Cohen passed messages from US to Russia’s Lavrov during phone call: Israeli diplomat

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked new Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to convey messages to Russia in a phone call on Monday, a senior diplomatic official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

Cohen spoke to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday afternoon and relayed the messages to him.

The Israeli official did not want to reveal what the American messages were.

Neither the Israeli nor the American readings mentioned any talk about the 10-month war in Ukraine. The State Department did not respond to a request for confirmation.

The Israeli official said Blinken was aware of the scheduled call with Lavrov before speaking with Cohen on Monday. The Russians had requested the call, the Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

Speaking to Israeli diplomats on Monday, Foreign Minister Cohen revealed that he would speak to Lavrov the next day. He did not indicate any calls scheduled with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba. Around noon on Tuesday, Israel requested a call with Kuleba.

Critics of Monday’s speech, including a major Republican legislator in the UShe saw it as a possible sign that the new government in Jerusalem would shift in a pro-Kremlin direction.

A senior Ukrainian official had said that Kyiv would expect Cohen to delay or cancel his call with Lavrov and speak to Kuleba first, which did not happen. The official indicated that if Cohen had a talk with Lavrov first, Kuleba could decline any calls with Cohen in the near future.

There was no request from Kyiv about a call between Kuleba and Cohen.

File: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia on July 8, 2022. (Willy Kurniawan/Pool Photo via AP)

‘No change towards Moscow’

The Israeli diplomatic official strongly rejected the idea that Israel was changing its policy on the Russia-Ukraine war, calling it “confusion.”

Cohen stressed in his Monday speech that Israel’s humanitarian aid to Ukraine would continue, but noted that while additional details of Israel’s policy on the issue were still being worked out, “one thing for sure is that we will talk less about it in public.” .

File: Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on April 7, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)

The official said that “when the minister said we would talk less, the intention was Israel’s mediation attempts, the public nature of which, in his opinion, harmed Israel.”

Early in the invasion, then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made several calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, seeking to exploit Israel’s working ties with both countries to help broker a ceasefire to end the war. He even traveled to Moscow in March 2022, where he became the first foreign leader to meet Putin in person since the invasion began on February 24.

But he failed to make any headway after several weeks, eventually giving up the effort to focus on the political turmoil at home.

Israeli sources told The Times of Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be open to mediating if asked by one of the parties.

FILE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin cut the ribbon to unveil the Memorial Candle monument in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020 to commemorate the people of Leningrad during the Nazi siege of the World War II to the city. (Amit SHABI / POOL / AFP)

During Netanyahu’s last term, before the war, Zelensky asked Netanyahu to speak with Putin to arrange a talk, but the Kremlin showed little interest in speaking with Kyiv at the time.

US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, an outspoken Republican voice in favor of helping Ukraine, was among those who saw Cohen’s comments as an indication that the Netanyahu government would avoid publicly denouncing Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“The idea that Israel should talk less about Russia’s criminal invasion of the Ukraine is a little unnerving,” Graham said in a tweet.

FILE – In this March 10, 2016 photo, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

“I hope Mr. Cohen understands that when he talks to Russia’s Lavrov, he is talking to a representative of a war criminal regime that commits war crimes on an industrial scale every day. Keeping quiet about Russia’s criminal behavior will not age well,” Graham added.

The previous government headed by Bennett and Yair Lapid had rejected Ukraine’s arms requests, but Lapid repeatedly spoke out against the Russian invasion and accused the Kremlin of committing war crimes. The comments won praise in the West but stoked tensions with Moscow, even as Jerusalem tried to maintain a semblance of neutrality.

Kyiv has said it needs Israel’s help in air defense technology to counter Russia’s continued attacks on its civilian infrastructure. Israel has so far refused to provide such aid, out of apparent concern over Russia’s reaction.

During his previous terms, Netanyahu touted his close relationship with Putin, insisting that it was critical to maintaining the IDF’s ability to operate freely from the Russian-controlled skies over Syria to prevent the entrenchment of Iranian forces on Israel’s northern border. . As opposition leader, he initially criticized the previous government for neglecting ties with Russia when Jerusalem took several limited steps in support of Ukraine after Putin’s forces invaded in February.

Rescuers clear rubble from houses destroyed by a missile attack on the outskirts of Kyiv, December 29, 2022, following a Russian missile attack on Ukraine. (Genya Savilov/AFP)

However, Netanyahu changed his tune more recently. in a interview Leading up to the November elections, it characterized the Bennett-Lapid government’s Ukraine policy, in which Israel provided humanitarian aid, operated a field hospital in Ukraine and took in a limited number of mostly Jewish refugees without reaching to provide the military aid requested by Kyiv. — as “pragmatic”.

Netanyahu even said he would consider arming Ukraine if he returned as prime minister, telling Zelensky after the election that he had yet to determine Israel’s policy. He also assured the Ukrainian president that he would stay informed.

Netanyahu said in the October interview that the mediation offer would “presumably come up again” if he returns to power.

Netanyahu and Putin I speak last week in a congratulatory call the Israeli prime minister agreed to take while Zelensky was addressing a joint session of the US Congress, imploring additional US help to roll back the Russian invasion.

Netanyahu and Zelensky spoke by phone on Friday. According to a report, Netanyahu pressured the Ukrainian leader to vote against an upcoming UN resolution, but did not commit to any action when asked about a quid-pro-quo involving the transfer of defensive aid to interdict the Russian attacks.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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