Putin's Favorite TV Host Mixes Nuclear Threats, Jewish Roots and Antisemitic Quotes

The U.S. State Department has called Vladimir Solovyov ‘the most energetic Kremlin propagandist around.’ Russian security services claim he was the target of an assassination attempt by Ukraine, based on dubious evidence

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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Russian TV personality Vladimir Solovyov with President Vladimir Putin in 2013.
Russian TV personality Vladimir Solovyov with President Vladimir Putin in 2013. Credit: MIKHAIL METZEL - AFP
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Russian TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov was the voice of indignation while appearing on his “Solovyov Live” show on Monday evening, accusing Ukrainian Nazis of attempting to assassinate him because he is Jewish.

It was a strange claim, given that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was until recently a Jewish television personality himself. But then, Solovyov – described by the U.S. State Department as possibly “the most energetic Kremlin propagandist around” – has long used his Jewish identity to give weight to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talking points.

An enthusiastic supporter of what he has called Russia’s “righteous operation … for the denazification in Ukraine,” Solovyov has declared on-air that his country is now in a “de facto” war against NATO in which “there will be no mercy.”

He has also threatened the use of nuclear weapons against the West. And on Monday evening, during his “Solovyov Live” show on the state-owned Russia-1 channel, he echoed claims made earlier in the day by local officials that Russian security forces had prevented his assassination at the hands of a “terrorist group.” The 58-year-old journalist-presenter declared that he had been targeted by Western-backed “Banderites” intent on “eliminating a Jewish anti-fascist.”

More on Putin’s propagandists: Why Putin's Propagandists Claim They're the 'New Jews' | The Shocking Inspiration for Putin’s Atrocities in Ukraine | Putin Is Reviving Soviet-era Antisemitism to Crush Opposition to His War on Ukraine | Russia's Chilling Manifesto for Genocide in Ukraine

The Russian media frequently paints Ukrainians as followers of Stepan Bandera, a 20th-century Ukrainian nationalist whose followers killed tens of thousands of Poles and Jews during World War II.

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy, Solovyov sneered, had applied for a job on Russia-1 during his time as a comedian, but “was short of talent” and was only qualified to become the leader of a “Banderite state.”

Izabella Tabarovsky, a Russia scholar and senior program associate at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington, said that, as a rule, she preferred “not to question people’s Jewish identities – especially in the case of post-Soviet Jews. But Solovyov is a public figure and a propagandist who brought up his Jewish identity in order to accuse the European Union of antisemitism when it put him on its sanctions list back in February.”

She was referring to the Italian authorities’ decision to seize around $8.5 million-worth of Solovyov’s assets following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, prompting him, according to Russian-language media, to rail against the “heirs of Nazi Germany” imposing “sanctions against a Jew.”

This hasn’t stopped Solovyov himself from allegedly engaging in on-air antisemitism in order to delegitimize those critical of Putin. According to the Moscow Times, he was banned from entering Latvia last year after praising Hitler during an attack on Putin’s political rival Alexei Navalny.

People show posters as they as they attend a protest against the jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in front of the chancellery in Berlin, Germany.Credit: Markus Schreiber,AP

“Unlike this codpiece führer, [Hitler] did not get out of army service. He fought honorably in World War I,” the Times quoted Solovyov as saying.

More recently, during a broadcast last Wednesday, Solovyov and his guests called out several Jews by name – including Atlantic staff writer Anne Applebaum and Yekaterinburg’s former Mayor Yevgeny Roizman – accusing them of “inciting hatred against Russians.”

“Listen to the names being named right now,” one guest quipped, prompting Solovyov to declare that former Echo of Moscow radio journalist Tatyana Felgengauer was “a Jew in name only.”

Tabarovsky said the Russian media “has a long tradition of manipulating ‘the Jewish question,’” and this is the lens through which she viewed Solovyov and other Russian media personalities talking about Jews in the context of the Ukraine war.

“I have a sense that they don’t know what the people want and what the right move might be for them in order to make sure that people continue to believe the lies they tell them. So they’re throwing everything they can at the wall. As we know, blaming the Jews is a tried-and-true way to deflect blame from a failing regime,” she said, adding that the Soviet Union “used the fact of collaboration to sow discord among Jewish and Ukrainian diasporas” – a strategy the Russian Federation has reportedly maintained in recent years.

Ian Garner, a historian of Russian propaganda and author of the upcoming book “Stalingrad Lives: Stories of Combat and Survival,” echoed Tabarovsky’s comments.

“What we can say for certain is that the Russian media instrumentalizes the ethnic other for its propaganda purposes,” he said, adding that “Jewish Russians and Jewish Ukrainians provide fodder to ‘prove’ that ethnic Russians need to protect not just themselves but all the people of the world from phantom threats abroad.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv earlier this week.Credit: Efrem Lukatsky/AP

Following the previous Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, officials and state media repeatedly broadcast fabricated claims of Ukrainian attacks on Jews as well as explicitly antisemitic content. In one incident at the time, recorded by the Russian Jewish Congress, a guest on Solovyov’s TV show attempted to out then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as a secret Jew named “Valtzman” – a conspiracy theory that had circulated among members of the far right for several years.

“Russia is a deeply racist and antisemitic society. The very act of othering elevates one group above another, and grassroots society seems eager to embrace this approach,” said Garner, noting the recent attack on Jewish opposition journalist Alexei Venediktov, whose home was defaced with a pig’s head and antisemitic graffiti late last month.

“The discourse online, especially in nationalist groups, combines attacks on Ukrainian ‘fascists’ with antisemitic hate: commenters in a single thread, sometimes a single comment, might label their opponents as ‘Ukrofascists’ and share a picture of a grotesque pig’s head with the Ukrainian national hairstyle,” he said.

As for Solovyov, Garner noted that the TV host is “impervious to attacks that his words are antisemitic, because he himself is Jewish.”

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