Delayed call between FMs will go ahead this week

In wake of Russian strikes, Ukraine steps up calls for Israel to supply air defenses

Ambassador says Jerusalem ‘must be on right side of history,’ but ‘we will win with or without Israeli aid’

Rescue workers transfer the body of a man killed in a Russian missile strike on an apartment building into a plastic bag in the southeastern city of Dnipro, Ukraine, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Rescue workers transfer the body of a man killed in a Russian missile strike on an apartment building into a plastic bag in the southeastern city of Dnipro, Ukraine, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Ukrainian Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk on Tuesday urged Israel to supply his country with missile defense systems in the wake of continued deadly Russian strikes.

“Time is running out and our people are dying every day. What is happening in Ukraine is terrible. Russia is committing genocide of Ukrainian citizens.We cannot surrender. They are killing our people, especially civilians,” Korniychuk told the Ynet news site.

His comments came as Ukraine said that the death toll from a devastating strike on Dnipro in central Ukraine rose past 40 on Tuesday, with rescuers searching the rubble for 25 people still missing after one of Russia’s deadliest single attacks since its invasion.

“They don’t pose a big threat to the Ukrainian army, so they focus on civilians. We urge Israel to respond to our request and provide us with defense systems against Russian missiles and Iranian drones, which will save human lives,” Korniychuk said.

“Our message is that Israel must be on the right side of history. We will win with or without Israeli aid, but we want Israel to be on the right side and prove that it really cares,” he said.

Korniychuk also said that a postponed call between Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba would go ahead this week.

Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk speaks during a conference in Jaffa, June 7, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

Korniychuk denied that the call had been delayed due to Ukrainian anger over Cohen’s call with Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, and Cohen’s assertion that Israel would “talk less” in public about Moscow’s invasion of its Western neighbor.

Korniychuk said Kuleba could not speak at the original time because he was involved in a security consultation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Nevertheless, Korniychuk reiterated Ukraine’s displeasure.

“Of course, you understand our feeling after he spoke with Lavrov. We were disappointed by the conversation because it indicates a change in the Israeli position — it was the first conversation between the foreign ministers of Israel and Russia since the outbreak of the war,” Korniychuk said.

“Don’t tell me that this argument that Cohen talked to Lavrov because Lavrov asked to talk to him is serious. Do you know how many times Lavrov asked to talk to [former foreign minister] Lapid but Lapid refused to talk to him?”

Lavrov called Cohen to congratulate him on taking up his new post and to discuss “bilateral and regional issues” in the shadow of Moscow’s ongoing invasion and bombardment of Ukraine.

Incoming minister of Foreign Affairs Eli Cohen at a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel shortly after the Cohen-Lavrov conversation that “there is no change in Israel’s policy” in the wake of speculation that there had been a shift in favor of Moscow.

Russia has carried out airstrikes on Ukrainian power and water supplies almost weekly since October, increasing the suffering of Ukrainians, while its ground forces struggle to maintain their positions and advance.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, left, walks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, as they arrive for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, April 7, 2022. (AP Photo/ Olivier Matthys)

The previous government headed by Naftali Bennett and Lapid had refused Ukrainian requests for weapons, but Lapid spoke out repeatedly against the Russian invasion, accusing the Kremlin of carrying out war crimes. The comments won support in the West, but stoked tensions with Moscow, even as Jerusalem attempted to maintain a semblance of neutrality.

Kyiv has said it needs Israel’s help in air defense technology to counter Russia’s ongoing strikes on its civilian infrastructure. Israel has so far refused to provide such aid, out of apparent concern for Russia’s reaction. One major reason for Israel’s hesitance appears to be its strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria, where Russian forces largely control the airspace.

Cohen intends to keep Israeli humanitarian aid flowing to Ukraine, according to an Israeli source, and is figuring out ways to do so even with no state budget yet for 2023.

During his previous terms in office, Netanyahu touted his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and insisted that it was critical to maintaining the IDF’s ability to operate freely in Russian-controlled skies over Syria in order to prevent the entrenchment of Iranian forces on Israel’s northern border. As opposition leader, he initially criticized the previous government for neglecting ties with Russia as Jerusalem took several limited steps in support of Ukraine following the invasion by Putin’s forces in February.

However, Netanyahu changed his tune more recently. In an interview ahead of the November election, he characterized the Bennett-Lapid government’s Ukraine policy — which has seen Israel supply humanitarian aid, operate a field hospital in Ukraine and take in a limited number of largely Jewish refugees while stopping short of providing Kyiv-requested military aid — as “pragmatic.”

Netanyahu even said he would consider arming Ukraine if he returned to the premiership, and told Zelensky after the election that he had not yet determined Israel’s policy. He also assured the Ukrainian president that he would be kept in the loop.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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