battles are happening in Ukraine. The occupied territories of my country—after all, I was born in the Soviet Union—are Ukraine, Moldova, and the Baltic countries. Like that. No need to think it is not our country. It is one state that due to some historic fate fell apart into several states. Their territories are occupied and governed by the Nazis, genuine Nazis.”
The reactions of the other commentators appearing on the panel show with him were telling. Gerashchenko remarked on this with his caption of the footage, writing: “Note the facial expressions of other propagandists in the studio.” One man is seen with his arms crossed as he sleepily rocks on the balls of his feet, while another appears to roll his eyes, and a third appears to glaze over as he listens.
Despite the frequent claims made by Russian propagandists, Putin himself, and his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about the prevalence of Nazis in Ukraine and Europe, the allegations remain at odds with what some Russian troops have said.
Angry soldiers captured by Ukraine who were interviewed by CNN vowed to “rise up” against Putin when they returned home after accusing him of lying about their mission. While another soldier, identified only by his first name Maxim, dismissed claims of Nazis as “disinformation” and added: “We didn’t see any Nazis or fascists. Russians and Ukrainians can communicate in the same language, so we see the good [in them]. It’s hard to give a direct assessment of his [Putin’s] actions. But, at the bare minimum, judging by the consequences of his orders, he is incorrect.”
Newsweek has reached out to Russia’s Foreign Ministry and Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense for comment.