Vivek Ramaswamy criticizes Ukrainian President Zelenskyy with ‘Nazi’ reference

Vivek Ramaswamy slammed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in blistering remarks at Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate, making a Nazi reference and calling Zelenskyy a “comedian in cargo pants.”

During an exchange about whether he would support sending additional aid to Ukraine, Ramaswamy, an aggressive critic of U.S. aid in the Ukraine-Russia war, said he was “absolutely unconvinced” by Zelenskyy’s calls for more aid, before launching into a sharply worded broadside against Zelenskyy and his government.

“Ukraine is not an example of democracy,” Ramaswamy said. “It has threatened not to hold elections this year unless the United States spends more money. That is not democratic.”

“It has celebrated a Nazi in its ranks, the comedian in cargo pants, the man called Zelenskyy doing it in their own ranks,” continued Ramaswamy. “It’s not democratic.”

Vivek Ramaswamy during the third Republican presidential primary debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023.Shuran Huang for NBC News

Campaign spokeswoman Tricia McLaughlin told NBC News that Ramaswamy had not called Zelenskyy a “Nazi” and that his remarks were in reference to an incident in September in Canada, where the country’s parliament held a celebration of a Ukrainian Canadian veteran who was later discovered to have served in a Nazi-aligned military unit.

Zelenskyy was at the celebration that preceded the unveiling and took part in a standing ovation in honor of the man. McLaughlin said Ramaswamy had referred to Zelenskyy’s participation in the celebration.

“Vivek makes controversial claims all the time,” McLaughlin said. “This one just isn’t true.”

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Moments earlier, Ramaswamy touted his own stance against helping Ukraine in its war, saying he “actually enjoyed watching the Ukrainian hawks quietly, delicately tiptoe back from their position as this thing has devolved into a disaster.”

Ramaswamy has been a strong critic of US involvement in the war in Ukraine, and he spoke more about it on Wednesday night as the debate focused heavily on foreign policy.

Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, has said his great-grandparents were killed when the Nazis set fire to their village during World War II.