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Ukrainian FM said to snub Lapid’s request for phone call

Two top diplomats reportedly haven’t spoken in nearly three months; Ukraine official quoted saying Kuleba unhappy with Lapid meeting Russia’s Lavrov ahead of invasion

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gives a press conference, after meeting with his Russian counterpart for talks in Antalya, Turkey, on March 10, 2022. (AFP)
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gives a press conference, after meeting with his Russian counterpart for talks in Antalya, Turkey, on March 10, 2022. (AFP)

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has reportedly been refusing to hold a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid, for nearly a week, due to Israel’s position on the country’s war with Russia.

Lapid sought to speak with Kuleba last week, but was told that the Ukrainian foreign minister was busy, the Haaretz and Walla news sites reported Sunday evening.

Lapid has not heard back since, the reports said, citing Ukrainian government sources.

Both reports said that the two men have not spoken for over three months.

Walla quoted an unnamed Ukrainian official as saying that one of the reasons Kuleba had not gotten back to Lapid was that Israel’s top diplomat phoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, but and had not reached out to Kuleba, in the weeks leading up to Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Lapid also reportedly did not respond to an invitation to visit Kyiv, which was relayed by Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova when she visited Israel last month.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hosts Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova in Jerusalem, February 13, 2022. (via Twitter)

However, Israeli officials quoted by both news sites said they believe Kuleba and Lapid will speak to each other in the coming days.

“Israel maintains continuous contact with the government of Ukraine and Foreign Minister Lapid more than once condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We will continue to help Ukraine as much as possible,” Lapid’s office said in response to the reports.

Israel has long maintained good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, and has been seeking to use its unique position to broker an agreement, as it also tries to walk a tightrope maintaining its ties to both countries.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Saturday evening, a conversation that came several hours after the Ukrainian leader proposed that Jerusalem host ceasefire talks between Kyiv and Moscow, and asserted that Israel could play an “important role” in the efforts to end the war.

A composite photo shows Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, on March 6, 2022; and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 12, 2022. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP; Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Israel’s relationship with Kyiv has been strained by the fact that Bennett has avoided directly blaming Russia for the war, although Lapid has done so on several occasions, with the latest during a visit to Romania on Sunday.

Ukraine has repeatedly pushed Israel for more support since Russia launched its invasion. But Israel has been seeking to avoid antagonizing Russia, which has a strong presence in Syria, where Israel carries out military action against Iran-linked groups.

There have been numerous apparent ups and downs in Kyiv’s relations with Jerusalem in recent days, with Ukraine at times lauding Israel’s diplomatic and humanitarian efforts and at other times strongly criticizing its reluctance to help more than it had done.

A fresh example of this came Saturday, when Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov warned that Israel’s lack of a clear stance against Russia’s invasion could cast a shadow over ties between Kyiv and Jerusalem in the coming years.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov arrives to the talks between delegations from Ukraine and Russia in Belarus’ Brest region, on March 3, 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Maxim Guchek/Belta/AFP)

“Israel is showing an unexplained disconnect and reluctance to choose a side in the war in Ukraine,” he said in a video shared on social media.

“This will cause a growing lack of trust for many years because we will win, without a doubt, with you or without you,” he said.

“What can you do? You are very influential in the world and in your region,” he added. “You could express your position more actively.”

Last week, Kuleba apologized after mistakenly accusing Israel’s flag carrier El Al of allowing its customers to make payments via a Russian banking system, which would have been in violation of Western sanctions.

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