Feb 28, 2022 - World

Scoop: Israeli foreign minister warns cabinet against helping Russian oligarchs

 Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid holds a press conference at the Foreign Ministry on February 24, 2022 in Jerusalem.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid holds a press conference at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Thursday. Photo: Israeli Government Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid warned cabinet ministers on Sunday not to help Russian Jewish oligarchs who were targeted by international sanctions or could be targeted in the future, according to three ministers who attended the cabinet meeting.

Why it matters: Oligarchs who are close to Russian President Vladimir Putin are among the main targets of U.S. and European sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Many Russian oligarchs have assets, bank accounts and businesses in Israel.

Driving the news: A White House official said in a briefing on Saturday the U.S. and its allies were forming a task force to identify, hunt down and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs.

  • Lapid made the comments following reports that Israeli institutions, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and Tel Aviv University, wrote to Tom Nides, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, asking the United States not to sanction Roman Abramovich — the Russian Jewish oligarch owner of the English Premier League soccer team Chelsea.
  • Lapid told them that the U.S. and European countries were going to sanction Russian oligarchs, some of whom are Jewish and have interests in Israel, according to the cabinet ministers.

What they're saying: "You have to be very careful because those guys have connections and they can call you on the phone and ask you for things," Lapid said at the cabinet meeting, per the ministers.

  • "Don't commit to anything because it could cause diplomatic damage. Say you can’t help them and give them the number of the foreign ministry."

What's next: Lapid told the cabinet that until now, Israel hadn't received any requests from the U.S. or EU to join the international sanctions against Russia.

  • But senior Israeli officials told me Israel won't have any other choice but to implement the sanctions in order to avoid getting hit by them.

Go deeper: The latest on the Russian invasion of Ukraine

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