In the search for trying to understand the situation in Ukraine better some people are asking is “Vladimir Putin Jewish?” He is not (despite the huge increase in Google searches on the topic).
Putin is Russian Orthodox and under his reign he has supported limited religious freedoms in Russia (despite trying to bring religious denominations more under state control).
In his early morning address Putin named the reason for invading Ukraine was to “de-Nazify” it.
However critics are pointing out that the democratically elected leader of Ukraine is in fact… Jewish.
And in an address to his nation, the Jewish president of Ukraine said:
“The Ukraine on your news and Ukraine in real life are two completely different countries — and the main difference between them is: Ours is real. You are told we are Nazis. But could a people who lost more than 8 million lives in the battle against Nazism support Nazism?”
“How can I be a Nazi?,” the president continued. “Explain it to my grandfather, who went through the entire war in the infantry of the Soviet army, and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine.”
This is not the first time Putin has invoked Nazis– back in 2014 Putin mentioned a rise in antisemitism as a reason for Russia’s hostilities with Ukraine.
Ukraine does have a long history of Jewish persecution and saw some of the most horrific violence against Jews during World War II.
(For its part, Jews living in the USSR faced persecution as well.)
Putin and Judaism
Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, said in 2011 Putin “paid great attention to the needs of our community and related to us with a deep respect.”
But the Russian president is also not beyond playing politics with the Jews.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in July of 2021 Putin denied “Ukrainians’ existence as a distinct national group … insisting that just like Jewish communities around the world, ‘Russians and Ukrainians are a single people.’”
Speaking during his annual televised call-in show, in which the authoritarian leader fields questions from citizens, Putin declared that “the single Russian people” had been divided “under the influence of external factors” and that while “the current authorities of modern Ukraine are clearly unfriendly to us,” this does not mean that the two people are not one.
“See for yourself,” he said. “The Jews come to Israel from Africa, Europe, and other countries. Black people arrive from Africa, right? Those arriving from Europe speak Yiddish, rather than Hebrew. Although they are diverse, the Jewish people, nevertheless, cherished its unity.”
Ukraine’s Jewish president responded back in a statement saying, Ukrainians are “definitely not one people.”
Ukraine’s president is Jewish
The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is outspoken about his Jewish identity. A comedian, in some circles he’s considered to be the ‘Jon Stewart of Ukraine.’
Members of his family were murdered during the Holocaust and others fought in the Red Army. Between May and August 2019, Ukraine was the only country other than Israel to have both a Jewish head of government, Prime Minister Groysman, and head of state in President Zelensky.
Originally Published May 15 2022 09:22AM EDT