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Senior Ukraine official: Bennett’s mediation is ‘good’ but Putin’s demands ‘absurd’

Chair of Kyiv parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee argues Russian leader using negotiations as cover to regroup, urges Israel to provide air defense systems

Screen capture from video of Oleksandr Merezhko, Chair of the Ukrainian parliament's Committee on Foreign Policy and Interparliamentary Cooperation, during an interview with the Ynet website, March, 9, 2022. (Ynet)
Screen capture from video of Oleksandr Merezhko, Chair of the Ukrainian parliament's Committee on Foreign Policy and Interparliamentary Cooperation, during an interview with the Ynet website, March, 9, 2022. (Ynet)

A senior Ukrainian lawmaker said Wednesday that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s efforts to mediate a ceasefire between Kyiv and Moscow to end their ongoing brutal conflict is a positive step but “unrealistic,” as Russia has no real interest in ending the fighting.

Oleksandr Merezhko, Chair of the Committee on Foreign Policy and Interparliamentary Cooperation, told the Ynet website in an English-language interview that what his country needs most from Israel are weapons to fight off the Russian invasion.

Bennett has held multiple conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as he attempts to mediate between the sides, including a lightning visit to Moscow over the weekend to speak directly with the Russian leader. He has had follow-up calls with both men since.

“I think it is a good move,” Merezhko said of Bennett’s diplomacy “We are in favor of such efforts.”

“But,” he added, “at the present time it isn’t realistic. Putin is not serious about holding negotiations. Any negotiations should start with a ceasefire and Putin doesn’t do [that].

“He is using this process of negotiations only to cover regrouping of his forces, to cover his attacks of civilian populations,” Merezhko said of Russia bombardments of Ukrainian cities, which have caused over two million people to flee the country as refugees and killed hundreds of civilians.

Merezhko, who said he has been involved in the negotiations, charged that it is up to the Russians to agree to at least a ceasefire as a first move.

This combination of file pictures created on March 6, 2022, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Various sources/AFP)

Officially, Moscow has said it will pull back troops immediately if Ukraine stops fighting, recognizes Crimea as Russian, passes legislation committing it to neutrality, which would keep it out of NATO, and recognizes the separatist areas of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent.

Merezhko rejected Russia’s “absurd demands” for the “surrender of Ukraine” and said Kyiv’s government will never recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea, carried out in 2014.

In the meantime, he said he hoped Israel would provide Ukraine with the means to fight back against Russia.

“We would also like to count on the support from Israel because you can supply us with weapons,” he said specifying air defense systems.

“We expect serious support from all countries, including Poland, including the United States, including Israel. We need your support to survive, we need your support to defend ourselves,” he said.

Merezhko claimed that negotiations are still ongoing to arrange the transfer of fighter jets from Poland via a US base in Germany to Ukraine. The US is against the idea.

He also called for a no-fly zone to be established over Kyiv and other major cities. NATO has rejected this, over fears it could put its forces in direct confrontation with Russia and spark a far wider conflict.

Remarking on the situation in the capital, which has been shelled for days, Merezhko vowed “I am not leaving Kyiv.”

“We will defend each building in Kyiv and I have no doubts we will win,” he said.

Acknowledging the concerns of an escalation, he said: “Unfortunately we have to be prepared for the worst scenario.”

A Russian armored personnel carrier burns amid damaged and abandoned light utility vehicles after fighting in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Feb. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Marienko Andrew, File)

Merezhko’s comments downplaying the value of Bennett’s mediation came after reporters briefed by Israeli government officials said Tuesday that Jerusalem believes Ukraine is at a critical crossroads and must decide between a “difficult” truce offer presented by Russia or risk a new, far more destructive phase in the war.

Bennett has not presented either leader with an Israeli ceasefire proposal and is, rather, focusing on passing along messages from one leader to the other, helping clarify Putin’s position to Zelensky and the West, according to Axios.

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