Israeli PM meets Putin in Moscow, then speaks with Zelensky by phone

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) is pictured with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a previous meeting in Sochi, Russia. PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (REUTERS) – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on Saturday (March 5) to discuss the war in Ukraine and later spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Bennett’s spokesman said.

Bennett is coordinating his efforts in the crisis with the United States, France and Germany, an Israeli official said.

After his meeting with Putin, Bennett headed to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, his spokesman said.

French President Emmanuel Macron had spoken to Bennett before he flew to Moscow to brief him on his own conversations with Putin, the Elysee Palace said.

“They will stay in touch with the aim of obtaining a ceasefire, and this in coordination with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz,” an Elysee official said.

Israel, at the behest of Zelensky, has offered to mediate in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, though officials have previously played down expectations of any breakthrough.

In their three-hour meeting in the Kremlin, the Israeli official said, Bennett also raised with Putin the issue of the large Jewish community caught up in the war in Ukraine.

Israel will send medical teams to Ukraine next week to set up a field hospital that will provide treatment for refugees, its Health Ministry said.

While Israel, a close ally of the United States, has condemned the Russian invasion, voiced solidarity with Kyiv and sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it has said it will maintain contact with Moscow in the hope of helping to ease the crisis.

Remote video URL

Israel, home to a substantial population of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, is also mindful of Moscow’s military support for President Bashar al-Assad in next-door Syria, where Israel regularly attacks Iranian and Hezbollah military targets.

Communication with Moscow prevents Russian and Israeli forces trading fire by accident.

Bennett and Putin also discussed the ongoing talks between world powers, including Russia, and Iran about reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.

Russia said on Saturday that Western sanctions imposed on it over its invasion of Ukraine had become a stumbling block for the Iran nuclear deal. Israel opposes any revival of the deal.

Bennett, a religious Jew, flew to Moscow in violation of Sabbath law because Judaism permits this when the aim is to preserve human life, his spokesman said.

He was accompanied by his Ukrainian-born housing minister, Zeev Elkin. Elkin had in the past accompanied former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an interpreter in his talks with Putin.

Follow The Straits Times' live coverage on the Ukraine crisis here.

Remote video URL

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.