Russia Says Israeli Mercenaries Have Teamed Up with Nazis in Ukraine

Moscow has said mercenaries from Israel are fighting alongside a Ukrainian regiment that Russia regularly refers to as proof of the Nazi influence in its neighbor.

The comments by the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova threaten to further sour relations between Moscow and Tel Aviv after Russia suggested that Adolf Hitler had "Jewish blood."

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned the comment made by his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in an interview on Sunday as "unforgivable and outrageous."

But Russia, which has justified its invasion of Ukraine by saying it was to "denazify" the country, pushed further with its antagonism of Israel.

On Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the Israeli government of supporting "the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv."

In an interview with Sputnik radio on Wednesday, Zakharova said: "I'll say something that the very politicians in Israel who are now inflating the information campaign are unlikely to want to hear.

"Perhaps they will be interested. In Ukraine, Israeli mercenaries are actually shoulder to shoulder with the Azov militants," she said, adding that she had seen video proof.

Zakharova then told the Rossiya-24 TV channel that Lavrov was simply drawing attention to Israel "ignoring the growth of neo-Nazi ideology in Ukraine for years," Tass reported.

The Azov Regiment rose to prominence in 2014, when its far-right activists fought pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region and are now under the command of Ukraine's military.

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

Israel has a large Russian population and has refrained from imposing sanctions on Moscow although it has expressed support for Kyiv and accused Moscow of committing war crimes in Ukraine.

But the rhetoric from Russia threatens its ties with Israel where there has been a strong reaction to Lavrov's comments and calls for an apology.

Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, "It would be nice if he (Lavrov) apologized to the Jews and simply admitted his mistake."

"I think it would then be possible to consider the incident settled and turn the page," Lazar added.

Lazar, who heads the Chabad Lubavitch-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, is considered to have close ties with President Vladimir Putin. While he has expressed displeasure at the war, he has not criticized Putin directly over it, Ynet reported. Newsweek has contacted Israel's foreign ministry for comment.

Maria Zakharova
Maria Zakharova, Russian foreign affairs spokeswoman pictured in 2019 in New York. She said that Israel mercenaries were fighting alongside a right-wing regiment in Ukraine. Getty Images/Getty

Update 05/04/22, 9:14 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with further information.