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Russia has put Ukrainian President Zelensky on its wanted list

President Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukrainian Presidential Press Agency via Associated Press

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Agency, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy inspects fortification lines in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 9, 2024.

Russia has added Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to its wanted list, Russian state media reported on Saturday, citing the Interior Ministry database.

As of Saturday afternoon, both Zelenskyy and his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, were on the ministry’s list of people wanted on unspecified criminal charges. The commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, General Oleksandr Pavlyuk, was also on the list.

Russian officials did not immediately clarify the charges against either man. Mediazona, an independent Russian news outlet, claimed on Saturday that both Zelensky and Poroshenko had been on the list since late February.

In an online statement published the same day, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry dismissed reports of Zelensky’s capture as evidence of “the desperation of the Russian state machine and propaganda.”

Russia’s wanted list also includes dozens of officials and lawmakers from Ukraine and NATO countries. Among them is Kaja Kallas, the prime minister of NATO and EU member Estonia, who has strongly advocated more military aid to Kiev and tougher sanctions on Moscow.

Russian officials said in February that Kallas is wanted over Tallinn’s efforts to remove Soviet-era monuments to Red Army soldiers in the Baltic nation, in a late cleansing of what many see as symbols of past oppression.

Fellow NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have also demolished monuments widely seen as an unwanted legacy of the Soviet occupation of those countries.

Russia has laws that criminalize the “rehabilitation of Nazism,” including punishing the “desecration” of war memorials.

Also on Russia’s list are ministers from Estonia and Lithuania, as well as the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), who last year issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin on war crimes charges. Moscow has also accused the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, of what it considers “terrorist” activities, including Ukrainian drone attacks on Russian infrastructure.

The Kremlin has repeatedly tried to link Ukraine’s leaders to Nazism, even though the country has a democratically elected Jewish president who lost family members in the Holocaust, and despite the goal of many Ukrainians to strengthen the country’s democracy, corruption to push back and get closer to the West. .

Moscow cited “de-Nazification, demilitarization and a neutral status” of Ukraine as the main objectives of what it wants to call a “special military operation” against its southern neighbor. The claim of “de-Nazification” refers to Russia’s false claims that the Ukrainian government is heavily influenced by radical nationalist and neo-Nazi groups – a claim ridiculed by Kiev and its Western allies.

The Holocaust, the Second World War and Nazism have been important tools for Putin in his attempt to legitimize Russia’s war in Ukraine. World War II, in which the Soviet Union lost an estimated 27 million people, is a linchpin of Russia’s national identity, and officials are reluctant to question any doubt about the USSR’s role.

Some historians say this has been accompanied by an attempt by Russia to reshape certain historical truths from the war. They say Russia has tried to increase the Soviet Union’s role in defeating the Nazis, while downplaying any cooperation by Soviet citizens in the persecution of Jews, along with accusations of crimes by Red Army soldiers against civilians in East -Europe.