Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday said he expects Israel to join international sanctions against Russia, following his first conversation with Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
The two countries have had a somewhat rocky relationship since Russia invaded Ukraine, as Israel seeks to balance its ties between the two warring nations.
Zelensky also called for Israel to continue providing aid to Ukraine.
“I count on [Israel’s] accession to the sanctions on Russia and provision of practical assistance to Ukraine in countering the aggression of the Russian Federation,” Zelensky said in a statement after the call.
Lapid’s office said he had highlighted his support for Ukraine and wished Zelensky a happy independence day, which Ukraine marked last week.
The two also discussed the war, with the prime minister expressing condolences for those killed and wounded and calling for a diplomatic solution, Lapid’s office said.
I've held the first telephone conversation with the new Prime Minister of Israel @yairlapid. I count on his country’s accession to the sanctions on Russia and provision of practical assistance to Ukraine in countering the aggression of the Russian Federation.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) September 1, 2022
Lapid also urged Israelis not to visit the western Ukrainian city of Uman during Rosh Hashanah for an annual pilgrimage to a religious site there. Israeli officials have repeatedly warned against making the trip this year, with the Foreign Ministry on Thursday saying visiting could pose a “real and immediate risk to lives” due to the war.
Thursday’s call was the first conversation between the two leaders since Lapid became prime minister. In his previous job as foreign minister, Lapid had more explicitly pro-Ukrainian views than his predecessor as premier, Naftali Bennett.
Lapid’s government has sent large shipments of protective gear and began to provide direct financial support for civil aid organizations operating in the war-torn country in July.
Lapid has, however, continued Bennett’s policy of not providing Ukraine with advanced defense systems, including Iron Dome, or with offensive weapons.
Israel has sought to maintain ties with Russia, which controls the airspace over Syria and which has a large Jewish community.
Israel regularly carries out airstrikes in Syria, which Jerusalem sees as crucial for maintaining security on the northern border, including by halting Iranian weapons transfers to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.
In the months following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Bennett sought to utilize Israel’s unique relationships with the two countries and held multiple calls with both Putin and Zelensky in an attempt to mediate a ceasefire. He traveled to Moscow in March, where he became the first foreign leader to meet in person with Putin since the invasion began.
Bennett’s government also set up a field hospital outside the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, which operated there for six weeks earlier this year. Israel also provided shipments of helmets and flak jackets to Ukraine in April. At the time, then-foreign minister Lapid also explicitly accused Russia of war crimes, in what were then the strongest comments against Moscow by a top Israeli official.
Despite Israel’s efforts to maintain its ties with Russia, the countries have been increasingly at odds as Moscow has become irked at Israeli support for Ukraine.
In late June, Russia warned it would shutter the local branch of the Jewish Agency, a major quasi-governmental organization that facilitates Jewish immigration to Israel, sparking a major diplomatic spat between the two countries. Russia claimed the organization had fallen foul of the country’s laws by improperly keeping records of Russian citizens.
Last month, a Russian court postponed a verdict in a case against the Jewish Agency until mid-September.