During a line of comments in which the Republican argued Ukraine is anti-democratic and undeserving of US aid, Mr Ramaswamy claimed, “It has celebrated a Nazi in its ranks – the comedian in cargo pants, a man called Zelensky – doing it in their own ranks. That is not democratic.”
However, the entrepreneur’s campaign later walked back his comments – insisting that he was not calling Mr Zelensky a Nazi but that he stumbled over his words when he tried to comment about someone else.
“No he did not call Zelensky a Nazi,” the campaign told The Independent in an email statement. “It is lazy journalism.”
His spokesperson Tricia McLaughlin added in The New York Times that he was trying to make a reference to an incident from Canada in September.
After hearing a speech from Mr Zelensky, lawmakers there gave an ovation to 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, who fought for the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, a Nazi unit in WWII.
The former soldier was invited to attend the address by then-House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota, who has since resigned.
Neither the Ukrainian delegation present nor the Canadian government was informed of the invitation, House government leader later Karina Gould told NPR.
“No one in this House is above any of us. Therefore I must step down as your speaker,” Mr Rota said in Parliament in late September. “I reiterate my profound regret for my error in recognising an individual in the House during the joint address to Parliament of President Zelensky.
“That public recognition has caused pain to individuals and communities, including to the Jewish community in Canada and around the world in addition to Nazi survivors in Poland among other nations. I accept full responsibility for my actions,” he added.
Mr Ramaswamy addressed the incident during the debate in September, telling the audience: “We need a reasonable peace plan to end this, this is a country whose president just last week was hailing a Nazi in his own ranks.”
Ms McLaughlin told The New York Times that Mr Ramaswamy simply mispoke on Wednesday night and was actually referring to Mr Zelensky’s participation in the highly controversial moment.
“He was talking quickly and kind of oscillated in his words,” she said.
Regardless of Mr Ramaswamy’s intended meaning, the comments generated controversy immediately, with critics arguing they played into Russian propaganda points.
“Repeating offensive Kremlin talking points is an odd way to try to win votes in the USA,” retired Navy admiral James Stavridis wrote on X.
Russia has repeatedly, falsely attacked the Ukrainian governments and its leaders as Nazis, and refered to its invasion of the country as “denazification.”
“I’m increasingly convinced that Ramaswamy is a Ukrainian secret agent performing a parody of how stupid and cruel pro-Putin MAGA propagandists sound,” Russian chess champion and human rights activist Garry Kasparov wrote on X.
I’m increasingly convinced that Ramaswami is a Ukrainian secret agent performing a parody of how stupid and cruel pro-Putin MAGA propagandists sound.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) November 9, 2023
“People advising Vivek Ramaswamay should be ashamed,” former Trump White House official Alyssa Farah Griffin added in a post of her own. “The paycheck is not worth propping up this ridiculous & offensive person. Antisemitism is on the rising globally & he has the gall to say this about a Jewish leader who is at war for his nation’s sovereignty. Despicable.”
People advising Vivek Ramaswamay should be ashamed. The paycheck is not worth propping up this ridiculous & offensive person. Antisemitism is on the rising globally & he has the gall to say this about a Jewish leader who is at war for his nation’s sovereignty. Despicable. https://t.co/EBIjPzUR93
— Alyssa Farah Griffin (@Alyssafarah) November 9, 2023