For over a century, Tsarist, Soviet, and now Russian Federation authorities have used anti-Semitism to discredit, divide, and weaken their perceived adversaries at home and abroad. Today, Kremlin officials and Russia’s state-run or state-controlled media spread conspiracy theories, fueling anti-Semitism intended to deceive the world about its war against Ukraine. These tactics build on a long tradition of exploiting anti-Semitism to create division and discontent.
In this two-part report, the U.S. Department of State’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) documents how successive occupants of the Kremlin have exploited anti-Semitism for disinformation and propaganda purposes. Part One details the contemporary Kremlin’s use of antisemitic disinformation in the context of its war against Ukraine and describes how Russia’s leaders and propagandists spread anti-Jewish conspiracy theories to shift blame and distort world events. Part Two provides a historical overview of how Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union used this insidious technique to further their ends.
In an attempt to defend its unjustifiable neo-imperial war against Ukraine to the international community and domestic audiences, today’s Russia often deploys anti-Semitism as its rhetoric of choice. The Kremlin falsely portrays Ukraine and its supporters as Nazis, antisemites and “Russophobes,” demonizes Ukraine’s Jewish president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, accuses Jews of being the worst Nazis, and manipulates the history of the Holocaust for political purposes. The Kremlin’s propagandists weaponize anti-Semitism, attempting to silence Jews in Russia who oppose the war. According to new U.S. government information, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has provided funding and direct tasking to push content online which has often been featured alongside antisemitic content. Even as it spreads disinformation about Russia fighting alleged Ukrainian and Western Nazis, the Kremlin cynically deploys openly antisemitic, neo-Nazi groups, such as Task Force Rusich, to wage its war against Ukraine.
The Kremlin also spreads antisemitic conspiracy theories, playing on centuries-old prejudices to mislead audiences about the world’s alleged hostile intentions towards Russia and to make Jewish people scapegoats for these attacks. This report details three examples of these lines of effort. First, Russia’s leaders consistently refer to the so-called “Golden Billion” conspiracy theory that stems from antisemitic tropes about alleged Jewish world control and evil intentions. Second, Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem targets prominent Jewish figures to portray as puppeteers behind secret cabals that seek to dominate the world’s politics and the economy. Third, Russia’s security services and prominent religious figures attempt to resurrect the ancient antisemitic “blood libel” conspiracy, accusing Jews of ritualistic murders.
Russian authorities’ exploitation of anti-Semitism as a tactic to spread disinformation and propaganda dates back over 100 years. One of the earliest examples of this malign influence activity was the Russian Empire’s Tsarist Security Service’s fabrication of the now infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the early 1900s. In the 1920s, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin used anti-Semitism to consolidate his power. In the late 1930s, he launched efforts to systematically eliminate Jewish influence in all spheres of Soviet society, cementing anti-Semitism as an official state policy. Until Stalin’s death in 1953, the Soviet security apparatus continued to deploy antisemitic disinformation campaigns—such as the witch hunt against “rootless cosmopolitans,” the targeting of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and the notorious “Doctors’ Plot”— to portray Soviet Jews as traitors and Western spies. During the 1960s-1980s, the Committee for State Security (KGB) implemented several antisemitic active measures, a Soviet term for covert influence operations, to discredit its perceived adversaries — the Catholic Church, West Germany, the United States — as antisemitic. The KGB also targeted the Zionist movement and Soviet Jewish dissidents.
President Putin and the Kremlin use their disinformation and propaganda apparatus to exploit centuries-old anti-Jewish prejudice to serve their perceived state interests. The Tsarist and Soviet-era, and now the current, occupants of the Kremlin, have worked to discredit, divide, and weaken their perceived adversaries, falsely accusing them of Nazism, attempting to sow discord in their societies, and spreading anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. In the process, the Kremlin feeds the flames of anti-Semitism, which is rising globally. This report intends to expose the Kremlin’s dangerous antisemitic disinformation to the public in hope of minimizing the harmful impact of Russia’s information manipulation.
More than a Century of Antisemitism: How Successive Occupants of the Kremlin Have Used Antisemitism to Spread Disinformation and Propaganda, U.S. Department of State, (January 25, 2024)