Netanyahu uses Ukrainian card

Mikhail Simonov, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Netanyahu uses Ukrainian card

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ended two-day visit to Ukraine. During his visit to Kiev he signed a series of bilateral cooperation agreements with President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky (areas of interest were not specified, with the exception of the issue of free trade and memorandum of understanding), visited the Babiy Yar memorial complex, where he participate in mourning events in memory of victims of Nazism.

On the eve of the visit of Israeli Prime Minister, Kiev didn't hide its hopes for Netanyahu's possible involvement in negotiations with Moscow on situation in the Donbass. Ukrainian side didn't spare epithets and compliments for its guest, calling him political heavyweight and one of the top players capable of helping to resolve the crisis. They also mentioned his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which could also play positive role in resolving the current situation.

Overall, all of this is true. Israeli Prime Minister seems to be pleased and even proud of his relationship with Russian President, In any case, during the election campaign to the Knesset (parliament), his Likud party used photo that shows Putin and Netanyahu shaking hands. Netanyahu's main rival from the "Israel - Our Home" party (NDI) Avigdor Lieberman also tried to use these billboards in his favor, saying that Russian leader is perceived by the Western world as a threat. But it seems that it was a miss  - Putin is very popular in Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister answered questions about establishing mediation mission between Moscow and Kiev evasively, and his words indicated unwillingness to get into this difficult process with unclear resolution. Until now, he repeatedly refused Ukrainian side's request, postponing his visit to Kiev over and over again. But now situation has somewhat changed - he visited Ukraine, and, before leaving, he told one of Israeli journalists that if he was once again asked to participate in the mediation process, he might consider it.

This turned out to enough to generate optimistic expectations in Kiev. Ukrainian side doesn't even hide the fact that Zelensky desperately needs at least some success, and if Netanyahu manages to find common language with Putin on the issue of, say, the exchange of prisoners based on the "all for all" principle, that will be enough for Ukrainian President. Kiev also said that such scenario can be implemented. Russian side doesn't see that much value in prisoners when it comes to negotiations, but by responding to Netanyahu’s request Moscow will no longer feel like it's indebted to Tel Aviv. Indeed, at the request of Putin Israeli Prime Minister suspended negotiations on supply of unmanned aerial vehicles to Ukraine, and later refused to join the Western anti-Russian sanctions, while still recognizing territorial integrity of Ukraine.

All of this was on the agenda. However, the main motive of Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Kiev is, obviously, early parliamentary elections in Israel, which will be held on September 17. Previous elections were won by Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, but that win didn't allow him to form parliamentary majority. According to local experts, the main rival of Prime Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, successfully gained support of emigrants from the countries of the former USSR. Today Likud is trying to get back this part of the electorate. That's why Netanyahu and Putin are showing how good their relations are, and in order not to lose pro-Western part of the electorate, Netanyahu also demonstrates his great relations with Donald Trump, who officially recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory and transferred the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In these conditions, Netanyahu’s visit to Kiev should be viewed as an attempt to win over immigrants from Ukraine. There 200 thousand to half a million of them in Israel. This is a huge number. At the same time, if we take into account the data of sociological services, this part of population of Israel sympathizes with Lieberman.