Feb 5, 2023 - World

Ukraine lays out demands for Israel ahead of key visit to Kyiv

A demonstrator holds up an Israeli flag while standing before an anti-war banner during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Tel Aviv on March 20, 2022.

A demonstrator holds up an Israeli flag while standing before an anti-war banner during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Tel Aviv on Mar. 20, 2022. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine in recent days requested Israel publicly condemn the Russian invasion and approve a $500 million loan to the Ukrainian government, one Israeli official and one Ukrainian official told Axios.

Why it matters: The requests were made ahead of Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen's expected visit to Kyiv this week. It will be the first visit by an Israeli minister to Ukraine’s capital since the Russian invasion one year ago.

  • A Ukrainian official told Axios the government in Kyiv sees Cohen's visit and whether he responds positively to its requests as a test of the new Israeli government’s intentions and policy towards the war.

Driving the news: Cohen is expected to meet in Kyiv with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba and reopen the Israeli embassy, which was closed several days before the Russian invasion.

  • Israel is the only Western country that hasn’t permanently reopened its embassy in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have expressed disappointment with the partial operations.
  • An Israeli official said Cohen asked for a meeting with President Zelensky but a Ukrainian official said the meeting hasn’t been confirmed yet by the President’s office.
  • The Ukrainian official said the meeting will take place if Israel shows willingness to take steps to support Ukraine. “Zelensky won’t meet Cohen just for a photo op," the Ukrainian official said.
  • The Israeli official said he thinks the meeting will take place.

Behind the scenes: Israeli and Ukrainian officials told me that in recent days Ukraine gave Israel a list of requests it wants it to consider ahead of Cohen’s visit.

  • According to the officials, the Ukrainians want Cohen to give a public statement during the visit condemning the Russian invasion and supporting Ukraine's territorial integrity. The previous Israeli government had done so, but the new government hasn't so far.
  • Ukraine also asked for a public statement of support by Israel for the peace plan that Zelensky presented last November, which includes a full Russian withdrawal from Ukraine’s territory, the officials said.
  • Another request by the Ukrainians was that Israel give Ukraine a $500 million loan. The same request was made to the previous Israeli government and then-Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected it. Israeli officials say Cohen is expected to offer a $50 million loan.
  • The officials said Ukraine also asked Israel to receive hundreds of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers wounded during the war for medical treatment in Israel. Only several dozens of wounded Ukrainians have been treated in Israel in the last year.
  • Ukraine also requested the new Israeli government recommit to a project started by the previous government to build a system connected to Ukrainian military radar that would give Ukrainian civilians early warning of incoming missile and drone attacks, the officials said.
  • Israel uses a similar system to give early warning to its own civilian population.

Flashback: During his inaugural speech at the foreign ministry early January, Cohen's remarks raised concerns about a shift in Israeli policy towards a more pro-Russian line.

  • After requests for clarification by the Biden administration and criticism from congressional Republicans, the Israeli foreign ministry said Israeli policy toward Russia's invasion of Ukraine hasn’t changed.

The big picture: Since the early stages of the war, Israel tried to balance its policy between Ukraine and Russia mainly out of concern of alienating the Russians and pushing them to take steps to limit the Israeli Defense Forces' freedom of operation against Iranian targets in Syria.

  • The Ukrainian government has been frustrated by Israel’s policy over the last year. Zelensky, who is Jewish, said several times he expected to get more support from Israel.
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