Israel on Tuesday said it respects the outcome of Sunday’s presidential elections in Ukraine, making only its second official comment on the region since the start of turmoil several months ago.
The statement, backing a vote that saw the election of billionaire chocolate entrepreneur Petro Poroshenko, comes after the US administration reportedly expressed dismay over Israel’s refusal to take a stance on regional tensions.
Poroshenko, a Social Democrat, on Sunday won the elections by a large margin, beating out Yulia Tymoshenko and Jewish community leader Vadim Rabinovich.
“Israel welcomes the election process, which was conducted in Ukraine in a responsible and democratic manner, in which the president was elected with a majority of votes,” the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said in a statement. “We respect the Ukrainian people’s choice and hope that calm and peace will return to Ukraine soon.”
Russia, which in March had annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, had originally opposed holding the election in May, as Moscow considered the removal of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych illegal. But last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled that he would respect the outcome of the vote, assuming it was guaranteed that the rights of “all citizens” were protected.
On Monday, Moscow’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, spoke positively about the election and said Russia was willing to deal with Poroshenko.
“Israel remains committed to strengthening its bilateral ties and cooperation with Ukraine, and looks forward to working with its leadership to further promote the relations between our two countries,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated.
Until now, official Jerusalem has tried not to get involved in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, seeking not to upset its good relations with the United States – which sides with the government in Kiev and has been pressuring Putin over Crimea – while also maintaining good ties with Moscow, an important player in regional issues, such as the Syrian civil war and the Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Reports had indicated that Washington was unhappy with Israel’s refusal to take a stance.
On March 5, the Foreign Ministry released its only statement on the events in Ukraine, stating that Israel follows the issue “with great concern” and is “anxious for the well-being of all its citizens, and hopes that the situation will not deteriorate to the loss of life.”
The laconic declaration ended by Israel stating that it “expects the crisis in Ukraine to be dealt with by diplomatic means and to be resolved peacefully.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman repeatedly stated in recent weeks that Israel has its own geopolitical challenges and thus finds it preferable not to interfere in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. However, the US has reportedly chastised Jerusalem for remaining mum on the issue, demanding diplomatic support for its efforts to rein in Moscow’s territorial appetite.
Israel’s statement regarding the Ukrainian election follows a similar declaration issued Monday by US Secretary of State John Kerry.