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Ukraine FM accuses El Al of accepting ‘blood-soaked’ Russian money; El Al denies it

Israeli airline insists it ceased accepting Mir payments last week, rejects Dmytro Kuleba’s ‘misleading’ tweet; says it also ferries aid in, refugees out

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, pictured at the Ukrainian-Polish border crossing in Korczowa, Poland on March 5, 2022. (OLIVIER DOULIERY / Pool / AFP)
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, pictured at the Ukrainian-Polish border crossing in Korczowa, Poland on March 5, 2022. (OLIVIER DOULIERY / Pool / AFP)

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Monday stridently accused Israel’s national airline of accepting payments on its website from Russia’s Mir network for international electronic funds, bypassing international sanctions on the country’s banking systems.

“While the world sanctions Russia for its barbaric atrocities in Ukraine, some prefer to make money soaked in Ukrainian blood,” Kuleba tweeted, characterizing the policy as “immoral and a blow to Ukrainian-Israeli relations.”

“Here is @EL_AL_ISRAEL accepting payments in Russian banking system ‘Mir’ designed to evade sanctions,” he continued, attaching a screenshot of a payment page for El Al bookings that accepts funds from Mir as well as Visa and Mastercard.

El Al quickly responded to the accusation, saying in a statement that “it is unfortunate that a simple check was not done with us before the misleading tweet, as the facts are entirely different.”

The airline said it stopped accepting Mir payments on February 28 — four days after Russia’s widespread invasion of Ukraine commenced. Indeed, attempts on Monday in the US, Israel, and Russia to book flights on El Al’s website did not bring up a Mir payment option.

The airline went on to note that its planes have ferried humanitarian aid to Ukraine as well as refugees out of the country to Israel.

However, it is also one of the few Western airlines still operating flights to Russia, drawing criticism.

“El Al is operating flights to Russia at the request of the Israeli government and we will continue to get Israelis and Jews out of Russia so long as it is possible,” the airline said.

Israel has had an up-and-down relationship with Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion on February 24. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reached out to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, urging him to make use of Israel’s working relations with Kyiv and Moscow to mediate between the sides. Bennett picked up the gauntlet, traveling to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin over the weekend, and holding several calls with Zelensky as well, but the efforts have yet to bear fruit.

Ukrainian officials have thanked Israel for its mediation attempts as well as for sending humanitarian aid to civilians fleeing the country, but Zelensky also criticized Bennett last week, saying he felt the premier was not “wrapped in our flag.” Kyiv’s ambassador to Tel Aviv also repeatedly lamented Israel’s refusal to send military protective gear for Ukrainian troops, let alone weaponry.

Israel has sought to avoid aligning too closely with Ukraine in an effort to maintain its ties with Russia. Among other issues, Jerusalem relies on the green light Moscow has given the IDF in recent years to operate against Iranian proxies in Syria, whose airspace is controlled by Russia.

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