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Ukrainian FM apologizes for claiming El Al accepts ‘blood-soaked’ Russian money

Dmytro Kuleba acknowledges Israeli airline no longer takes payment from Mir system, hails ‘its important humanitarian operations’ in Ukraine

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)

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday apologized for accusing Israel’s national airline of bypassing international sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine by accepting funds via a Russian payment system.

In a tweet Monday, Kuleba charged that El Al was continuing to accept payments from Mir, sharing a screenshot of a booking page showing the Russian electronic transfer’s logo with along with Visa and Mastercard.

“While the world sanctions Russia for its barbaric atrocities in Ukraine, some prefer to make money soaked in Ukrainian blood,” he alleged. “Immoral and a blow to Ukrainian-Israeli relations.”

El Al disputed the accusation, saying it had stopped accepting Mir on February 28, four days after Russia launched its military offensive in Ukraine. The airline lamented that Kuleba had not checked before posting his “misleading tweet” and noted that its planes have brought humanitarian aid to Ukraine and also ferried refugees to Israel.

“Indeed, the ‘Mir’ payment button remained on the website, but the use of it was blocked,” Kuleba acknowledged Tuesday morning, though the system’s logo did not appear on the El Al website during attempts to book flights from the United States, Israel and Russia on Monday.

“I am grateful to El Al for its important humanitarian operations and convey my apologies,” he added in a Twitter post.

Kuleba deleted the original tweet shortly after apologizing.

El Al has faced criticism for being one of few Western airlines still operating flights to Russia. It said Monday that it was doing so at the request of Israel’s government and “will continue to get Israelis and Jews out of Russia so long as it is possible.”

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 on the Jewish Sabbath, and holding several calls with Zelensky as well, but the efforts have yet to bear fruit.

An El Al plane is loaded up with humanitarian aid for Ukraine on March 1, 2022. (GPO screenshot)

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,” a reference to a photo showing an Israeli man wrapped in a Ukrainian flag at the Western Wall. 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.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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