Ukraine said to demand Israel denounce Russia ahead of visit by foreign minister

Kyiv also reportedly says government must agree to treat wounded soldiers, loan $500 million and more, with meeting between Eli Cohen and Zelensky hanging in balance

A person enters a residential building which was hit by a Russian rocket at the city center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023. (AP/Andrii Marienko)
A person enters a residential building which was hit by a Russian rocket at the city center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023. (AP/Andrii Marienko)

Kyiv has formulated a list of demands it wants fulfilled by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen ahead of an expected visit to Ukraine, among them a public denunciation of the Russian invasion and hundreds of millions of dollars in loans.

The requests, which also include an expression of support for the country’s territorial integrity, medical treatment in Israel and the development of anti-missile technology, fall short of previous asks Kyiv has made for defensive weaponry, but may still force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government into an uncomfortable stance as it seeks to navigate between the warring allies.

Cohen is expected to visit Kyiv sometime this week for the re-opening of Israel’s embassy, becoming the first foreign minister of a Middle Eastern country to visit the Ukrainian capital since the invasion began nearly a year ago.

A Ukrainian official quoted by the Walla news outlet said a potential meeting between Cohen and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was dependent on Israel’s willingness to take steps in Kyiv’s favor.

“The president won’t meet Cohen for a photo-op,” the Ukrainian official was quoted as saying. Nonetheless, an Israeli official predicted they will still meet. Cohen is also slated to meet Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

According to Walla, citing unnamed officials from both countries, among the requests from Kyiv is a $500 million loan to the country. The request was already rejected by the previous government, and Cohen is willing to offer only a 10th of that sum, according to the report.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Ukrainians want Israel to bring hundreds of wounded soldiers and civilians to Israel for medical treatment, and asked the new government to commit to continuing plans to develop an early rocket warning system to alert civilians of incoming attacks, a project undertaken by the previous Israeli administration.

Kyiv has repeatedly requested Israel provide Iron Dome anti-missile batteries to shoot down incoming rockets, but Israel has balked at providing defensive weaponry to Ukraine for fear of Russian repercussions.

Also among the shopping-list of requests was Ukraine’s desire for Jerusalem to back a 10-point peace proposal presented by Zelensky in December 2022. The plan includes a call for Moscow to fully recognize Ukraine’s territorial integrity and withdraw all Russian forces from Ukrainian land.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is seen following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on April 7, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)

Backing the plan publicly could put Israel further at odds with Moscow, even as Netanyahu’s government has sought to rebalance the relationship by reaching out to Russia.

One of Cohen’s first acts after being appointed to his role last month was to hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, whom the previous government had openly sparred with. Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk criticized the foreign minister for speaking with the Russian diplomat before contacting Kuleba.

Korniychuk asserted that speaking with Lavrov, something no Israeli foreign minister had done since the war began, was evidence of a pro-Russian shift in Jerusalem’s foreign policy.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov adresses the Commission of the General Council of the United Russia party in Moscow, Russia, February 3, 2023. (Yury Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP)

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett initially sought to carve out a role for himself as mediator between Russia and Ukraine by attempting to maintain neutrality, a task that became increasingly difficult in light of Russian atrocities and antisemitic claims by Lavrov.

On Saturday, Bennett published an interview in which he recounted a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the early weeks of the war in which he was assured that Zelensky would not be harmed.

Kuleba, however, was not convinced by Bennett’s words, Tweeting on Sunday that the Russian president is “an expert liar.”

“In the past, Putin has made promises not to occupy Crimea, not to violate Minsk agreements, not to invade Ukraine, yet he has done all of these things. Do not be fooled: he is an expert liar. Every time he has promised not to do something, it has been exactly part of his plan,” he wrote.

In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office and posted on Facebook early Tuesday, March 15, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

According to unconfirmed reports, multiple assassination attempts against Zelensky have been thwarted since the start of Russia’s invasion.

Those plots are said to have involved mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a security company under the control of Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, as well as Chechen special forces.

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