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 support to Ukraine, Ramaswamy, an aggressive critic of U.S. aid in the war between Ukraine and Russia, said he was “absolutely unpersuaded” by Zelenskyy’s calls for more help, before he launched into a sharply worded broadside against Zelenskyy 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.”
Vivek Ramaswamy during the third Republican presidential primary debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. Shuran Huang for NBC News Campaign spokesperson 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, when 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, which happened before the revelation, and he joined in a standing ovation honoring the man. McLaughlin said Ramaswamy had been referring to Zelenskyy’s participation in the celebration.
“Vivek makes controversial assertions all the time,” McLaughlin said. “This one is just not true.”
A moment earlier, Ramaswamy touted his own position against helping Ukraine in its war, saying 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 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 their village on fire during World War II.
Adam Edelman is a political reporter for NBC News.