Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that he is willing to mediate an end to the war in Ukraine.
During a phone call between the two leaders, Bennett said he was willing to negotiate between Russia and Ukraine, and that “Israel is willing to help if it is asked, and at any time, to settle the crisis and bring the sides together,” a diplomatic source said.
“Putin was open to Bennett’s offer,” the source said.
Israel is in a special situation in which both sides are willing to listen, and the leaders agreed to stay in touch, the source added.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked Israel several times to mediate with Russia, including in his conversation with Bennett on Friday.
Bennett’s office informed Washington of the details of the call.
The Russian news agency RIA reported that Putin said he is willing to hold talks with Ukraine in Belarus.
Earlier on Sunday, Zelensky said he was open to talks but not in Belarus, from where the Russian army is attacking his country. He later agreed to hold negotiations on Ukraine’s border with Belarus.
Zelensky also made his request to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who approached Russia twice to no avail, and to President Isaac Herzog on the latter’s trip to Ukraine in October.
Bennett asked Putin when they met in October, and the Russian president refused. In what could be seen as a preview of Putin’s claim to be “denazifying” Ukraine, a country whose president is Jewish and the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, Putin called Zelensky a Nazi in response to Bennett’s request, according to Yediot Aharonot. The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.
A senior diplomatic source said Israel is unlikely to serve as an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine.
Top Israeli officials are taking calls from Kyiv, but they know there is no chance for an actual mediation effort in light of Russia’s refusal. In addition, Israel is seeking to keep its involvement as minimal as possible, the source said.
Israel is behaving in a “measured and responsible way,” Bennett said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, and that Israel would be sending 100 tons of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Israel coordinates its military strikes on Iranian targets in Syria with Russia, which has a major military presence over Israel’s northern border. Jerusalem is concerned about maintaining that deconfliction mechanism while also signaling to its strategic ally, the US, that it is on the side of democracy and a rules-based international order.
The security cabinet was set to meet later Sunday to discuss where Israel stands in the Russia-Ukraine war from a diplomatic and economic perspective, and on the issue of absorbing new immigrants.
Bennett sought the advice of Herzog on Zelensky’s request for Israel to mediate in recent days.
Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk said on Friday that Israel is “one of the most prominent possible intermediaries for Mr. Putin.”
Bennett has faced criticism in recent days for not condemning Russia’s attack and only expressing support for the people of Ukraine. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, however, did come out against Russia for “violating the international order.”
The top ministers’ statements have been coordinated, with Lapid being harder on Russia, senior diplomatic sources said.
Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for Eurasia Gary Koren said Israel was not speaking out much on the war between Russia and Ukraine so that it can help mediate between the sides.
“There are some things we are continuing to do, and these things are done quietly,” Koren told KAN News when asked about Israeli involvement in diplomacy. “We are in touch with all sides: Ukraine, Western states and also Putin’s government. Israel has an interest to keep this channel open, first of all at the working levels [of diplomats]... When it is needed and decided, we will have talks on other channels.”
Asked whether Israel’s condemnation of Russia’s attack on Ukraine was relatively low-key to maintain the option of serving as an intermediary, he answered in the affirmative, saying: “Exactly as you described it. It is important for us to maintain all channels with all states. We have Jewish communities in both countries. We have necessary military coordination with Russia that is important to Israel’s security.”
However, Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky said Israel would not be able to mediate between Russia and Ukraine at this time.
“There is no window of opportunity for talks between Russia and Ukraine with Israeli mediation at this time,” he told KAN News.