Vivek Ramaswamy slammed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in blistering remarks during 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 support to Ukraine, Ramaswamy, an aggressive critic of U.S. aid in the war between Ukraine and Russia, said he was “absolutely unpersuaded” by calls from Zelenskyy for more help, before launching into a sharply worded broadside against the European leader and his government.
“Ukraine is not a paragon of democracy,” Ramaswamy said. “It has threatened not to hold elections this year, unless the U.S. forks over 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” Ramaswamy continued. “That is not democratic.”
The Ramaswamy campaign has yet to respond to questions from NBC News about the comment.
However, campaign spokesperson Tricia McLaughlin told The New York Times that the candidate’s remark was in reference to an incident in September in Canada during which the nation’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 in attendance during the celebration, which happened before the revelation, and joined in a standing ovation honoring the man. McLaughlin said that Ramaswamy had been referring to Zelenskyy’s participation in the celebration.
A moment earlier, Ramaswamy touted his own position against helping Ukraine in its war, saying that he was “actually enjoying watching the Ukraine Hawks quietly, delicately tiptoe back from their position, as this thing has unwound into a disaster.”
Ramaswamy has been a staunch critic of U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine, and he spoke about it more on Wednesday night as the debate focused heavily on foreign policy.
Zelenskyy is Jewish and has said that his great-grandparents were killed when their village was set on fire by the Nazis during World War II.