President Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett

Bennett mulls Ukraine visit to bolster ceasefire talks with Russia

PM accepts Zelensky's invitation but conditions visit on substantial progress in negotiations; premier makes unannounced trip to Egypt to meet with al-Sisi after countries establish flights to tourism hub

Nadav Eyal, Itamar Eichner |
Published: 03.21.22, 19:08
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has accepted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's invitation to visit the country on the condition that Kyiv makes substantial progress in ceasefire talks with Russia, Ynet has learned on Monday.
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  • Bennett has been at the forefront of international mediation attempts between the warring Eastern European countries, having spoken to Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin several times since fighting broke out last month. The Israeli premier even jetted off to Moscow earlier this month to meet with Putin in the Kremlin.
    3 צפייה בגלריה
    בנט וזלנסקי
    בנט וזלנסקי
    President Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett
    (Photo: Reuters, Yoav Dudkevtich)
    According to sources familiar with the matter, Zelensky and Ukrainian government officials have been pursuing a Bennett visit to Kyiv for the past ten days as they believe the visit would help expedite ceasefire talks with Moscow.
    Over the weekend, the Prime Minister's Office has requested the Shin Bet security agency, which is in charge of securing the prime minister, to make the pertinent security arrangements for Bennett's visit to Kyiv on short notice.
    However, some security officials have expressed their misgivings about the risks entailed in the prime minister going into an active war zone, especially after a Russian bombing of the city killed at least eight people on Monday.
    Jerusalem qualified that Bennett will only be willing to arrive in Kyiv if both parties are sincere about striking a ceasefire and his visit would help advance an agreement.
    "In order to advance the negotiations, it is clear that in-person meetings are necessary," a source involved in the talks with the Ukrainians told Ynet. "And they may happen down the road if negotiations reach a tipping point."
    Rebuffing the notion that Bennett has only agreed to the visit to bolster his image on the international stage, another official said that arriving in Kyiv for a photo op "is not a reasonable risk."
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    נשיא רוסיה ולדימיר פוטין
    נשיא רוסיה ולדימיר פוטין
    Russian President Vladimir Putin
    (Photo: EPA)
    Kyiv has also previously invited U.S. President Joe Biden to make a stop in Ukraine during his visit to Europe later this week to attend a summit of NATO leaders.
    The White House has clarified that such a visit was not on the agenda, although Biden is expected to visit neighboring Poland, where the United States has deployed thousands of additional troops since the outset of fighting.
    Meanwhile, Bennett landed in Egypt for an unannounced visit, in which he is set out to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Sharm el-Sheikh.
    This is Bennett's second trip to the Egyptian tourism hub since taking office last June, after meeting al-Sisi there in September.
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    נפתלי בנט וא סיסי בפגישה בשארם א שייח במצרים
    נפתלי בנט וא סיסי בפגישה בשארם א שייח במצרים
    Bennett meets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Sharm el-Sheikh, last September
    (Photo: GPO)
    The visit comes just days after the two countries agreed to launch direct flights from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport to Sharm.
    Shortly before their visit, al-Sisi met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss "ways to continue to strengthen our relations" and international developments, according to the Emirati leader.
    Ties between Israel and Egypt have only warmed up in recent years despite having signed a peace agreement in 1979. The two countries also share security interests in the Gaza Strip as both see the Palestinian enclave's Islamist Hamas rulers as a threat. Cairo is also a major importer of Israeli natural gas.
    The United Arab Emirates established diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020 as part of the Trump administration-brokered Abraham Accords, to which several other Muslim-majority countries joined in the months after.
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