Netanyahu calls Putin, takes neutral stance on Ukraine

Call follows US denial of reported anger in Washington over Jerusalem's "neutrality" regarding Crimean issue.

PM Netanyahu with Russian President Putin 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
PM Netanyahu with Russian President Putin 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu initiated a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to discuss bilateral issues, Iran and Ukraine, the Kremlin said in a statement.
The conversation came amid escalating tensions in eastern Ukraine, and as Netanyahu was trying to maneuver carefully through the Ukraine crisis, not antagonizing or alienating neither Washington or Moscow.
According to the Kremlin statement, Putin provided an assessment of the processes occurring in Ukraine, and “pointed out that the sharp escalation of the crisis is the result of Kiev’s irresponsible policy, which disregards the lawful rights and interests of the country’s Russian-speaking citizens. He stressed the inadmissibility of the current regime’s use of armed forces to suppress public protests in southeastern Ukraine.”
The statement said that the leaders “agreed to continue regular exchanges of opinion on issues of mutual interest.”
The Prime Minister’s Office did not issue any readout on the conversation. Netanyahu has made it a point to visit Moscow about once a year, and he does speak to Putin by phone from time to time, so Tuesday night’s conversation – though not a regular occurrence – is by no means unprecedented.
Russia is a major player in three areas of major concern to Israel: Iran, Syria and arms sales to the Middle East.
Putin spoke on the same day about Ukraine with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
On Monday, US Stated Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki denied a Haaretz report last week that White House and State Department officials “have built up a great deal of anger over Jerusalem ‘neutrality’ regarding the Crimean issue.”
Asked if the US was, indeed, “irate, infuriated” with Israel because of its “lack of a position” on Ukraine, Psaki said “that wouldn’t be how we would characterize it.”
“As you know, we work closely with a range of countries, not just European countries, on Ukraine and we have been for months,” she said. “And so we were surprised that Israel did not join the vast majority of countries that voted to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the United Nations. But that’s more our view, not the way you just characterized it.”
Israel did not show up for a recent vote at the General Assembly on the issue, with Israeli officials attributing Israel’s no-show to the recent Foreign Ministry strike.
Asked if Israel’s position was “a major concern” in Washington, Psaki said, “I would not characterize it as a major concern.
We work closely with Israel on a range of issues and we can move forward.”