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Russia claims Israeli ‘mercenaries’ fighting in Ukraine

By suggesting that Israelis are fighting alongside Azov -- viewed by Russia as "fascists" and "Nazis" -- Moscow is compounding tensions that started after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Sunday that Hitler had "Jewish blood".

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A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry on Wednesday claimed Israeli mercenaries were fighting alongside the far-right Azov Regiment in Ukraine, further fuelling tensions with Israel after Russia suggested Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood”.

“Israeli mercenaries are practically shoulder to shoulder with Azov militants in Ukraine,” Maria Zakharova told pro-Kremlin Sputnik radio in an interview.

Azov rose to prominence in 2014, when its far-right activists took up arms to fight pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region but have since fallen under the command of Ukraine’s military.

They have been fighting alongside the Ukrainian army against Russian troops, which on February 24 launched a military campaign in the pro-Western country.

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Its members are part of the Ukrainian resistance in the port city of Mariupol, holed up inside the Azovstal steel plant against which Russian forces launched a major assault on Tuesday.

By suggesting that Israelis are fighting alongside Azov — viewed by Russia as “fascists” and “Nazis” — Moscow is compounding tensions that started after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Sunday that Hitler had “Jewish blood”.

His remarks sparked outrage in Israel, which called the statement “unforgivable and outrageous” and a “terrible historical error”.

Russia’s foreign ministry on Tuesday accused Israel of backing “the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is of Jewish descent.

Reaction to Lavrov’s statement

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Monday that Lavrov’s comment was an “unforgivable” falsehood that tried to minimise the horrors of the Holocaust – the slaughter of six million European Jews and other minority groups by Nazi Germany.

Leaders from several Western nations denounced Lavrov, who had been asked how Russia could be pursuing its stated goal of “de-nazifying” Ukraine when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy himself is a Jew. Zelenskyy, whose country is a parliamentary democracy, accused Russia of having forgotten the lessons of World War II.

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The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that Lapid’s comments were “anti-historical” and “explain to a large extent why the current Israeli government supports the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”.

Moscow reiterated Lavrov’s point that Zelenskyy’s Jewish origins did not preclude Ukraine from being run by neo-Nazis.

Courtesy: AFP with additional input by GVS