JERUSALEM — Israel is becoming involved in efforts to mediate between Ukraine and Russia amid Moscow’s war on Ukraine, now in its second week.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, according to news reports. The Reuters news agency, citing a Kremlin readout of the call, said both leaders discussed Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine during the conversation.
Word of the call came one day after Bennett traveled to Moscow to meet with the Russian leader. Bennett is the first foreign leader to hold talks in person with Putin since the invasion of Ukraine began late last month.
Bennett, an Orthodox Jew, made the trip on the Jewish Sabbath, when travel is normally forbidden; however, rabbis in Israel said it was permissible to violate the Sabbath to save a life.
Upon his return home, Bennett explained his trip to the Israeli Cabinet. Bennett said that the situation is not good and that there is great human suffering which could become even worse. He said that Israel will continue to try to help, even if the chances of making progress are small.
Meanwhile, in a televised address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Israel for its support of Ukraine but did not mention Bennett’s visit to Russia. Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, said he spoke Saturday with U.S. President Joe Biden and had done so with Bennett several times.
Israel has good relations with both Russia and Ukraine and has begun absorbing thousands of Ukrainian Jewish refugees. The Israeli government said it is preparing for tens of thousands more.
Israel, however, stopped short of offering military assistance to Ukraine.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry says it believes some 2,000 Israelis remain in Ukraine and the Israeli government is working to get them out.