Deputy Director-General, Head of Eurasia and the Western Balkans Division at Israel’s Foreign Ministry Gary Koren on Sunday told Reshet Bet radio that Israel does not speak out strongly against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in order to reserve the option of negotiating between the two sides at a high-level down the road.
Last week, Ukraine asked Israel to mediate a ceasefire with Russia. Later, Israeli and Ukrainian sources involved in the matter told Kan 11 News that during a telephone conversation between President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last Friday, Zelenskyy suggested that the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine be held in Jerusalem.
“There are things we continue to do quietly,” Koren said, adding: “There are also requests for humanitarian aid, and tomorrow we will send a plane to Poland with tons of aid. Israel will try to help as needed.”
PM Naftali Bennett spoke directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday afternoon. Putin told Bennett that Moscow remains open to talks, but that said that Ukraine’s leaders have shown inconsistency on the matter of talks and have not made use of the opportunity in Belarus, according to a Kremlin statement on the conversation.
According to Koren, Israel is in contact with all the parties in the current conflict: Ukraine, Western countries, and Putin’s regime. “Israel has an interest in maintaining this channel. First of all, at the work levels, the discourse continues. When it is decided, there will also be a dialogue through other channels. There are channels that when we need to, I guess will happen, too.”
Israel has offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine several times in recent years. Both former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett have tried to contact the key individuals on both sides and suggested they could help reduce tensions between the two countries.
Meanwhile, a Russian delegation on Sunday arrived in Belarus for talks with the Ukrainian side, according to Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
“In line with the agreement, the Russian delegation consisting of representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, and other agencies, including the presidential administration, has arrived in Belarus for talks with the Ukrainians,” Peskov said. “We will be ready to start these talks in Gomel (Gomel is a city in southeastern Belarus – DI).”
President Zelensky quickly rejected the offer of talks in Belarus, since Belarus is complicit in the Russian invasion of his country.
On Thursday, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the Belarusian defense sector and financial institutions citing their “support for, and facilitation of” the Russian invasion.
Among others, sanctions have been imposed on Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin, two large state-owned banks, several security companies the US accuses of having close links with Russia, and a businessman connected to President Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko has denied that Belarusian troops were involved in the invasion, but noted he would support the Russian forces if they ask. But there’s no denying that Russian forces have been allowed into Belarus and then through the Belarus-Ukraine border crossings, as well as full access to Belarus’s air defense and air traffic control systems, as well as local fueling stations.
Russian forces invaded the Chernobyl nuclear plant from Belarus last Thursday, after a fierce battle against the Ukrainian National Guard. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a 1,000-square-mile forest area surrounding the partially functioning plant, lies between the Belarus-Ukraine border and Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.