Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Saturday to discuss the Ukraine crisis, his office said, followed by a phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The Kremlin confirmed Bennett’s snap visit “to discuss the situation surrounding Ukraine,” spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.
According to the Israeli statement, the two leaders met for three hours. Officials said they also discussed the situation of Israelis and Jews affected by the fighting, and the talks between Iran and world powers on Tehran’s nuclear program.
The prime minister – who left Moscow for Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, just days after their meeting in Israel – spoke with several world leaders ahead of Saturday’s meeting.
The Biden administration was informed of the meeting in advance and supported it, Israeli officials said. The move was also coordinated with Germany and France, a senior official said, and amid “constant communication” with Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron had spoken to Bennett before he flew to Moscow to brief him on Macron’s previous conversations with Putin, the Élysée said.
“They will stay in touch with the aim of obtaining a ceasefire, and this in coordination with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz,” an Élysée official said.
Later Saturday, Bennett flew from Moscow to Berlin to meet with the German Chancellor. The two spoke for an hour and a half on several issues, including the war in Ukraine, a spokesman for the prime minister said. Bennett spoke twice throughout the evening with President Zelenskyy, the spokesman added.
Israel, home to a substantial population of Ukrainian and Russian immigrants, has offered to mediate in the conflict between the two countries, though officials have previously played down expectations of a breakthrough.
Before the meeting was made public, dozens of protesters gathered outside Bennett’s home in the central Israeli city of Ra’anana, calling on the government to join Western sanctions on Russia and accept more Ukrainian refugees.
Bennett was accompanied by Ukrainian-born Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who joined previous meetings between Israeli prime ministers and Russia’s Putin, as well as National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata and senior political advisor Shimrit Meir. A key point of contact between the two sides, Elkin met with Russia’s ambassador to Israel on Wednesday and hosted the Ukrainian ambassador to the country on Saturday for talks.
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 communications with Moscow in the hope of helping to ease the crisis.
Israel 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. Contacts with Moscow prevent Russian and Israeli forces trading fire by accident.
Bennett, a religious Jew, took a flight in violation of Shabbat law because Judaism permits this when the aim is to preserve human life, his spokesperson said.
As the two leaders were meeting in Moscow, Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamiya said in a Facebook post Russia and Ukraine will hold a third round of talks on Monday about ending hostilities.
On Thursday, the sides agreed to open humanitarian corridors to allow civilians out of some combat zones, although there have been delays in implementing them.
On Wednesday, Bennett spoke to both Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Putin within a matter of hours. It was Bennett’s second call in less a week with Zelenskyy who had once again requested that Israel send Ukraine weapons.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is expected to talk with Putin on Sunday. Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said he will tell Putin to stop the invasion of Ukraine and ask him to “give a chance” to a cease-fire, stop his attacks, and help set up corridors needed for evacuations of civilians and shipments of aid.
Bennett’s visit to Moscow came as Russia presented new demands for written U.S. guarantees that Western sanctions imposed on it over the conflict in Ukraine would not damage its cooperation with Iran after a new agreement is reached on Tehran’s nuclear program.
The announcement by Russia, which could torpedo months of intensive indirect talks between Tehran and Washington in Vienna, came shortly after Tehran said it had agreed a roadmap with the UN nuclear watchdog to resolve outstanding issues which could help secure the nuclear pact.