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Former Israeli PM says Putin promised not to kill Ukraine’s Zelenskyy

 February 6, 2023

Russia's war in Ukraine has now been ongoing for a year, and diplomatic efforts to end the conflict continue to come up short. A new report from NBC News has detailed efforts by former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to soothe tensions between Russia and Ukraine as the war was breaking out.

Putin's Promise Not to Kill Zelenskyy

Bennett revealed in an interview that he had sought confirmation from Russian President Vladimir Putin that he was not going to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The then-Israeli leader reportedly asked Putin; "what’s with this? Are you planning to kill Zelenskyy?" Putin responded; "I won’t kill Zelenskyy."

Bennett claimed he sought further assurance on the matter, telling Putin; "I have to understand that you’re giving me your word that you won’t kill Zelenskyy." Putin allegedly reaffirmed his position at this point, saying "I’m not going to kill Zelenskyy."

Bennett subsequently made contact with the Ukrainian leader to share news of this discussion with him, saying "100% [Putin] won’t kill you."

Naftali Bennett's Role as Intermediary

Some observers in the international media were surprised at Bennett's efforts to insert himself into the mediation process between Russia and Ukraine at the time, as he did not have a wealth of geopolitical experience. He had been in charge of Israel for just half a year when the war began.

The NBC News report noted that Israel occupied "an uncomfortable middle ground" between Russia and Ukraine, having strategic ties to both the Kremlin and Western nations.

A report from the New Yorker from March 2022 went into more detail about Israel's position in the conflict. Bennett reportedly noted that productive negotiations about the dispute would have been impossible in Russia, Ukraine, or Belarus.

However, the Israeli prime minister believed his nation provided a viable alternative, saying "[Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus] are not places where we can come to any understandings on ending the war—I’m not talking about technical meetings but meetings between leaders. I believe Israel can be such a place, especially Jerusalem."

The Israeli leader allegedly had the backing of both Washington, DC and Kyiv when he went to Moscow at Putin's invitation in March 2022. Despite his status as a practicing Orthodox Jew, Bennett broke the Sabbath to fly to Russia.

He reportedly later told the Israeli Cabinet that "The moment there is even a small opening, and we have the access to all sides and the capability, I see it as a moral duty to make every attempt" to mediate between the two sides.

The report noted that Israel did not impose sanctions on Russia as most other Western nations did.

Attempts on Zelenskyy's Life

Despite this report from Naftali Bennett, there is ample evidence that Volodymyr Zelenskyy's life has been in danger several times since the outbreak of the war.

A report from Ukrainian outlet Pravda from January of this year claimed there had been at least 12 attempts on the prime minister's life since the beginning of the conflict.

The article discussed statements made by author Chris Whipple about briefings Zelenskyy received from the US about potential Russian attempts on his life in the period leading up to the invasion. Zelenskyy was reportedly "dismissive" of these warnings at first.

However, he was reportedly more receptive to the cautions after hearing "precise details of the Russian plots" from CIA Director William Burns. Whipple stated Burns' message "immediately got Zelenskyy's attention; he was taken aback, sobered by this news."

The report notes the belief of Ukrainian officials that "Zelenskyy has survived more than 12 separate attempts on his life by Russian forces since the full-scale war began in February 2022."

According to Chris Whipple, at least two of the attempts failed because of the sharing of American intelligence. He stated that "the intelligence was so detailed that it would help Zelenskyy's security forces thwart two separate Russian attempts on his life."