Bennett didn’t push Zelensky to ‘surrender’ to Putin, says top Ukraine adviser

Mikhail Podolyak says Israel urged Moscow ‘to assess events more adequately’ amid reports premier suggested Ukrainian leader yield to significant concessions to end Russian war

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C), and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Combo photo: AFP)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C), and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Combo photo: AFP)

A top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that Israel did not push him to accept an offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin, said to require Kyiv to make significant concessions to end Russia’s invasion.

Mikhail Podolyak tweeted that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett did not urge Ukraine to agree to the Russian demands, as was reported Friday by two Hebrew-language outlets.

Bennett, Podolyak wrote, “just as other conditional intermediary countries, does NOT offer Ukraine to agree to any demands of the Russian Federation.

“This is impossible for military & political reasons,” he added.

Podolyak said that Israel has urged Russia “to assess the events more adequately.”

Israel has been engaged in diplomatic efforts to try to end the war in Ukraine, with Bennett traveling to Moscow last Saturday for an hours-long meeting with Putin. He was the first foreign leader to sit down with the Russian president since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The Haaretz and Walla news sites did not specify on Friday the details of Putin’s offer as reportedly conveyed by Bennett, but previous reports from Walla said that the Russian leader was demanding an independent Donbas region, stopping short of seeking regime change in Ukraine.

Other reports have suggested that the plan Bennett brought to Zelensky includes recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk as separate entities, and changing the Ukrainian constitution to excise a commitment to joining NATO.

“Bennett has proposed that we surrender,” an unnamed senior Ukrainian official told the Israeli news sites Friday. “We have no intention of doing so. We know that Putin’s proposal is just the beginning.”

The prime minister’s office denied the reports. A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said Friday, “It is doubtful whether this is a senior official who is in Ukraine and on [Bennett’s] call [with Zelensky], since it took place on a private line.”

The PMO source denied that Bennett told Zelensky to take Putin’s offer, “as Israel does not have such an offer.”

“In any case, the prime minister does not intend to give Zelensky recommendations or advice on how to act at any stage,” the source told Walla. “The conversation between the two was long and positive and included the possibility of a meeting [between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators] in Jerusalem.”

Israel has long had good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, and has been seeking to use its position to broker an agreement, as it also tries to walk a tightrope maintaining its ties to both countries. But its relationship with Kyiv has strained as Bennett has avoided directly blaming Russia for the war, although Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has done so.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, gives a statement to the media on the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, on March 11, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

The unnamed Ukrainian official was quoted in the Hebrew reports soon after Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, gave a press conference at which he urged Israel to drop its neutrality and side openly with Ukraine. He noted that Bennett was not the only mediator, and claimed Israel was “afraid” of offending Moscow.

The Ukrainian official also reportedly said Israel has asked that Ukraine cease its requests for military or defense assistance, as this could hinder Jerusalem’s efforts to mediate and maintain neutrality.

Ukraine has repeatedly pushed Israel for more support since Russia launched its invasion. But Israel has been seeking to avoid antagonizing Russia, which has a strong presence in Syria, where Israel carries out military action against Iran-linked groups.

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