Netanyahu to visit Ukraine a month before elections

In Kiev, PM to meet country’s new Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and visit Babi Yar; is also said to plan quick trip to India in September

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boards a plane to go on an official state visit to Poland on June 12, 2013. (Kobi Gideon / GPO /Flash 90
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boards a plane to go on an official state visit to Poland on June 12, 2013. (Kobi Gideon / GPO /Flash 90

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to fly to Ukraine for a two-day visit next week, his office confirmed Sunday.

In Kiev, Netanyahu will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and visit the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, which commemorates the 50,000 Jews killed at the site in 1941.

His planned visit to the Eastern European country is scheduled for August 18-20, less than a month before the elections to the 22nd Knesset, leading political analysts to say he is hoping to gain favor with Russian-speaking Israelis with Ukrainian roots.

Netanyahu is also said to be planning a whirlwind trip to New Delhi on September 9, for a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and possibly the signing of lucrative Israeli-Indian defense deals, though the visit has not been formally confirmed.

In January, Israel and Ukraine signed a free trade agreement, which Jerusalem said would increase the volume of bilateral trade.

At the time, Netanyahu hailed “strong” Israel-Ukraine relations. “These ties have deep historical and cultural roots. Ukrainian Jews make up a significant portion of the population of Israel. And Ukraine is home to a large Jewish community. I think it’s the fourth largest Jewish community in Europe,” he told then-president Petro Poroshenko on the occasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sings the national anthem during his inauguration ceremony at the parliament in Kiev on May 20, 2019. (GENYA SAVILOV/AFP)

Poroshenko has since been replaced by Zelensky, who is Jewish and considered a staunch supporter of Israel.

In April, Netanyahu called Zelensky, an actor who had no previous political experience, to congratulate him on his upset victory.

The prime minister “expressed his hope to continue the good relations between our countries and invited him to visit Israel,” according to Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Joel Lion.

During his inauguration in May, Zelensky was sworn into office after he placed his hand on a copy of the constitution and a 16th century manuscript of the New Testament.

“We must become Icelanders in soccer, Israelis in defending our land, Japanese in technology,” he said in his first speech as president.

A few days later, Zelensky met with Ukrainian Chabad rabbis and with Israel’s Ukrainian-born Environmental Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin. Officials in Jerusalem described the meeting as very positive, saying Zelensky was very well-disposed toward the Jewish state.

Netanyahu will be the first foreign leader to visit Kiev since Zelensky took office. The last Israeli prime minister to visit Ukraine was Netanyahu himself, in March 1999.

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