In what might have been either a Freudian slip or an innocent mistake but was no doubt a diplomatic gaffe, Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday assailed Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko's campaign for using 'anti-Russian, Zionist' slogans.
His office later clarified via the Kremlin Web site that he had meant to say 'anti-Russian, anti-Semitic' slogans when answering a question at an end-of-the-year press conference in Moscow.
Yushchenko adversaries have accused some of his supporters of anti-Jewish sentiment. Putin has loudly supported rival candidate Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who favors strong ties with Russia.
Minister-without-Portfolio Natan Sharansky, responsible for Diaspora Affairs, accepted as true that Putin had made a slip of the tongue rather than expressed actual anti-Israel beliefs.
Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post he was 'surprised' when he first heard the reports of Putin's comment. The Russian leader, he said, has 'long been careful not to use this kind of rhetoric,' condemning the dangers of anti-Semitism and allowing Jewish life free rein under his regime.
He did note with interest, however, that when Putin sought to say something injurious about the pro-Western Yushchenko he used the word 'Zionist.'
'It's at the top of his unconscious that 'Zionist' is a negative word,' Sharansky said.