PM and Ukraine president discuss possible Israeli mediation in Russia conflict

PM and Ukraine president discuss possible Israeli mediation in Russia conflict

Officials say conditions not currently ripe for Israeli involvement; Netanyahu tight-lipped on whether Zelensky asked him to assume role

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

PM Netanyahu, left, and Ukrainian President Zelensky address the press at the presidential residence in Kyiv, Ukraine, August 19, 2019 (Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)
PM Netanyahu, left, and Ukrainian President Zelensky address the press at the presidential residence in Kyiv, Ukraine, August 19, 2019 (Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)

KYIV, Ukraine — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky discussed a possible future role for Israel as mediator between Ukraine and Russia, two officials familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

Israel, which has good relations with both Kyiv and Moscow, could serve as intermediary between the two warring countries at a future stage, the officials said. Currently, however, conditions are not ripe for concrete discussions about Israeli involvement as Russia and Ukraine are currently not engaged in serious peace talks, both officials told The Times of Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity.

On Monday morning, Netanyahu met with Zelensky for nearly two hours, discussing a variety of different matters.

Later that day, during a briefing to the traveling press, the prime minister refused to say whether Zelensky asked him to mediate between him and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“For anyone to become a mediator, you need three parties — Russia, Ukraine and the mediator,” the prime minister said in response to a question posed by The Times of Israel. “It takes three to tango. And I don’t think we have the three at this point.” He declined to answer a follow-up question on whether Zelensky or the US administration asked him to assume a mediator role in the future.

PM Netanyahu meets with Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Groysman, in Kiev, August 20, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

On Tuesday, Netanyahu met with outgoing Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman for a short meeting, which was closed to the press. No readout of their meeting was provided.

During the last elections, Groysman ran with his own party, which failed to cross the electoral threshold, and he will be replaced shortly.

Both Zelensky and Groysman are Jewish, but neither attended an event Netanyahu hosted Tuesday in his Kyiv hotel for members of the local Jewish community.

“Israel is a rising power in the world. We were a people that was almost wiped out — they slaughtered us with no mercy — and has become a proud and powerful nation,” the prime minister said. The main reason for the Jewish people’s amazing transformation was “faith,” he stressed throughout his speech.

After the event, which was attended by several rabbis and other dignitaries from across the country, Netanyahu was introduced to a 70-year-old Jewish Kyiv resident named Felix, who had undergone a circumcision earlier that day and adopted the Jewish name Yonatan, in honor of the prime minister’s late brother.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, left, and Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Reuven Azman, right, with a Ukrainian Jew who was circumcised earlier that day in honor of PM Netanyahu’s visit to Kviv, Ukraine, August 20, 2019 (Raphael Ahren/TOI)

Felix Yonatan later told The Times of Israel that he was inspired to undergo the religious ritual by Netanyahu’s visit to Ukraine. Yonatan Netanyahu was killed in the 1976 hostage rescue raid in Entebbe.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to visit the country since March 1999. He is scheduled to return to Israel on Tuesday evening.

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