Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow for three hours on Saturday, in an apparent attempt to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine.
Bennett and Putin discussed the war in Ukraine, including the situation of Israelis and Jewish communities as a result of the conflict, a diplomatic source said.
Bennett informed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in advance of the meeting with Putin, and called him before departing Moscow. Bennett also spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron, according to Ynet.
Bennett flew to Berlin after the meeting with Putin, to have dinner with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The two leaders spoke for an hour, discussing a number of issues including the Russia-Ukraine War.
The prime minister has twice spoken with Putin and Zelensky previously, since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Zelensky has asked Bennett to try to mediate between the sides, an offer that Putin rebuffed last year, but did not reject last week when Bennett brought it up again.
Bennett coordinated his trip to Moscow in advance with the US, France and Germany – all parties to the Iran talks. Bennett spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and may visit Paris after Berlin, KAN reported. Turkey was also updated, as Bennett’s flight route was over its territory.
In addition, Putin and Bennett discussed the Iran talks, with the latter emphasizing that Israel opposes a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which is the aim of the negotiations in Vienna.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made new demands in the negotiations of an Iran nuclear deal in Vienna over the weekend, calling for written guarantees that sanctions related to the Ukraine war will not stop it from trading with Tehran.
That demand came as sides said a return to the 2015 nuclear deal was days away. Jerusalem has been very critical of the deal, saying that it does not restrict Iran’s nuclear program sufficiently nor for a long enough time, while lifting sanctions that will make the Islamic Republic flush with cash to put into its proxy warfare across the Middle East.
Putin and Bennett agreed to continue the deconfliction mechanism in Syria, Channel 12 News reported. Jerusalem coordinates with Moscow before airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria, where the Russian Army is the dominant force.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Jerusalem has been trying to balance the national security importance of coordination with Moscow with Israel’s strongest strategic alliance with the US, and support for democracy and international order.
Israel condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and a vote in the UN General Assembly, but Bennett has been reticent to say anything about Russia.In his recent statements, he has expressed support for the Ukrainian people and called for negotiations.
The prime minister was the first leader of a democracy to meet with Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine 10 days prior.
Bennett departed Israel early Saturday morning for the trip, which was planned after he spoke with Putin on Wednesday about the war in Ukraine.
The prime minister has twice spoken with Putin and Zelensky since Russia invaded Ukraine. Zelensky has asked Bennett to try to mediate between the sides.
Bennett and Building and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who served as translator, both observe the Jewish Sabbath. Flying on Saturday indicates that there was an urgent national security need.
Elkin has translated Putin for prime ministers in meetings for more than a decade. The Kharkiv-born minister has a brother in Ukraine, and was reportedly offered a cabinet post by Zelensky after he was elected president of Ukraine in 2019.
National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata, Diplomatic Adviser Shimrit Meir and Spokesman Matan Sidi also accompanied Bennett to Moscow.