With Zelensky to address Knesset, Russian envoy asks to brief MKs beforehand

In tense meeting with Knesset speaker, Anatoly Viktorov reportedly insists lawmakers should hear Russian perspective before they listen to Ukraine’s leader

A plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli and Ukrainian officials on Wednesday confirmed that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky will address the Knesset and government ministers on Sunday at 6 p.m.

At the same time, Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov was reportedly seeking to brief lawmakers ahead of the speech, in an attempt to present Moscow’s “perspective.”

Kan news reported that Viktorov reached out to Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, asking him to allow Russian lawmakers to brief their Israeli counterparts before Zelensky’s speech.

Viktorov told Levy that Knesset members should first receive “the Russian perspective, and [the Russian] take on current events,” Kan reported.

It did not say how the Knesset speaker responded, though an affirmative response would likely bring intense criticism from Ukraine, and potentially other countries.

Army Radio cited a source present at the meeting who described the interaction as tense, but clarified that there was no attempt by the Russian envoy to prevent Zelensky from speaking to the Knesset.

Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov gives a statement to the media at the Russian Consulate in Tel Aviv, on March 3, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

Levy said Wednesday: “It will be an honor for me and the Knesset to host President Zelensky’s address… at this difficult time facing the Ukrainian people.”

Zelensky had initially sought to give a more formal virtual address before the Knesset plenum, but the request was denied by Levy, who explained that the parliament would not be able to hold such a session while in recess.

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy seen during a plenary session in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Critics said Jerusalem’s decision was motivated by an unwillingness to be seen siding too closely with Ukraine as it seeks to maintain working ties with Russia.

Israel is reliant on coordination with Russia to carry out military strikes in Syria against Iranian proxies there, and while it has criticized Russia’s invasion, it has attempted to avoid taking a clear side.

Zelensky has given several addresses to parliaments around the world since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, and on Wednesday spoke to hundreds of US lawmakers from both houses.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the US Congress by video to plead for support as his country is besieged by Russian forces, at the US Capitol, on March 16, 2022, in Washington, DC. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool)

Israel has attempted to balance relations since Russia invaded Ukraine, caught between its close ally Washington and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, which has forces in neighboring Syria.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has attempted to mediate between Putin and Zelensky. Bennett spoke with both leaders by phone on Monday, and flew to Moscow to meet Putin earlier this month.

Earlier Wednesday, Ukrainian MP Olga Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk said that during his Knesset address, Zelensky will invoke his Jewishness, as well as liken his country’s struggle to fight off Russia’s invasion to World War II and Nazi Germany.

Both sides in the conflict have accused the other of Nazism, with Putin justifying his February 24 invasion by saying he wanted to “denazify” areas of Ukraine where he claimed there was a “genocide” being committed against Russian-speaking citizens. Western governments and Ukraine itself have dismissed the claims as a baseless justification for the invasion.

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