Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman made clear Tuesday that Israel intended to refrain from taking a firm position on the Ukrainian crisis, saying there is “no lack” of problems with which to contend in the Middle East.
“Our basic position is that we hope Russia and Ukraine will find a way as quickly as possible to normalize relations, and find a way to talks, and to solve all the problems peacefully,” he said at a Jerusalem press conference with visiting Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.
“We will support all efforts to solve this issue in the fastest way possible, without confrontation or friction.”
Israel has tried to remain out of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, not taking public sides with Ukraine and the US in the matter, out of concern that this would anger Moscow and redound negatively on Israel’s security concerns in the region, specifically Syria and Iran.
This position has raised some eyebrows in Washington, with State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying last week the US was surprised Israel did not participate in a UN General Assembly vote on the matter last month.
Liberman, along with President Shimon Peres, met over the weekend with pro-Western Ukrainian presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko, who came on a low-profile visit here.
According to the Russian news agency Itar-Taas, Liberman said of his meeting with Poroshenko, a billionaire businessman, that “normalization of relations between the two fraternal nations, between the neighbors, is our [Israel’s] priority.”
According to the report, Liberman said that both Russia and Ukraine are “very friendly towards Israel, and I wish both nations to return to cooperation as soon as possible, to normal brotherly relations.”
He was further quoted as saying that just as the relations between Russian and Georgia have improved over the last couple of years, “I hope that Russia and Ukraine will also normalize relations soon,” adding that this was “in the interest of the whole world.”
Though he would not comment on his meeting with Poroshenko, he said he hoped the May 25 presidential elections in Ukraine will “be held in a calm and civilized atmosphere.”
The Kyiv Post, meanwhile, quoted Poroshenko’s office as saying that Poroshenko – who served for six months in late 2009 and early 2010 as Ukraine’s foreign minister – met with “Israeli leadership” and “discussed territorial integrity issues and forthcoming presidential elections in Ukraine.”