Netanyahu to visit Kiev next Sunday, just a month before election

Netanyahu was last PM to visit Ukraine in 1999, 2 months later he lost election

August 12, 2019 03:14
2 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a meeting with a delegation of 41 US House Democrats in

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a meeting with a delegation of 41 US House Democrats in Israel. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Kiev next Sunday for a short visit that has been under discussion for years, but which his political opponents are saying is happening precisely now because he wants to siphon off Russian-language voters from Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman.

Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Ukraine next Sunday night – one month before the September 17 election – spend Monday in meetings and various ceremonies, including a memorial ceremony at Babi Yar, and then return to Israel on Tuesday.

The last prime ministerial visit to Ukraine also took place just before an Israeli election. It was March 1999, and Netanyahu was in his first term of office; two months later he lost the election to Ehud Barak.

There have been a number of Ukrainian presidential visits to Israel since then, the last being in January, when President Petro Poroshenko arrived to sign a free trade agreement with Netanyahu. He then lost his reelection bid a few weeks later to Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish.

While the Ukrainian parliament ratified the free-trade agreement, the Knesset – because it has not been in session a great deal due to the back-to-back elections – has still not done so.

Netanyahu will be the first head of government to visit Kiev since Zelensky took office.

According to diplomatic officials, Netanyahu’s visit does have diplomatic significance because Ukraine is helpful to Israel at the UN and other international forums, so it is important for Israel to show its appreciation.

Netanyahu’s visit also has the potential of helping him politically - especially if he can return with something that would resonate with the more than 200,000 immigrants from Ukraine who have arrived since 1990. For instance, Ukraine has agreed in principle to pay pensions to immigrants who came after Kiev declared independence in 1991, but this is an issue that is tangled up in government bureaucracy and has not yet passed in the Ukrainian parliament.

Although the issue impacts “only” an estimated 7,000–8,000 Ukrainian immigrants in Israel, if Netanyahu could get some kind of promise from Zelensky, it could be used in his battle with Liberman for Russian-speaking voters by showing that he is looking out for the interests of the immigrants.

Netanyahu’s visit is expected to be covered widely by Russian language media here, including on the Channel 9 television.

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