February 7, 2023: A retired Israeli prime minister serving shortly as a negotiator at the commencement of Russia’s war with Ukraine said that he is drawing a promise from the Russian president not to murder his Ukrainian counterpart.
Retired Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appeared as an unlikely intermediary in the war’s first weeks. He became one of the few Western leaders to meet President Vladimir Putin in the war in a snap trip to Moscow in the previous March.
While Bennett’s mediation efforts have done little to end the bloodshed that continues today, his remarks in an online interview shed light on the backroom diplomacy and sudden efforts underway trying to bring the conflict to a fast conclusion in its days.
In the five-hour interview, touching on numerous other subjects, Bennett says he then questioned Putin whether he intended to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“I questioned, ‘what’s with this? Are you making plans to kill Zelenskyy?’ He said, ‘I won’t kill Zelenskyy.’ I told him, ‘I have to understand that you’re giving me a promise that you won’t kill Zelenskyy.’ He stated, ‘I’m not killing Zelenskyy.'”
Bennett stated that he referred Zelenskyy to tell him of Putin’s vow.
‘Listen, I came out of a discussion; he’s not going to kill you.’ He asks, ‘are you sure?’ I said, ‘100% he will not kill you.'”
Bennett stated that in his mediation, Putin decreased his vow to seek Ukraine’s disarmament, and Zelenskyy promised not to join NATO.
Bennett, a wide-untested leader who had served as prime minister for just more than six months when the war broke out, which was not anticipated, thrust himself into international diplomacy following he had positioned Israel into a weird middle ground amid Russia and Ukraine. Israel intends to have good ties with the Kremlin as a strategy for facing Iran’s threats, but it aligns with Western nations and seeks to show support for Ukraine.
A Jew and little-known internationally, he came to Moscow to meet with Putin on the Jewish Sabbath, violating his religious commitments and putting himself in the global efforts to halt the war.
But his efforts did not appear to work, and his time in power was short-lived. Bennett’s administration, an ideologically diverse union that sent the present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a brief political exile, collapsed in the summer regarding infighting. Bennett stepped away from politics and became a private citizen.