Israel asks Russia to help evacuate Israelis if it invades Ukraine
A senior Israeli official stressed in a call with his Russian counterpart on Wednesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, Israel will need assistance from Moscow to get its citizens and diplomats out, two senior Israeli officials tell Axios.
Update: After Axios reported on the call, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador to Kyiv. The ambassador told his Ukrainian counterparts that the call had been intended to express Israeli concerns about the safety of Israeli citizens and diplomats in Ukraine, and to call for de-escalation.
Why it matters: Wednesday’s call showed just how seriously the Israeli government is taking the threat of an all-out Russian invasion. While 3,000 Israeli citizens have evacuated since Sunday, the Israeli government believes around 10,000 remain in Ukraine.
Details: The call was between Alon Ushpiz, the director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. Israel's ambassador to Moscow had previously raised the issue with Bogdanov, the Israeli officials say.
Between the lines: The Israeli officials say Israel wants to ensure that if Russia does invade, it will have the ability to open humanitarian corridors to evacuate citizens by land to neighboring countries.
- Israel has already established an alternative diplomatic mission in Lviv in western Ukraine in case the embassy in Kyiv has to be evacuated.
- The Israeli Foreign Ministry also drafted a contingency plan to evacuate Israelis by land through Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania.
- Israel has tried to balance its close relations with Russia, Ukraine and the U.S. during the crisis, and it has sought to avoid any steps that would upset any of its partners until new intelligence shared by the U.S. last Friday convinced the government to begin evacuating its citizens.
What they're saying: Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat told Axios that Ushpiz and Bogdanov discussed the friendly relations between Russia and Israel.
- "Ushpiz stressed the commitment and concern of the Israeli government to the safety and security of its citizens and diplomats in Ukraine," Haiat said.
- The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a readout of the call between Bogdanov and Ushpiz but didn't mention the Israeli request.
Editor's note: This post has been updated to include the news that the Israeli ambassador was summoned, and corrected to reflect that Ushpiz and Bogdanov discussed the friendly relations between Russia and Israel (not Russia and Ukraine).