Israel supports Ukraine’s sovereignty - without mentioning Russia

The statement expressed support for “Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

 People form a human chain along a bridge across the Dnipro River as they celebrate the Day of Unity in Kyiv, Ukraine January 22, 2022. (photo credit: VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS)
People form a human chain along a bridge across the Dnipro River as they celebrate the Day of Unity in Kyiv, Ukraine January 22, 2022.
(photo credit: VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS)

Israel expressed concern about Russia’s incursion into eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, without mentioning Russia.

The statement, which came about a day and a half after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of two regions of Ukraine and said the country has no right to exist, supported “the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine.”

“Israel shares the concern of the international community regarding the steps taken in eastern Ukraine and the serious escalation in the situation,” the Foreign Ministry stated. “Israel hopes for a diplomatic solution which will lead to calm, and is willing to help if asked.... Israel is continuing to engage in dialogue with its partners on ways to get the diplomatic efforts back on track.”

Israel’s willingness to be part of a diplomatic solution is significant, as Kyiv continues to ask Israel to serve as mediator with Moscow. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to do so twice and was rebuffed by Putin, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tried in October, to no avail.

Ukraine’s efforts to have Israel be the middleman continued in recent days. Kyiv views Jerusalem as one of the only really neutral parties with good relations with both Kyiv and Moscow, though it has also asked Turkey to try, a diplomatic source said.

 FM Yair Lapid meets with Ukraine's Deputy FM Emine Dzhaparov (credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY) FM Yair Lapid meets with Ukraine's Deputy FM Emine Dzhaparov (credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)

Bennett, however, has not been willing to broach the subject with Putin again, after the latter was uninterested when the two met in Russia last year. Ukrainian diplomats did not have success convincing Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, either.

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As such, the efforts have moved on to President Isaac Herzog, who has taken a relatively active role in Israel’s foreign relations for a president. The President’s Office said it did not receive a request to mediate.

A senior diplomatic source in Jerusalem said, “The Russians don’t want [mediation] and no one needs us. There are many others offering to mediate. We said [we are willing to help] in order to try to be productive, if someone wants it.”

Jerusalem has been treading carefully in relation to Russia-Ukraine tensions, with Washington supporting Ukraine but with Russia having a strong military presence on Israel’s northern border.

Lapid and Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz mulled over what kind of statement to release that would not undermine military coordination with Russia in Syria.

In addition, Lapid has said the Foreign Ministry is being especially cautious out of concern for the large Jewish communities in Russia and Ukraine.

The Foreign Ministry statement also said that Israel is willing to send humanitarian aid immediately and has discussed the matter with Ukrainian authorities.

The senior diplomatic source said there was no pressure from Washington for Israel to make a statement, and that the Biden administration fully understands the sensitivity of Russia’s military presence in Syria.

At the same time, Israel saw the importance in aligning itself with the West and showing support for Ukraine. All parties involved in the discussions, including the Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Ministry, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and the security establishment backed the statement, the source said.