Ukraine crisis and peace: Russia and Israel open a round of talks

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett paid a working visit to Moscow on Saturday, March 5 and discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin various aspects of the situation in Ukraine in the context of Russia’s special operation.

It was in precisely this wording that this information was submitted on the Kremlin’s website. A little earlier, the press secretary of the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov said that there were no statements planned for the media following the talks between Putin and Bennett. At the same time, TASS recalled that since the beginning of Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, the Russian leader and Bennett have spoken twice by phone – on February 27 and March 2. During the first of these conversations, the Israeli Prime Minister offered mediation services “in order to suspend military operations”. In the second, he “expressed some thoughts” on the Ukrainian topic, taking into account his recent contact with the leaders of a number of states”.

Under the circumstances, we can talk about a situation when not only Bennett, but also the leaders of a number of other states began to offer their mediation efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. At the same time, of course, it is important that these countries have normal relations with Moscow and Kiev and enjoy their political trust, without which diplomacy does not become an instrument for discussing and prospects for resolving the crisis. Israel meets such requirements, although it is among the countries that have not joined the sanctions against Russia to date, which has caused some complaints from Kiev. Speaking at a press conference in Kiev on March 5, Vladimir Zelensky said that he “expected more from Israel”.

The Russian expert community and the media did not analyse in detail and did not cover the reasons for Bennett’s appearance in Moscow, although he became the first leader of the state to visit Moscow after the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine. Otherwise, many Israeli analysts and journalists approached this event, who began to describe it in the style of an action-packed political novel. First of all, they draw attention to the fact that Bennett carried out a “special and very delicate and extraordinary mission” in Moscow in full agreement with the United States, Germany and France, with the support of contact with Kiev. But what is the meaning of this mission is not disclosed.

It is also indicated that the preparation of the Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow took place in an atmosphere of complete secrecy. Only three of his closest associates knew about it – Yair Lapid, Beni Ganz and Avigdor Lieberman. Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who accompanied the Prime Minister during his visit to Russia (he also acted as an interpreter), was introduced to the course later. The fact that Bennett flew out for negotiations was officially notified first in Moscow, and then in Jerusalem, when a conversation was already underway in the Kremlin.

One more thing. The prime minister went to Russia on Saturday morning, that is, on Shabbat, despite the fact that Israeli leaders observe traditions not to move on such a day. According to an official release distributed by the office of the head of the Israeli government, at the talks in the Kremlin, “the situation in Ukraine, as well as the situation of Israelis and Jewish communities in this country were discussed”. Other issues were also touched upon, including the progress of negotiations in Vienna on the nuclear deal with Iran. But then why such secrecy and flaunted extraordinary? There is clearly someone who is not talking about something, which forces experts to deal with the reconstruction of past and upcoming events.

In this regard, the following circumstances are striking. Firstly, negotiations on the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis are beginning to acquire a more applied character. The problem of security in Europe is being promoted to the leading positions. Further, attempts are made to identify the prospects for a possible new policy of Moscow in the post-Soviet space. Israeli experts believe that “it is here that we should look for the motivating reasons for the mediation efforts undertaken by the head of the Israeli government”. According to them, earlier these attempts were cooked “on low heat”, and now they have turned into a problem, the topic of Bennett’s constant telephone conversations with world leaders.”

Secondly, there is a strong feeling that the United States, through Israel, is trying to relay to Moscow some scenarios for the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis in order to probe Russian plans in this way. As one Israeli expert put it, “through the mediation of Bennett, there is a desire to provide Putin with a ladder from which he can climb down from the tall tree he climbed”. And further: “If Putin wants, he will receive guarantees that Ukraine will not join NATO or maintain a neutral status.” That is why, according to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, Bennett’s mission can be compared to “Russian roulette”: tossing between the prestigious Nobel Prize and its antipode – the Ig Nobel Prize, awarded annually for the most idiotic research.

If Bennett implements his plan, he will become the first Israeli leader who managed to extinguish an international conflict. But the main thing for Israel is different: it must determine for itself the criteria of its successes or failures in Ukraine. And this is beginning to be resolved. As the Kremlin reported on Sunday, March 6, “Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the development of the talks held in Moscow the day before. A thorough exchange of views was continued on the situation in connection with Russia’s special military operation to protect Donbass, including taking into account Naftali Bennett’s most recent contact with the leaders of a number of states. Vladimir Putin and Naftali Bennett agreed to stay in touch.

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