Russia Tensions With Israel May Intensify as Kremlin Denies Putin’s Apology

The Kremlin denied Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin apologized to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remark that Adolf Hitler may have had “Jewish blood.”

A Kremlin statement issued Thursday detailing a phone conversation between Putin and Bennett did not mention any apology. Additionally, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the leaders’ talks were “exactly as disclosed” in the statement, The Cradle reported.

The denial could intensify already strained tensions between Russia and Israel that stemmed from Lavrov’s controversial remarks. The conflict may cause Russia to lose a key Middle East ally in Israel, which has so far taken somewhat of a mediator role in the Russia-Ukraine war by expressing support for Ukraine while refraining from publicly criticizing Moscow.

Lavrov made the comments during an interview with the Italian news channel Zona Bianca on Sunday. He Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Hitler, even though Zelensky is Jewish.

“The fact that Zelensky is Jewish does not deny the Nazi elements in Ukraine,” Lavrov said. “I believe that Hitler also had Jewish blood.”

The comments led to swift criticism from Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned the remarks in an interview with the Israeli news site Ynet as “a terrible historical mistake” and “an unforgivable, scandalous statement.”

Russia Denies Putin Apology
The Kremlin denied Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin apologized to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for the Russian foreign minister’s remark that Adolf Hitler may have had “Jewish blood.” Above, Bennett at a Cabinet meeting on March 27.
Abir Sultan/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Russia has since fired back at Israel, accusing the country of supporting what it described as “the neo-Nazi regime” in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

A statement from Israel’s Foreign Ministry on the phone conversation between Putin and Bennett Thursday indicated that they had made progress in repairing the fallout when they discussed Lavrov’s remarks.

“The Prime Minister accepted President Putin’s apology for Lavrov’s remarks and thanked him for clarifying his attitude towards the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust,” the statement read.

It also said that after Bennett requested an examination of various options for evacuations from the Azovstal steel plant in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, “Putin promised to allow the evacuation of civilians, including wounded civilians, through a [United Nations] and Red Cross humanitarian corridor.”

The Kremlin’s statement also mentioned the leaders’ talks about Azovstal evacuations but did not note any apologies from Putin. It did mention that the topic of the Holocaust arose in their conversation.

“On the eve of Victory Day in the Great Patriotic War, which Russia and Israel celebrate on 9 May, Vladimir Putin and Naftali Bennett emphasized the special importance of this date for the people of both countries, who carefully preserve the historical truth about the events of those years and honor the memory of all the fallen, including the victims of the Holocaust,” the statement said.

It went on, “The President of Russia recalled that of the six million Jews tortured in ghettoes and death camps and killed by the Nazis during punitive operations, 40 percent were Soviet citizens and asked Naftali Bennett to convey wishes of good health and well-being to the war veterans in Israel.”

The statement added, “In turn, Naftali Bennett highlighted the Red Army’s decisive contribution to the victory over Nazism.”

Newsweek reached out to the foreign ministries of Russia and Israel for comment.

Update 5/6/22, 12:53 pm ET: This story was updated with additional information and background.

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