Lapid: Israel will not be a route to bypass Russia sanctions

Putin, Bennett discuss possible Ukraine-Russia ceasefire • Zelensky’s chief of staff praises Israeli mediation efforts.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid makes a public statement on the Russia-Ukraine crisis at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem,February 24, 2022. (photo credit: NIV MOSMAN, GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid makes a public statement on the Russia-Ukraine crisis at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem,February 24, 2022.
(photo credit: NIV MOSMAN, GPO)

Russia will not be able to circumvent sanctions through Israel, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Monday in Slovakia.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Russian President Vladimir Putin – and, separately, Bennett and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – discussed a possible Russia-Ukraine ceasefire later that day.

“Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries,” Lapid said. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is coordinating the issue together with partners, including the Bank of Israel, the Finance Ministry, the Economy Ministry, the Airports Authority, the Energy Ministry and others.”

The Foreign Ministry and other bodies have a joint team examining the Western sanctions, which are relevant to Israel to ensure the country is not used to circumvent them. Among the sanctions in question are financial and aviation, a spokesman for Lapid said, though the ministry declined to provide a list.

 Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich walks past the High Court in London on November 16, 2011.  (credit: REUTERS/SUZANNE PLUNKETT) Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich walks past the High Court in London on November 16, 2011. (credit: REUTERS/SUZANNE PLUNKETT)

Israel’s cooperation with sanctions has faced scrutiny given that some oligarchs with ties to Putin also have strong ties with Israel. A plane belonging to Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who has Israeli citizenship, flew from Moscow to Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday.

Abramovich is a target of Western sanctions on Russia and cannot enter the UK, where he has lived in recent years. He is also a major donor to Israeli hospitals and other institutions. Yad Vashem suspended its partnership with Abramovich last week, which included a donation of tens of millions of dollars.

Abramovich was seen in Ben-Gurion Airport again on Monday, heading to Istanbul.

“Any citizen can land and live here, no matter what their status,” Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday.

“We aren’t joining any sanctions,” he said. “We are first of all taking care of ourselves. We will try to cooperate with the world in the framework of Israel’s interests.”

The US wants Israel to join in financial and export sanctions against Russia, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said Friday in an interview with Channel 12.

Bennett left a cabinet meeting to speak with Putin on Monday, as part of his efforts to mediate an end to the war in Ukraine.

The leaders spoke for an hour and a half about a possible ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine. They also discussed Israel’s humanitarian aid to the region, a diplomatic source in Jerusalem said.

The Kremlin readout said that Putin shared his views about the negotiations and that the leaders agreed to continue the dialogue.

Bennett and Zelensky spoke soon after the call with Putin. The Ukrainian leader tweeted about the call, saying “we exchanged information on our joint steps and steps of our partners against the background of Russian aggression. Agreed on further actions.”

Bennett’s conversation with Putin took place two days after he spoke with Zelensky.

Earlier on Monday, Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff, praised Israel’s efforts to mediate between his country and Russia.

“Israel has taken on a complex but noble mission of an intermediary seeking peace and the end of Russian aggression against Ukraine,” he wrote on Facebook.

Zelensky asked Bennett to serve as an intermediary between Ukraine and Russia and proposed that Jerusalem host a peace summit, a suggestion he made in public on Saturday. Bennett has spoken separately with Zelensky and Putin several times since the war broke out, and he has traveled to Moscow and Berlin to help in the mediation efforts.

Ukraine has “an intensive dialogue with Israel regarding its participation in the humanitarian [aid],” Yermak said, adding that he is in constant contact with National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata, and Israel’s broader refugee policy is a result of those talks.

“I thank my colleagues, and I hope for the success of our joint diplomatic efforts,” he wrote.

Israel will help in mediation efforts to restore peace in cooperation with the US and Europe, Lapid said in Bratislava.

He met with Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová and Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok in Bratislava and praised the country’s cooperation with Israel in evacuating Jews and Israelis from Ukraine and in helping get Israeli humanitarian aid to refugees.

“Israel, like Slovakia, condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine and calls for an end to the fighting,” Lapid said. “There is no justification for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and there is no justification for attacks on a civilian population. This war must end.”

He also spoke of “deep and strong ties” between Israel and Slovakia, including the latter’s plan to open an office in Jerusalem.

Reuters contributed to this report.