In Kyiv, Israeli Foreign Minister Confirms Backing for Ukrainian President Zelensky’s Peace Plan
by Ben Cohen
Ukraine’s foreign minister expressed cautious satisfaction after meeting his Israeli counterpart on Thursday, pointing to Israel’s provision of humanitarian aid to the country’s battered citizens along with the prospect of military assistance to combat the ongoing Russian invasion.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Kyiv with visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, Dmytro Kuleba spoke of his gratitude to the Israeli government for its humanitarian initiatives. Israel has assembled a field hospital and provided defensive equipment for Ukrainian emergency workers, including protective helmets and vests, hazmat filtration systems and a fleet of armored ambulances that arrived in early January.
“We are also grateful to Israeli businesses and citizens for their support. We especially appreciate the volunteers who have been here since the first days of the war,” Kuleba added, in comments reported by the Ukrainian Interfax news agency.
At the same time, Kuleba stressed that Ukraine was pressing Israel to step up its military assistance. Both the previous government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the newly-elected government led by Benjamin Netanyahu have been wary in this regard, fearful that the provision of weaponry in Ukraine will upset the delicate balance in Syria, where Russia has retained an extensive, though shrinking, military presence.
“Israel is well aware of our list of military needs, it was handed over to the previous government, it was handed over to this government. We will wait for the adoption of appropriate decisions. First of all, it is about protecting the Ukrainian sky,” Kuleba said, referring to Ukraine’s consistent pleas for Israel to share its smart warning system that anticipates the targets of incoming missiles with pinpoint accuracy. Russia has pummeled Ukrainian population centers with missile barrages and strikes from Iranian-manufactured drones.
Kuleba underlined his government’s conviction that Ukraine’s survival is dependent on the defeat of Russian forces. “And Israel knows this better than anyone else. If you don’t defeat the enemy, everything else loses its meaning,” he said. “That’s why we talked not only about humanitarian support, but also about other things that Israel can help with.”
There was no “objective reason why Israel and Ukraine should not stand side by side today,” Kuleba continued. “I think that today we are laying a very serious foundation. But whether a full-fledged house will be built on this foundation depends on further decisions that will be made or not.”
The talks also focused on the diplomatic dimensions of the ongoing war, with Kuleba saying that Ukraine was “counting on the support of our Israeli partners at the UN,” where the General Assembly will next week hold a two day session marking the anniversary of the Russian invasion.
While he did not address Kuleba’s demands for military assistance, Cohen confirmed that Israel was backing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan issued last November.
“Israel will support the Ukrainian peace initiative within the framework of the UN next week,” Cohen said. Inter alia, the plan emphasizes Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the imperative of all Russian forces withdrawing, the creation of special tribunals to try Russian war crimes, and a slew of environmental and infrastructure protection measures.
During his one-day visit, Cohen traveled to Bucha, the site of a massacre of civilians in the early days of the war, where he stated that it was “impossible to be indifferent to the sights, the mass graves we saw,” without mentioning Russia’s responsibility for the killings. He also went to Babyn Yar, where more than 33,000 Jews were gunned down by Nazi forces in 1941.
“We stand today in this painful place, where more than 30,000 Jews were murdered in a process that preceded the terrible final solution that led to the extinction of more than one and a half million Jews in the territories of the former Soviet Union,” Cohen said at the commemoration site. “Standing here today as a Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel and a representative of the government of Israel, I can guarantee that we will do everything to protect our people and provide them with security against those who sow evil against them.”
Accompanied by Israeli Ambassador Michael Brodsky, Cohen also visited Jeanette Butenko, an 82-year-old woman who lives in the city of Gostomel, near Kyiv. “The minister brought her a heater and a warm blanket,” Brodsky tweeted.