Russian President Vladimir Putin has weighed in on the scandal that led to the resignation of former Speaker Anthony Rota, calling him an “idiot” if he didn’t understand that by fighting against Russia during the Second World War, Jaroslav Hunka fought on the side of the “Nazi forces.”
Comments came in response to Canadian professor seeking Putin’s thoughts on Nazi combatant honoured in House
Briar Stewart · CBC News
Russian President Vladimir Putin has, predictably, weighed in on the scandal that has enveloped Parliament and led to the resignation of the House of Commons’ Speaker, Anthony Rota, calling Rota an “idiot” if he didn’t understand that a veteran who fought against Russia during the Second World War, fought on the side of the “Nazi forces.”
He said if the Speaker did know and called Yaroslav Hunka a hero anyway, “he’s a bastard.”
Either way, Putin, who spoke to a forum in Sochi, Russia, for more than three hours Thursday, said the incident shows “the kind of people we have to deal with … in certain Western countries.”
It’s not surprising that Putin, who repeatedly claims he is waging war on Ukraine in order to “de-Nazify” it, would seize on the scandal, but his remarks were prompted by a question from a Canadian, Radhika Desai, who is a professor in the department of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
WATCH | Putin mocks Anthony Rota over Nazi invitation:
Putin slams former Canadian Speaker Anthony Rota
Featured VideoRussian President Vladimir Putin criticized the former Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons, Anthony Rota, at a forum on Thursday. He said that if Rota was unaware that those fighting against Russia in the Second World War were on the side of the Nazis, ‘then he is an idiot,’ drawing laughter from the audience.
Desai was in the audience as Putin delivered his annual speech at the Valdai Discussion Club, a Russian think-tank that is holding its annual meeting in the popular resort city on the Black Sea coast.
She began her question by stating that Canada was “the laughingstock of the world” because it applauded the veteran and asked Putin what he thought of the West’s “ignorant, hubristic notions” and the fact that “people have forgotten how much Russia has done for the defeat of Nazism.”
On Sept. 22, 98-year-old Hunka was given a standing ovation by Parliament while Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenkyy, was visiting the House of Commons.
It later emerged that Hunka was part of the First Ukrainian Division, also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division or the SS 14th Waffen Division — a voluntary unit under the command of the Nazis.
Rota later resigned, acknowledging his “profound regret for my error in recognizing an individual in the House.”
Putin responded to Desai’s question by saying that although he hadn’t agreed to take the question, he had been expecting it and proceeded to pull out notes quoting Rota’s introduction of Hunka to Parliament, in which he called Hunka “a hero of Ukraine and a hero of Canada.”
During his criticism of Rota, Putin noted that he didn’t want to say anything negative about Canada.
“We still treat Canada with respect, especially its people,” he said.
Desai had earlier given an interview to a Russian state media channel, Russia 24, where she talked about the incident and about Canada’s immigration policy after the Second World War, which she said at times “turned a blind eye to some people’s involvement in fascism.”
In an interview with CBC News, Desai said she has attended Valdai Discussion Club forums before and was required to submit her question to the moderators ahead of time, so she doesn’t understand why Putin said he didn’t agree to it.
Desai said it was important to raise the issue as she thinks “anti-Russian propaganda has been wall to wall in countries like Canada.”
“We have convinced ourselves that basically everything Russian is bad,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for Russia’s contribution to the Second World War, the Second World War would have been lost by the allies.”
Desai said she believes Russia’s “special operation,” as the war in Ukraine is called in Russia, was provoked by the West, and that it was important for Canadians to take part in events like the Valdai forum in order to “have dialogue with the other side.”
When asked about Putin’s comments, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and minister of finance, acknowledged the “terrible mistake” of honouring Hunka but urged Canadians to be aware of how effective “Vladimir Putin is at weaponizing that mistake” and to understand that “Russian propaganda is real.”
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that senior bureaucrats are reviewing the Deschenes Commission report — an independent inquiry that looked into alleged Nazi war criminals in Canada.
After they review, it’s possible that more of the 1986 report, particularly a section including the names of alleged Nazis living in Canada, will be made public.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Briar Stewart is CBC’s Russia correspondent, currently based in London. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on X @briarstewart
With files from Corinne Seminoff