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Israel a ‘priority venue’ for Russia-Ukraine ceasefire talks, Zelensky aide says

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff praises Israel’s mediation efforts, saying that Ukraine considers Jerusalem “one of the priority venues” for a meeting between Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking to Israeli journalists by Zoom, Andriy Yermak says that Ukrainian officials “are impressed by how deeply aware of the situation Israeli officials and Prime Minister Bennett in particular are. And we think that he is really inclined and willing to do all it takes to bring peace to our land and to stop the war.”

“Since day one, and since our first conversation, we felt how seriously the intention of prime minister Bennett is,” says Yermak.

“It is Israel that can play a key role probably in the negotiations and suspension of hostilities and withdrawal of the Russian army from our own territory,” he continues.

The Kyiv-born adviser, whose father is Jewish, says that conversations about Jerusalem serving as a venue for talks between Ukraine and Russia date back to well before the invasion.

“This was started during the times of the previous prime minister, Netanyahu, and at that time we were also contemplating such a meeting in Jerusalem,” he says, speaking in Ukrainian through a translator. “Unfortunately, it didn’t happen back then.”

Yermak also notes Kyiv’s hope that Israel will be one of the nations signing guarantees of Ukrainian security in a negotiated solution to the war. The Ukrainians have proposed the five permanent UN Security Council member states plus Germany, Turkey, Canada, and Israel as guarantors, and are open to adding more countries.

Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak speaks at a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 12, 2020. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

At the same time, Yermak seems to criticize Israel for being too even-handed in its mediation approach.

“A form of mediation that doesn’t take sides will not work, unfortunately,” he says.

Despite criticism leveled at his boss for taking Holocaust comparisons too far in an address to the Knesset, Yermak continues to draw parallels, saying that Russian troops are behaving in much the same way Nazis did during World War II.

“These things need to be said, they need to be very clearly understood, and I do hope that our Israeli friends have no problem with that,” he says.

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