Lavrov congratulated Eli Cohen, Israel’s new foreign minister

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen on Tuesday to congratulate him on taking office and discuss ‘bilateral and regional issues’ amid ongoing attacks and bombings. of Ukraine via Moscow.

According to an Israeli account of the phone call, Cohen spoke about the Jewish community in Russia and the importance of Russian-speaking Jews in Israel to the relationship between the two countries.

The call, requested by the Russians, could damage relations between Cohen and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Although there was no request from Kuleba’s office in Israel, a senior Ukrainian official said Tuesday that Kyiv expected Cohen to delay or cancel his call with Lavrov and talk to him first. hut

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The official indicated that if Cohen goes ahead and talks to Lavrov first, Kuleba may refuse any calls from Cohen in the near future.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, said in Israel time that the Foreign Minister’s call with his Russian counterpart represents a change in Israeli policy.

“The Israeli foreign minister has not spoken to Lavrov since the beginning of the war,” he said, indicating that Kyiv was unhappy that Cohen had kept his phone conversation.

As foreign minister, Yair Lapid did not talk to Lavrov.

An Israeli official told Israel time shortly after the phone conversation between Cohen and Lavrov “with no change in Israeli policy”.

Korniychuk added that Israel’s position on the Russian invasion was “unclear”.

“Unfortunately, we have not heard any condemnation of the mass bombing of our civilians in recent months. Israel differs from our other partners in that it remains silent,” he added.

Ukraine’s envoy pointed out that neither Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba nor Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked to speak with Cohen.

On Tuesday around noon, shortly before Lavrov spoke with Cohen, Israel asked to speak with Kuleba, according to Israeli sources. kyiv denied receiving an official request.

On Monday, Cohen announced to Israeli diplomats that he would meet with Lavrov the next day. He mentioned no scheduled call to Kuleba.

Critics, including a prominent Republican US senator, saw this as a sign that the new government in Jerusalem is moving in a pro-Kremlin direction regarding Russia’s February 2022 invasion and war.

New Foreign Minister Eli Cohen at a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on January 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The call to Lavrov came a day after Cohen spoke by phone with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, their first conversation since Israel’s new government was sworn in last week.

According to an Israeli diplomat, Blinken on Monday asked Cohen to deliver several messages to Lavrov, but did not specify what they were.

The diplomatic official also strongly rejected the idea that Israel was changing its policy towards the Russia-Ukraine war.

At the beginning of the Russian invasion, then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made repeated calls to Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, seeking to take advantage of Israel’s cooperation with the two countries to help negotiate agreed to a ceasefire to end the war. He even visited Moscow in March 2022, becoming the first foreign leader to meet Putin in person since the invasion began on February 24.

But this initiative did not bear fruit and the file was dropped after a few months, to focus on the internal political turmoil that ultimately led to the fall of Bennett’s government.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in an interview with The Associated Press in Kyiv, Ukraine, Dec. 26, 2022. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

The previous government rejected Ukrainian requests for weapons, but outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid has repeatedly spoken out against Russian aggression, accusing the Kremlin of committing war crimes. The comments were welcomed by the West but raised tensions with Moscow, even as Jerusalem tried to maintain a semblance of neutrality.

Israel is sensitive to maintaining the IDF’s ability to operate independently from Russian-controlled skies over Syria to avoid entrenching Iranian forces on Israel’s northern border.

Kyiv says it needs Israel’s help in air defense technology to counter Russia’s ongoing attacks on its civilian infrastructure.

The Russian invasion stalled in the face of strong resistance from Ukraine.

Israeli sources told the Israel time that the new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, would be open to mediation if asked by both sides.

In Netanyahu’s last term, before the war started, Zelensky asked him to talk to Putin to arrange a discussion, but the Kremlin showed little interest in a dialogue with Kyiv.

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