Scholz Rebuffs Putin Lectures on Nazism, Warns of Responsibility for Food Markets

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Scholz Rebuffs Putin Lectures on Nazism, Warns of Responsibility for Food Markets
Credit: © Reuters.

By Geoffrey Smith -- The leaders of Russia and Germany spoke for over an hour by telephone on Friday to discuss the war in Ukraine but the two sides' respective readouts suggested they made little progress in reviving stalled peace talks.

The conversation appeared notable mostly for an argument over the nature of Nazism, the violent nationalist and anti-Semitic ideology that sparked the Second World War. Russia has claimed since it invaded Ukraine in February that it is fighting Nazism in Ukraine, making frequent references to far-right influence in one particular part of the Ukrainian armed forces, the Azov battalion. 

The Kremlin's readout indicated that President Vladimir Putin had again pushed this argument on Scholz, saying "attention was turned to the continued and gross violations of international humanitarian law by soldiers professing Nazi ideology, and their use of inhuman terrorist methods."

Berlin's readout said that Scholz "clearly rejected the allegation that Nazism is widespread in Ukraine."

Scholz is the leader of the center-left Social Democratic Party, which was suppressed by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler almost immediately after he took power in 1933. Thousands of SPD members were murdered and thousands more imprisoned under Nazi rule. That chapter of persecution is a central pillar of the party's identity today.

One of the oddest aspects of Russia's accusations of Ukrainian Nazism is that its current President, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish, whereas anti-Semitism has always been an integral part of Nazism, finding its expression in the murder of over 5 million Jews from across Europe during World War 2. 

Zelensky is, moreover, democratically elected. While Ukraine - like most other European countries - does have a far-right party (Svoboda), it polled just over 2% in the last nationwide elections and failed to take any seats in parliament.

Putin's lectures to a German Chancellor on the nature of Nazism come only a couple of weeks after his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov offended Israel by arguing that Zelensky's Jewishness was no obstacle to his embrace of Nazism in an interview with Italian television. Lavrov repeated allegations - which have never been confirmed and repeatedly debunked - that "Hitler himself had Jewish blood," adding that "some of the worst anti-Semites are Jews."

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Lavrov’s words “unforgivable, scandalous and a horrible historical error”.

Russia's identification of Ukrainian nationalism with Nazism stems largely from incidences of support by Ukrainians for German troops who invaded what was then the Soviet Union in 1941. Many were welcomed as liberators from a Communist regime that had overseen a man-made famine in Ukraine within the last 10 years, in which an estimated 4 million people died.  

Besides rejecting Putin's historical assertions, Scholz also warned Putin of the consequences of the war for world food markets. Both Russia and Ukraine are big wheat exporters, and exploding food prices are already contributing to unrest in countries from Peru to Iran and Tunisia. There were mass protests across Iran on Thursday against the government's decision to cut bread subsidies.

"The Chancellor reminded (Putin) that Russia has a particular responsibility," according to the German readout.


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