Putin listens to Russia's Chief Rabbi Lazar as he visits Moscow's Jewish Museum
Putin listens to Russia's Chief Rabbi Lazar as he visits Moscow's Jewish MuseumReuters

In 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the beautiful coastal city of Netanya in order to celebrate the construction of a monument that the State of Israel built honoring the Red Army’s Victory over the Nazis during the Second World War. It was the first monument of its kind to be built outside of the Russian sphere of influence, as most Western countries are too colored by the Cold War to build such a monument.

At the time, the State of Israel constructed this monument in order to commemorate the twenty-seven million Soviet citizens who perished during the Second World War and the sacrifices made by the Soviet Union to defeat Adolph Hitler, who was responsible for the worst genocide in human history. For the Jewish people, commemorating those who defeated the Nazis, who slaughtered six million Jews in the Holocaust, trumped Cold War politics.

Up until the Ukraine War, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a positive relationship with the Jewish people. Putin once warned Yasser Arafat that “an attack on Israel would be an attack on Russia, since there are a million of his citizens living there.” Growing up, Putin shared an apartment with a Jewish family who assisted in his upbringing and had a Jewish teacher, whom he adored so much that he bought her an apartment in Tel Aviv in 2005.

In the past, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was able to reason with Putin on Syria, a fact which, prior to recent developments, gave Israel freedom of action in Syria. Prior to the Ukraine war, Israel was even able to rely upon Russia to help the Jewish state learn about the fate of Israeli soldiers who went missing. In fact, the body of Zachary Baumel, who went missing during the First Lebanon War, was recovered thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, all of this started to change after the Ukraine war began. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergay Lavrov falsely claimed that their war against Ukraine is about “de-Nazifying” the country and made numerous comparisons between Putin’s war against Ukraine and the Soviet struggle against Nazism, even though Ukraine has a Jewish Prime Minister and a thriving Jewish community.

Putin’s Foreign Minister even said, “the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves” and that Hitler had Jewish blood. He also compared how the West treats Russia regarding Ukraine with the Holocaust, referring to it as “the West’s final solution for Russia.” To date, Putin continues to work with him, despite the anti-Semitic tropes.

In fact, not only does Putin continue to work with him, but in recent remarks, he openly endorsed the notion that Russia’s struggle against Ukraine today resembles the Soviet war against the Nazis. On Victory Day this year, he stated: ““Today, civilization again is at a breaking point. Again, a true war has been unleashed against our motherland. Western globalist elites still talk about their exceptionalism, pitting people against each other and splitting society, provoking bloody conflicts and coups, sowing hatred, Russophobia, [and] aggressive nationalism. The Ukrainian nation has become hostage to a coup which led to a criminal regime led by its Western masters. It has become a pawn to their cruel and selfish plans.”

Meanwhile, as senior level Russian officials engaged in similar anti-Semitic tropes, the Russian government shut down the Jewish Agency Office in Moscow and attacked Chabad. Due to this situation, Russia’s exiled Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt has urged Jews to flee the country. For this reason, with the exception of six countries which included Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the international community boycotted the Victory Parade in Moscow, which celebrates the Soviet defeat of Nazism during the Second World War. Under normal circumstances, most of the world would attend, but after the Russian government belittled the memory of the Soviet soldiers who defeated Nazism by comparing modern-day Ukraine to Nazism and the West’s struggle against Russia to “the Final Solution,” the world has lost all respect for the Russian government.

As Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky stated, “We will not allow the joint victory of the nations of the anti-Hitler coalition to be appropriated and we will not allow lies as if the victory could have taken place without the participation of any country or nation.”

From an Israeli perspective, Ukraine’s president is in the right. Today’s Russia is no longer a friend of Israel. In recent months, Israel has not been able to rely upon Russia to give Israel freedom of operation when going after Iran in Syria. Since Iran is now helping Russia’s war against the Ukraine, they are now letting the Iranians do whatever they desire in the war-torn country.

For this reason, Israel made the right decision in not attending the Victory Parade this year, as it is doubtful that Russia will have much to contribute to positive relations with Israel under the present circumstances.

However, as a former Israeli minister, I do not believe that Putin is an anti-Semite, even though he is definitely surrounding himself with anti-Semites. Still, that does not mean that the future of Russian-Israeli relations is bright and thought must be given to the subject..

Ayoob Kara served as Israel’s Communication Minister under Netanyahu.