Zelensky aide says purpose of Bennett’s trip to meet Putin is unclear to Kyiv

Speaking in Hebrew to Israeli radio station, Vladislav Roitberg says Ukraine ‘supports diplomacy’ by any leader who wants to help but ‘only time will tell if this move works’

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's top adviser Vladislav Roitberg in an interview with Channel 12 news, on March 1, 2022. (Screenshot)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's top adviser Vladislav Roitberg in an interview with Channel 12 news, on March 1, 2022. (Screenshot)

Kyiv is unclear about the purpose of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s trip to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Hebrew-speaking adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky told an Israeli radio station on Sunday.

Addressing Bennett’s surprise trip to Moscow late Saturday, Vladislav Roitberg told Radio 103FM that Ukraine “always supports diplomacy and common sense. Whether it comes from Bennett, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan or any other leader – it’s welcomed.”

Bennett met with Putin for three hours on Saturday at the Kremlin and discussed the war in Ukraine.

“We don’t know why [this trip] was taken,” Roitberg said.”Only time will tell if this move works.”

Bennett’s trip to Moscow came amid reports of Israel attempting to position itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine.

During the early stages of the war, Zelensky had asked the Israeli premier to host negotiations in Jerusalem, an option raised by Bennett during a phone call with Putin a couple of days later.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Kyiv on March 3, 2022 (Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)

Zelensky later indicated he felt Bennett wasn’t doing enough to support his country, saying that unlike a group of Jews he saw photographed at the Western Wall, Bennett does not seem to be “wrapped in our flag.”

After Bennett left Moscow, he spoke with Zelensky. The Ukrainian president confirmed the call, tweeting: “We continue dialogue.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on March 6, 2022, hours after returning from a trip to Russia and Germany in efforts to mediate in the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Asked whether he thought Putin was seeking to end what many perceive to be a failed invasion and advance negotiations, Roitberg called the Russian president “desperate” and “unstable,” accusing him of “committing genocide.”

Roitberg also said Putin was sending Russian soldiers to be used as “cannon fodder” in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via teleconference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, on March 3, 2022. (Andrey Gorshkov/Sputnik/AFP)

Ukraine estimates around 11,000 Russian casualties so far although that number has not been independently verified and Russia has failed to issue an updated count since Thursday, when it said 498 Russian soldiers had died and 1,597 were wounded in Ukraine since the invasion began.

“No one believed we would still be standing after 11 days and keep most of Ukraine’s territory,” Roitberg said.

“Russia has suffered a great financial blow because of the sanctions. Residents are taking to the streets and continuing to oppose Putin from within,” he said.

Talking to Channel 12 on Friday, Roitberg thanked “all the Israelis who are supporting” Ukraine, saying the support was “very much felt” among Ukrainians.

As Bennett was meeting with Putin in Moscow, hundreds of Israelis marched in Tel Aviv against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, comparing Putin to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and urging the Israeli government to take a stand against Russia.

Demonstrators carry placards and flags during a protest against the Russian invasion to the Ukraine, outside the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv, March 5, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

While Israel avoided taking sides against Russia officially due to military coordination in Syria, the Israeli public has expressed a mainly united front against the war and the Russian president, with pro-Ukraine protests taking place regularly since the invasion.

Entering the 11th day of the war, fighting raged on in Ukraine as Russian troops continued shelling the cities of Chernihiv and Mariupol after an established ceasefire in the latter collapsed the previous day.

An estimated 1.4 million Ukrainian citizens have fled the country since Russian troops invaded on February 24.

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