Israel will continue trying to mediate between Russia and Ukraine even if success is hard to achieve, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said after returning from surprise talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
By Erin Viner
In televised remarks to his Cabinet, Bennett provided no details on his three-hour meeting with Putin at the Kremlin on Saturday, saying only that his efforts have “the blessing and encouragement of all parties” – in apparent reference to the United States and other world powers.
“We will continue to assist wherever this is requested, even if the chances are not great,” Bennett stated, adding, “The moment there is even a small opening, and we have the access to all sides and the capability, I see it as a moral duty to make every attempt.”
Ukraine has requested that Israel serve as intermediary, citing the government’s good relations with both Kyiv and Moscow.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that Bennett held three separate conversations over the weekend with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Israeli officials said he also held parallel talks with the leaders of Germany and France, while Alternate Premier and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid set out to meet with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Latvia today.
In addition, the Kremlin revealed that Bennett spoke with Putin again by telephone yesterday to discuss his “most recent contacts with leaders of a number of countries.”
Israel has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, expressed solidarity with Kyiv and sent humanitarian aid; but has so far held back from fulfilling Zelenskyy’s requests for military assistance.
It is imperative that Jerusalem maintain good relations with Russia, as the two countries utilize a defense coordination mechanism in Syria to prevent clashes between their militaries. Russian forces have been deployed to fight in the Syrian Civil War on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime, while Israel frequently launches operations against deployments by Iran and its regional proxies such as the Hezbollah terror group in the neighboring Arab Republic.
Israel is also preparing a largescale program to absorb a wave of new immigrants fleeing the conflict, into the country of just over 9.3 million.
Bennett was on hand at the Ben Gurion International Airport yesterday to greet 90 children from a Jewish orphanage in the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr who were flown from Romania.
“I am Naftali, the Prime Minister of Israel,” Bennett, who boarded the El Al plane after it landed, told one boy, kissing him on the head before leading him off the aircraft.
In a later message posted on Twitter, the Israeli leader said the group, accompanied by members of the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish religious movement, had fled battles and shelling for over a week.