Bennett’s mysterious meeting with Putin shrouded in secrecy

Most commentators said that Bennett’s actions are bold but also very risky.

By Aryeh Savir, TPS

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met on Saturday in the Kremlin with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a mysterious meeting in the midst of the Shabbat which is still shrouded in secrecy.

Bennett took off for Moscow on a plane usually used by the Mossad early Saturday morning, after speaking with Putin Wednesday for the second time in a week.

Construction and Housing Minister Zeev Elkin, who has significant experience in meetings with Putin, was at the meeting and assisted with translation. On Wednesday, Elkin met with the Russian ambassador to Israel. After the Ukrainian ambassador requested an urgent meeting, Elkin hosted him for dinner on Friday evening at his home.

Bennett was also accompanied by National Security Advisor and Director of the National Security Council Dr. Eyal Hulata and Diplomatic Advisor Shimrit Meir.

Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman were updated on Bennett’s trip in advance.

After his meeting at the Kremlin, Bennett spoke twice with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and with France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

Zelensky’s media adviser, Sergei Nikiforov stated that “nothing new had come up in the meeting” and the Kyiv is waiting for a direct meeting between Zelensky and Putin.

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Bennett then flew to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said that the focus of the 90-minute conversation was the results of the talks that Bennet had with Putin in Moscow.

“Scholz and Bennett agreed to remain in close contact and pledged to work on ending the Ukraine conflict as quickly as possible,” he stated.

Bennett returned to Israel in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The content and outcome of Bennett’s shuttle diplomacy are still unknown.

A source in Jerusalem is quoted as saying that Bennett’s meeting with Putin lasted for about three hours, and was coordinated with the U.S., Germany, and France while maintaining an ongoing dialogue with Ukraine.

Bennett spoke with Putin about the situation of Israelis and Jewish communities as a result of the conflict in Ukraine, and the progress of the nuclear talks in Vienna. Bennett expressed Israel’s opposition to the return to the nuclear agreement with Iran, the source said.

Washington skeptical

A source in Washington is quoted as saying that Bennett spoke with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Friday and informed him that he was flying to Moscow the next day for a meeting with Putin. Bennett did not ask for approval but only updated the White House, and Sullivan did not object but was not enthusiastic about it either, the report said.

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White House officials clarified that they were skeptical about Bennett’s chances of influencing Putin’s position, according to a source.

It is unclear why Bennett, an observant Jew, saw the urgent need to fly to Moscow on Saturday.

Most commentators said that Bennett’s actions are bold but also very risky.

Diplomatically, Israel has been attempting to maintain a seemingly neutral line and keep a low profile by showing some support for Ukraine and aligning with the West while trying not to anger Moscow, with which it has ties and with which it coordinates its military actions against terror targets inside Syria.

Israel has issued a weak condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, accusing it of “a serious violation of international order” but not of international law.

Israel has yet to level any kind of sanctions against Russia. Bennett has stated several times that his government is “conducting a measured and responsible policy” vis-à-vis the crisis in Europe.