Israel has reacted with fury to an “unforgivable” claim by Russia’s foreign minister that Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood” which was made while trying to justify Moscow’s reason for invading Ukraine.
In an Italian TV interview, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was asked how Russia could say it needed to “denazify” Ukraine, when the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was Jewish.
“I could be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood. (Zelensky being Jewish) means absolutely nothing. Wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews,” the BBC reports he said through a translator.
AAP translated the comments as: “When they say ‘What sort of nazification is this if we are Jews’, well I think that Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it means nothing.
“For a long time now we’ve been hearing the wise Jewish people say that the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves.”
The comments were made as Israel marked one of the most solemn occasions on its calendar, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the “lies” were meant to “blame the Jews themselves for the most terrible crimes in history and thus free the oppressors of the Jews from their responsibility”.
“No war today is the Holocaust or is like the Holocaust.”
A furious Israeli Foreign Ministry Yair Lapid said the Russian ambassador would be summoned for “a tough talk”.
“It is an unforgivable, scandalous statement, a terrible historical mistake, and we expect an apology,” Mr Lapid told the YNet news website on Monday.
Mr Lapid said to claim Hitler was of Jewish descent was like saying Jews had killed themselves, adding that accusing Jews of being anti-Semites was “the lowest level of racism”.
He also dismissed Mr Lavrov’s claim that pro-Nazi elements held sway over the Ukrainian government and military.
“The Ukrainians aren’t Nazis. Only the Nazis were Nazis and only they dealt with the systematic destruction of the Jewish people,” said Mr Lapid, whose grandfather died in the Holocaust.
Israel has expressed repeated support for Ukraine. But wary of straining relations with Russia, a powerbroker in neighbouring Syria, it initially avoided direct criticism of Moscow and has not enforced formal sanctions on Russian oligarchs.
Last month, Mr Lapid accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine, and Israel agreed to supply helmets and vests to Ukrainian rescue services, signalling a shift in its position on providing such equipment.
Meanwhile Russia reportedly began shelling the steelworks in Mariupol as soon as the first 100 civilians had been rescued after weeks and months hiding in bunkers.
“Yesterday, as soon as the buses left Azovstal with the evacuees, new shelling began immediately,” Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the Mariupol mayor, told Ukrainian television.
Humanitarian groups are working to evacuate more civilians who remain hemmed in by Russians in the Soviet-era industrial facility, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the port city.
“The situation has become a sign of a real humanitarian catastrophe,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
Intense Russian bombardments were also hitting towns in eastern Ukraine on Monday, causing severe damage, a regional governor said.
On the international front, EU energy ministers were due to hold emergency talks on Moscow’s demand that European buyers pay for Russian gas in roubles or face their supply being cut off.
While the EU has imposed heavy economic sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, the issue of Russian energy supplies has posed a dilemma that threatens to crack the united front.
Ukrainian authorities say the Russian military again has struck a strategic bridge in the country’s southwest.
Odessa region Governor Maksym Marchenko said that Russian forces on Monday hit a bridge across the Dniester Estuary west of Odessa where the Dniester River flows into the Black Sea.
The bridge already had been heavily damaged in two previous Russian missile strikes.
The bridge provides the only railway connection and the key highway link to areas west of Odessa.
Its destruction cuts access to shipments of weapons and other cargo from neighbouring Romania.
The attacks on the bridge followed a claim by a senior Russian military officer that Russia aims to take control of the entire south of Ukraine and build a land corridor to the separatist Transnistria region of Moldova, where tensions have recently escalated.
Transnistria broke away after a short civil war in the early 1990s and is unrecognised by most countries.
An estimated 1500 Russian soldiers are stationed there.
Ukrainian and foreign officials have voiced concern that Russia could use the region to open a new front in the war against Ukraine.
European oil ban
Germany says it is prepared to back an immediate European Union embargo on Russian oil, a major shift from Russia’s biggest energy customer that could let the bloc impose such a ban within days.
Russia’s energy exports — by far its biggest source of income — have so far largely been exempt from international sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
Ukraine says that loophole means European countries are funding the Kremlin war effort, sending Russia hundreds of millions of euros every day.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has been more cautious than other leaders in the region backing Ukraine, has been under growing pressure to take a firmer line, including from within the Social Democrat’s own governing coalition.
“Germany is not against an oil ban on Russia. Of course it is a heavy load to bear but we would be ready to do that,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck, of the Greens, told reporters before talks with his EU colleagues in Brussels.
“With coal and oil, it is possible to forgo Russian imports now,” Finance Minister Christian Lindner of the pro-business FDP told Die Welt newspaper.
“It can’t be ruled out that fuel prices could rise.”
Germany had already reduced the share of Russian oil in its imports to 12 per cent from 35 per cent before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 but had previously said it needed months to phase out Russian crude to lessen the economic impact at home.
Eastern parts of Germany in particular rely on fuel from a refinery owned by Russia’s state oil company Rosneft, served by the Soviet-era “Friendship” pipeline that runs thousands of kilometres to oil fields in Siberia.
Weaning Europe off Russia’s natural gas is likely to prove more difficult than finding other sources of oil.