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April 25, 2023 3:19 pm
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‘We Are Moving Forward:’ Ukrainian Envoy to Tel Aviv Praises Israeli Government for Boosting Aid Provision

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Interview

Yevgen Korniychuk, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the State of Israel, in his office in Tel Aviv. Photo: Ben Cohen/The Algemeiner

Ukraine’s envoy to Israel praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for reportedly personally approving the provision of a smart warning missile defense system to the democratic government in Kyiv as it battles the ongoing Russian invasion.

“I have to admire the current Israeli government for its assistance to Ukraine,” Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk told The Algemeiner during an interview in New York on Tuesday. “And it’s important that I express my thanks to Netanyahu personally, because I know that he took charge and decided to allocate funds for this purpose.”

Both Israeli and Ukrainian media outlets reported last week that the Israeli authorities had agreed to supply Ukraine with a system that protects civilians from missile attacks by delivering a red alert warning to cellphones in targeted areas. Korniychuk had been lobbying Israel to provide the system, which it utilizes to protect its own population from missile attacks from Gaza, for more than a year, insisting in an earlier interview with The Algemeiner in his Tel Aviv office back in January that its provision would not contradict Israel’s reluctance to supply Ukraine with offensive weaponry, since “this is not a weapon at all…but a vehicle that would enable the saving of lives.”

Korniychuk remains convinced that the decision to provide the early warning system is consistent with Israel’s position regarding military aid — a stance that reflects Jerusalem’s abiding concern over the threat posed by the Russian military presence in neighboring Syria. The early warning system cannot even be considered non-lethal weaponry as it “cannot kill people, it can only save lives,” the ambassador said. Israel and Ukraine had now, he added, “reached a level of cooperation that is acceptable, and I am very proud of that. We are moving forward, and this is why I am visiting the US.”

Korniychuk landed in New York earlier this week for discussions with some of the leading Jewish organizations in the US, including the Conference of Presidents (CoP), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). The visit originated in a proposal from American Jewish leaders that Ukraine appoint an ambassador-level official to liaise with international Jewish organizations, the vast majority of whom have expressed support for Kyiv in its confrontation with the Moscow regime of President Vladimir Putin. Korniychuk said that the proposal had received a sympathetic hearing from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, but that budget constraints would not allow for the post’s creation. “Go and speak to them yourself,” Korniychuk remembered Kuleba telling him.

The visit to the US was an opportunity to speak to American Jewish leaders about both bilateral relations with Israel and the need for further assistance, Korniychuk explained. Israel’s ongoing political turmoil over the government’s judicial reform program has not prevented a spurt of activity on the bilateral front, with both Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and a Knesset delegation separately traveling to Kyiv in February along with the forthcoming visit to Israel of the deputy chair of the Ukrainian parliament next week.

The smart warning system is being rolled out in Kyiv in May, with a plan to launch it in all major cities by the end of the year. As well as assisting on the missile front, Israel is also providing expertise and aid for demining operations. International aid organizations have calculated that around 30 percent of Ukrainian territory has been contaminated with landmines and other unexploded ordnance, causing havoc among farmers and other civilians in the affected areas, Korniychuk noted.

“In the last six months, we have liberated territory about two or three times the size of Israel, so demining is a big concern,” he said. Some of the $200 million in credit guarantees for health and infrastructure projects that Israel is making available to Ukraine could be spent on US-manufactured, Israeli-modified robots designed for mine clearing purposes, Korniychuk said.

Iran’s military alliance with Russia had spurred the subtle shift in Israel’s position towards the war, Korniychuk argued. “Israeli intelligence is very concerned by this cooperation,” he said, observing that there had been frequent reports of Russia supplying Tehran with enriched uranium for its nuclear program. “There are more issues that are being watched by intelligence that I cannot disclose,” he said. “The point is that because of this bad cause, we [Israel and Ukraine] are cooperating more.”

Korniychuk is adamant that continued foreign assistance is a necessary condition for Ukraine to prevail more than one year after Russia launched its invasion. Membership of NATO is the ultimate prize, and Ukraine will be pushing for membership when the alliance holds its annual summit in Lithuania in July. But failing that, Korniychuk said, Ukraine would demand “unbeatable security guarantees” to ward off further Russian attacks.

“We need an arrangement that is very practical and strong that will prevent the Russians from shelling our territories after we receive those guarantees from the major NATO states,” he emphasized.

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