ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Foreign Ministry: 'The ambassador's actions do not help'

Ukraine’s envoy to be summoned after he blasted Israel’s stance on war

Yevgen Korniychuk, who accused Jerusalem of ‘close cooperation’ with Russia, will be asked to clarify his statements next week

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Ukraine's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, gives a statement to the media on the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, on March 11, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)
Ukraine's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, gives a statement to the media on the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, on March 11, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry will summon Ukraine’s ambassador next week, after he released a scathing statement accusing Israel of cooperating with Russia, a ministry spokesperson announced on Tuesday.

“In the wake of his repeated statements against Israeli policy,” read the statement, “Ukraine’s Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk has been summoned for a clarification which will take place on July 3 in the Foreign Ministry.”

The conversation with Korniychuk will be held by Aliza Bin Noun, the ministry’s political director.

Israel also sent direct messages to Kyiv expressing its displeasure.

“Israel’s government continues to work to advance cooperation with Ukraine, as was agreed between the two countries,” said the statement. “The ambassador’s actions do not help.”

The Ukrainian statement, posted on the embassy’s Facebook page, said Israel has chosen the “path of close cooperation” with Russia. It came after an ostensible warming of ties under the current government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Rescuers work inside an apartment building damaged following a Russian attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, June 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko)

The embassy pointed at “a series of rather controversial events that took place in the first half of 2023” that it viewed as negative.

The embassy called Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s February trip to Kyiv “fruitless” and accused Netanyahu of making “entirely fictional and speculative assumptions” in a recent interview.

In an interview last week with The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu said: “We also have concerns that any systems that we give to Ukraine would be used against us because they could fall into Iranian hands… and by the way, that’s not a theoretical possibility. It actually happened with the Western anti-tank weapons that we now find at our borders. So we have to be very careful here.”

Korniychuk told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu’s claims were baseless.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen meets with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 16, 2023. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

In a briefing to reporters on Sunday, Cohen said that “despite the complexities vis-à-vis Russia, Israel has stood by Ukraine’s side since the outbreak of the war until today and has even voted in international forums in favor of condemning Russia.” Cohen added that Israel has sent Ukraine “unprecedented humanitarian aid (NIS 80 million [approximately $22 million] with a higher sum earmarked for this year.”

During his trip to Ukraine, Cohen was well-received by his counterpart Dmytro Kuleba after pledging $200 million in loan guarantees for healthcare and civilian infrastructure and assistance in developing a smart early warning system.

But Kyiv has grown frustrated as the timeline for deployment of the system has been pushed back to September and it has found the loans difficult to access.

“These guys are taking their time,” said Korniychuk. “They’re not in a war.”

The embassy statement on Sunday further lambasted Israel for conducting “two rounds of high-level political negotiations with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony in Moscow on June 12, 2023. (Gavriil Grigorov / Sputnik / AFP)

It also decried the deal reached by Israel and Moscow earlier this month in which Moscow agreed to open an embassy branch office in Jerusalem while simultaneously settling a land dispute.

Kyiv charged senior Israeli officials who attended the Russia Day reception in Jerusalem earlier this month with “a blatant disregard for moral boundaries.”

“Furthermore,” said the statement, “the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been dead silent regarding the regular antisemitic statements made by Putin and his minions.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed recently that Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, was viewed as a “disgrace” to his faith by other members of the religion. Earlier this year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that even if Zelensky is Jewish, it is meaningless because even Hitler had “Jewish blood.”

Last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky of “glorifying Nazism” for his remarks about World War II Ukrainian resistance fighters who were allied with the Nazis.

“No party should lecture the State of Israel, Israel’s Foreign Ministry, or its diplomats about the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust or about the war on historical distortion,” responded the Foreign Ministry.

Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska, center, meets with President Isaac Herzog, right, and with Herzog’s wife Michal in Tel Aviv, June 19, 2023. (Igal Slavin)

Korniychuk also told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu refused to meet Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska during her visit to Israel last week, sending his wife Sara to meet her instead. The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.

“While the people of Ukraine, including its substantial Jewish community, are bleeding under the onslaught of Russian missiles and Iranian drones, the Israeli leadership, hiding behind verbal demagoguery about their neutrality (albeit no longer concealing it) actively forges relations with the Russian federation,” read the embassy statement.

“We urge Israel government to change its position and to support Ukraine with defensive means, to support freedom and democratic world order,” it concluded. “We expect Israel to be on a right side of a history!”

People take cover at metro station during a Russian rocket attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, May 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Israel has not sent requested defensive weapons to Ukraine, but has condemned the Russian invasion. It has also sent significant humanitarian aid, including a field hospital that operated for six weeks on Ukrainian territory near Lviv.

Russia maintains a military presence in Syria, Israel’s northern and bellicose neighbor. The need to balance security interests at home and policy abroad have produced a relatively restrained response from successive Israeli governments, which have tried to maintain relations with both Moscow and Kyiv.

Last month, several Israeli ministries came together to hold a two-day conference in Lviv on psychological and physical rehabilitation. The confab, along with Zelenska’s visit, seemed to indicate that Kyiv was fairly pleased with Israel’s recent actions.

Also last week, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov. The readouts of the call indicated a positive conversation, alongside the other ostensible signs of improving relations.

Another major sign that there could be significant uptick in ties came this week, when Cohen said that Netanyahu is favorably considering an invitation from Zelensky to visit Kyiv, according to Hebrew media reports.

“There’s no date, but there’s a good chance that it’ll happen,” Cohen was quoted as saying by the Walla news site.

“The fastest way to the White House is definitely passing through Kyiv,” Korniychuk told The Times of Israel on Monday.

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