Israel vows not to 'bypass' Russia sanctions as mediation continues

AFP , Monday 14 Mar 2022

Israel said Monday it will not "bypass" Western sanctions on Moscow as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke to Russia's president in a new bid to mediate and end to the war in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin and Naftali Bennett
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L), Prime Minister Naftali Bennett

"Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries," Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said while visiting Slovakia, where he condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

On Monday evening, Bennett spoke on the phone for 90 minutes with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he had met in the Kremlin earlier in March, a senior Israeli official said.

This exchange followed a discussion on Saturday between Bennett and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Israel is facing growing criticism from Washington and Kyiv over not joining Western countries in imposing punishing sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

In recent days, the United States and the European Union have intensified their economic punishment of Russia.

Sanctions have been extended to target oligarchs deemed close to Putin, including Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich, owner of English football club Chelsea.

Israel maintains close ties with both Ukraine and Russia and has more than a million citizens from the former USSR. It has said it needs to coordinate strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, where Russian troops operate.

Speaking to Israeli Channel 12 TV news Friday, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland urged Israel to join the US, Europe, and Canada in imposing sanctions on Russia.

"We're asking as many countries as we can to join us. We're asking that of Israel as well... you don't want to become the last haven for dirty money that's fuelling Putin's wars," Nuland said.

Ukraine's ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk delivered a similar message while speaking to reporters Friday.

"What we expect from Israel at the moment: the government to join the sanctions of the alliance including but not only the US and the European Union," he said.

In early March, Israel appointed a task force, led by the foreign ministry's deputy legal advisor, to "deal with the repercussions of the sanctions, or the Israeli reactions to the sanctions", ministry spokesman Lior Haiat told AFP.

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