Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett traveled to Moscow with his national security adviser and other officials on Saturday to meet in the Kremlin with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Israeli and Russian officials.
Interfax, a state-controlled news agency in Russia, reported that the war in Ukraine was on the agenda. “The situation in Ukraine is under discussion,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Mr. Bennett’s office said in a statement Saturday evening that the meeting with Mr. Putin lasted nearly three hours and took place “in coordination and with the blessing of the US administration.” In addition, the statement added, Mr. Bennett was working in coordination with Germany and France and was “in constant dialogue with Ukraine”.
There was no immediate information on any outcome from the meeting. A spokeswoman for Mr. Bennett said he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after meeting Mr. Putin.
The Israeli government has Try to maintain good relations with both the Russian and Ukrainian leaders during the current crisisMr. Bennett Mr. Zelensky previously asked to mediate between the two sides.
Bennett left Moscow on Saturday night on his way to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Mr. Schulz was on a short visit to Israel this week, and in a meeting with Mr. Bennett, he discussed Israel’s potential role in mediating between Russia and Ukraine.
Bennett spoke by phone with Mr. Putin on Wednesday, hours after he spoke with Mr. Zelensky, in the last few rounds of phone conversations between them.
In a sign of the urgency of the mission, Mr. Bennett, an observant Jew, left Israel on Saturday morning, during the Sabbath, in violation of the religious order not to travel. According to Jewish religious law, the sanctity of the Sabbath is invalidated by the principle of preserving human life.
Mr. Bennett was accompanied by Israeli Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who helped with translation, according to the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. Mr. Elkin has often acted in a similar capacity over the past decade in meetings between Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Mr. Putin. Mr. Elkin, also a committed Jew, was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine in 1971, when it was part of the Soviet Union, and immigrated to Israel in 1990.
The Israeli delegation also included the Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser, Eyal Holata, his diplomatic advisor Shimrit Meir, and his spokesman, Matan Sidi.
Mr. Bennett had been criticized in recent days, including by Mr. Zelensky, for not siding closely with Ukraine and for not providing it with any military equipment.
Israeli officials have said that Israel must maintain good relations with Russia so that it can continue the Israeli military campaign against the entrenchment of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, where Russia maintains a large presence.
Saturday’s meeting follows several requests from Mr. Zelensky, both Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Bennett, to mediate between him and Mr. Putin. The last request was made in a telephone conversation on February 25, during which Mr. Zelensky also requested military equipment. While refusing to send defensive equipment, Mr. Bennett agreed to try to mediate between the nations.
This was followed by several rounds of telephone conversations between Mr. Bennett and Mr. Putin, between Mr. Bennett and Mr. Zelensky, and between officials from their teams. Israeli officials believe that the Israeli mediation had some effect in persuading Ukraine to enter into talks with Russia in Belarus.
Israel’s National Security Adviser, Mr. Holata, has been briefing the White House National Security Council on developments since the telephone conversation with Mr. Zelensky.
Israeli officials said the meeting in the Kremlin also touched on progress in talks in Vienna to return to a nuclear deal with Iran, and that Mr. Bennett expressed Israel’s opposition to returning to the agreement.
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