Mar 8, 2022 - World

Israeli officials say Russia-Ukraine ceasefire talks at critical point

Israels Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Russias President Vladimir Putin talk during a meeting in Sochi in Oct. 2022

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk during a meeting in Sochi, Russia on Oct. 22, 2021. Photo: Yevgeny Biyatov\TASS via Getty Images

The ceasefire talks between Russia and Ukraine are at a critical juncture, Israeli officials said today.

Why it matters: Israel, which has good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, is in a unique situation mediating between the countries.

Driving the news: Israeli officials with direct information about the talks coordinated by Israel said they feel there is a softening of positions on both sides in the last 24 hours, with the Russians saying they only want to demilitarize the Donbas region and Zelensky telling ABC news he has “cooled down” about joining NATO.

  • Israeli officials said they hope these are signs that more progress toward a diplomatic solution might be possible.

Catch up quick: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited Moscow on Saturday and met with Putin. Since then, he's been engaged in a flurry of phone calls with Putin, Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

  • On Tuesday, Bennett spoke again to Zelensky about the ceasefire efforts and then called Putin to pass on a message from the Ukrainian president.
  • The Kremlin said Putin briefed Bennett on the results of the third round of talks between Russia and Ukraine in Belarus.

Behind the scenes: Two Israeli officials said Bennett isn't presenting Putin and Zelensky with any plan or framework and is only passing messages between the leaders.

  • In the meeting with Putin, Bennett relayed ideas that came up from Ukraine and other countries, including France and Germany, in order to get Putin’s reaction and assess whether he is flexible or not on his current conditions for a ceasefire, Israeli officials said.
  • Bennett and his aides briefed Ukraine, the Biden administration, France and Germany about the meeting with Putin in detail and also about the phone call that followed.

Israeli officials are crediting their talks with Putin for crystallizing the situation for Zelensky and also contributing to western knowledge about the Russian president’s positions.

  • Israel relayed to the U.S., France and Germany the details of Putin’s proposal to Zelensky, which wasn’t fully known in Washington, Paris and Berlin, Israeli officials said.
  • According to Israeli officials, Putin’s proposal is difficult for Zelensky to accept but not as extreme as they anticipated. They said the proposal doesn’t include regime change in Kyiv and allows Ukraine to keep its sovereignty.

What they're saying: A senior Israeli official said Zelensky is at a crossroads and has to choose between two options:

  • Accept the Russian proposal, which is very tough, but preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty and stop the war.
  • Reject the proposal and risk a serious escalation in the Russian attack that could end in a catastrophe for Zelensky and for Ukraine.

What’s next: Israeli officials said Israel and other western countries are not going to press Ukraine to choose a particular path.

  • But they expressed concern that if the talks fail, the war will enter a new and more violent phase, Putin's proposal will be taken off the table and a return to negotiations will be impossible.
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