Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was pleased that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett extended an offer to Russian President Vladimir Putin to mediate between the two Eastern European countries following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kyiv’s envoy to Israel said Monday.
In a briefing with reporters, Ukrainian Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk claimed that Putin was not thrilled by Bennett’s offer when the two leaders spoke by phone Sunday. However, Korniychuk said Ukraine believed there was still a chance that Russia could take up the Israeli initiative.
“At the moment [the Russians] think they can conquer us,” Korniychuk was quoted as saying by Hebrew media, “but of course they won’t succeed.”
The remarks came as Ukrainian and Russian officials met for talks on Ukraine’s border with Belarus, amid high hopes but low expectations for any diplomatic breakthrough to end the biggest land war in Europe since World War II.
Korniychuk predicted Putin could reconsider Bennett’s mediation offer if the talks in Belarus fail to yield a breakthrough.
Ukraine suggested last week that Israel could mediate talks, owing to its close ties with both Kyiv and Moscow. Putin reportedly did not take up Bennett’s mediation offer during their conversation Sunday, which the Israeli premier initiated.
The phone call marked the first time Bennett and Putin have spoken since Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday. Bennett spoke with Zelensky in a phone call on Friday.
At Monday’s briefing, the Ukrainian envoy said Kyiv has been pushing for the past year for Israel to mediate talks between Zelensky and Putin regarding the years-long war in eastern Ukraine, including when former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was still in office.
According to Korniychuk, Netanyahu twice raised the idea with Putin, but to no avail.
“Netanyahu told us that he can mediate between two sides that want to reach an agreement but clarified to us that he only sees one side that wants an agreement, and that is Ukraine,” he said.
Korniychuk also said Jerusalem has not opposed the Ukrainian embassy’s efforts to recruit Israeli volunteers to fight against invading Russian forces and thanked Israel for sending 100 tons of humanitarian aid, the first batch of which is due to be shipped Tuesday.
The Foreign Ministry said the initial shipment would include 17 tons of medication, medical equipment, tens, jackets and water purification systems, among other forms of assistance.
“We appreciate everything Israel has done for us,” Korniychuk said according to the Haaretz daily. “It is difficult to describe how complex it is for me to be the ambassador to Israel when my prime minister is Jewish, because he has high expectations of Israel, more than Israel can provide,” he said.
Unlike many other democracies, Israel has not announced it will supply Ukraine with military assistance and Bennett reportedly turned down a request from Zelensky to do so.
Israel has been careful in its comments on the conflict and Bennett has avoided criticizing Moscow publicly. This is believed to be at least partly due to its need to work with the Russian military presence in neighboring Syria.
Agencies contributed to this report.