Putin Apologizes to Israel For ‘Neo-Nazi’ Statement

Russian President Vladimir Putin apologized personally to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for controversial comments by his Foreign Minister just days earlier. Putin drew attention to the large neo-Nazi faction fighting against the Russians in Ukraine — one of the Kremlin’s listed reasons for their invasion was “de-Nazification” of Ukraine. I doing so, Putin claimed Israel was supporting neo-Nazis and that Adolf Hitler was part Jewish.

Bennett’s office announced the PM accepted the apology, though Moscow did not report that part of the conversation. It was Bennett who called Putin and the Russian president who initiated the apology, according to Israeli media sources.

Many international observers note that the concession from the Kremlin leader is exceedingly rare. It is possible that Putin wished to avoid pushing Israel, which has condemned the invasion but otherwise remained neutral, into actively supplying Ukraine.

In the Thursday call, Putin expressed his regret that Sergey Lavrov claimed that Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood.” Asked earlier in the week about Russia’s supposed “denazification” of a nation with a Jewish president, Lavrov said Zelenskyy’s ethnicity “means absolutely nothing.”

This predictably instigated the largest open rift between the countries in recent years. The two have enjoyed a cooperative relationship, especially in regards to upheaval in Syria. Though many Israelis have privately donated aid and even fought for Ukraine, officially the nation remains neutral.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid expressed outrage, calling the remarks “unforgivable and scandalous.” His Russian counterpart, however, doubled down by saying that the Jewish state supports “the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog accused Lavrov of spreading “terrible lies, which smell of antisemitism.” He did add, however, that he does not expect there to be lasting damage to the relationship between the countries.

After the Thursday conversation, Bennett’s office thanked Putin for clearly expressing his “view of the Jewish people” and the Holocaust. Earlier in the day, Putin sent a message to the Israeli government congratulating them on Israel’s Independence Day.

Russia, since before the Feb. 24 launch of its invasion of Ukraine, has used the specter of “Nazis” as justification. The Kremlin repeatedly claims, without substantiation, that Russian-speaking residents of eastern Ukraine face “genocide” at the hands of neo-Nazis.

Bennett went on to say that, along with the apology, Putin promised to allow civilian evacuations through a UN and Red Cross corridor in Ukraine. Officials in the besieged city of Mariupol report that another 50 civilians were successfully extracted Friday. Russia says the evacuations will continue through Saturday.