Hours after returning from a surprise whirlwind trip to Moscow and Berlin, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel had a moral obligation to work to broker peace talks between Russia and Ukraine — even if the likelihood for progress was slim.
“I returned from Moscow and Berlin a few hours ago,” Bennett said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. “I went there to assist the dialogue between all of the sides, of course with the blessing and encouragement of all players.”
Bennett said that he could not “go into greater detail” on the talks he held with Russian President Vladimir Putin or his phone calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday morning that Bennett had spoken once again with Zelensky, the third phone call between the two leaders in less than 24 hours. Neither side has released details of any of the conversations.
“We will continue to assist as needed,” Bennett said at the cabinet meeting. “Even if the chance is not great — as soon as there is even a small opening, and we have access to all sides and the capability — I see this as our moral obligation to make every effort.”
“As long as the candle is burning, we must make an effort and perhaps it will yet be possible to act,” the prime minister added.
Bennett took off on Saturday for Moscow to meet with Putin, becoming the first Western leader to sit down with the Russian president since he invaded Ukraine on February 24. After spending three hours with Putin, Bennett flew straight to Berlin and met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz — just days after the pair met in Jerusalem.
In a televised briefing on Sunday, Zelensky said that he is “grateful to Israel for their support for Ukraine,” according to a translation by Sky News. “We need the support of all countries and we were talking about the support we need now and how we are going to cooperate in the future after the war.”
Zelensky did not mention Bennett by name, nor any Israeli mediation efforts. Last week, the Ukrainian leader told reporters that Kyiv’s relations with Jerusalem were “not bad, not bad at all,” but that he did not feel that Bennett was “wrapped in our flag.”
Israel has shipped 100 tons of humanitarian aid to Ukraine and is setting up a field hospital in the country this week, but has been criticized for not sending military aid to the war-ravaged country.
Speaking Sunday morning, Bennett said that “the human suffering is great and is liable to be much greater” in Ukraine. “There are also Israelis who need to return home and Jewish communities in distress that need help.”
The prime minister said Israel is “prepared for a significant wave of immigration as a result of the situation” and is working on multiple fronts to meet the challenge.
“At such moments, when the world is facing turmoil and Jews are no longer safe where they are, everyone is reminded how important it is that there is a home for Jews wherever they are; how important it is that we have the State of Israel,” Bennett added.
Zelensky first requested that Bennett attempt to mediate talks between Moscow and Kyiv in a phone call a day after Russia invaded Ukraine, pointing to Israel’s close ties to both nations. Bennett passed on the request to Putin, who was reportedly not interested in the offer at the time.
Western officials and Zelensky himself have expressed little hope in the possibility of diplomatic talks leading to a breakthrough. Two rounds of talks held in Belarus have so far produced few results.
A third round of talks between Russia and Ukraine will take place Monday, according to Davyd Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian delegation. He gave no additional details, including where they would take place.
The previous meetings held in Belarus led to a temporary ceasefire agreement to create an opportunity for the evacuation of civilians that failed Saturday and was revived Sunday.
Associated Press contributed to this report.