New Delhi, April 21: Israel has offered to host talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, at a time when Moscow is making crucial military gains in the strategic Donbas region.
Russia’s Tass news agency is reporting that Israeli Ambassador to Russia, Alexander Ben Zvi has confirmed in an interview that Tel Aviv is keen to host the dialogue.
“Certainly,” Ben Zvi said when asked about Israel’s readiness to mediate an end to the conflict at the highest level. “However, they (Putin and Zelensky) need to make a decision,” the envoy added.
Israel, he said, would consider it “a great honour” to host possible talks between the Russian and Ukrainian heads of state.
“We will be happy to host such a meeting in Jerusalem,” Ben Zvi noted. He pointed out that Israeli leadership was firmly plugged into the ebbs and flows of the conflict, following regular conversations between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Putin.
“Indeed, they are in regular contact with each other,” he said. “I cannot say when exactly their next (contact) will take place,” the envoy observed.
Putin and Bennett have been regularly conversing on the phone, but the Russia-Israel diplomatic track galloped after Bennet air dashed to Moscow for a lengthy meeting with Putin.
A Russian diplomatic source told India Narrative that Moscow trusts Israel for two reasons. First Russia exercised influence in Tel Aviv because Moscow is plugged into influential Jewish immigrants who had migrated to Israel from Russia. Second, for historical reasons, Russia and Israel share a deep animosity towards neo-Nazi groups that are operating in Ukraine.
As the chief patron of safeguarding Jewish interests worldwide, Israel is naturally interested in Ukraine. It is estimated that an estimated 50,000-200,000 Jews reside in Ukraine whose lives could be endangered because of the war, which is likely to remain protracted. The Ukrainian Jewish community lives mostly in four cities: Kyiv, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Odessa.
Analysts say that the Israelis have carefully timed their offer, as Russian inroads in Donbas region may have “softened” the Ukrainians who could be looking for a diplomatic face-saving route.
On Tuesday, Russia’s Defence Ministry extended the offer to the remaining Ukrainian forces holed up at the Azovstal steel plant in the Black Sea port city of Mariupol. The Ministry urged the besieged forces to surrender and leave, after they refused to leave through a humanitarian corridor on Tuesday.
The encircled forces could still exit the facility from 14:00 Moscow time on Wednesday without any arms or ammunition on them, officials said in a statement late on Tuesday.
“The Russian leadership guarantees the preservation of life, complete safety and provision of qualified medical assistance to all those who lay down their arms,” it said.
The Ministry also detailed the protocol of surrender. The Ukrainian commanders inside were told to set up uninterrupted radio contact with the Russian forces. They should stop all hostilities and raise white flags along the perimeter of the Azovstal plant.
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