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https://sputniknews.com/20230205/ex-israeli-pm-reveals-big-concessions-putin-zelensky-were-ready-to-make-before-west-killed-talks-1106993054.html

Ex-Israeli PM Reveals ‘Big Concessions’ Putin, Zelensky Were Ready to Make Before West Killed Talks

Ex-Israeli PM Reveals ‘Big Concessions’ Putin, Zelensky Were Ready to Make Before West Killed Talks

From late February to mid-March of 2022, Russian and Ukrainian officials met five times to try to reach a ceasefire deal. A draft agreement was reportedly agreed, but Kiev inexplicably broke off talks. Israel’s former prime minister has offered new insights into what may have happened.

2023-02-05T17:11+0000

2023-02-05T17:11+0000

2023-02-05T17:29+0000

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The United States and its German and French allies halted efforts to put an end to the Russia-Ukraine crisis through a negotiated settlement in the spring of 2022, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has revealed.“The conflict breaks out and I’m instantly between a rock and a hard place,” Bennett recalled in a broad-ranging five-hour interview with Israeli media that aired Saturday. “On the one hand, the Americans clearly expect…that we all rally for Ukraine. On the other hand, I have two opposing interests,” the politician added, pointing to Israeli military operations against alleged ‘Iranian presence’ in Syria and the need to stay on at least neutral if not good terms with Moscow, plus concerns over the security of Jews in both Russia and Ukraine.Taking a “third” position of agreeing to mediate, Bennett said the “trust” he had established with Russian President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Sochi in 2021 “was a rare commodity,” and that Washington didn’t know then and still doesn’t know now how to communicate effectively with Moscow. “I don’t think there was anyone else who had the trust of both sides, maybe [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan,” Bennett said.‘Different Narratives’“Two very different narratives” quickly emerged around the Ukraine crisis, according to the former Israeli prime minister.“[Putin] had one narrative and perception, [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky and the West have another. The West sees Putin as an imperialist who wants to take over more places…and that if we don’t stop him in Ukraine he’ll go on to Poland and the Baltics. Putin’s perception, as early as that meeting in Sochi, and even more so [in talks in March 2022], was that when the [Berlin] Wall came down we reached an agreement with NATO that they wouldn’t expand NATO and would not touch the countries enveloping Russia. You know, the Americans, on a side note, have a centuries old doctrine called the Monroe Doctrine, whereby hegemony over the Western Hemisphere, North and South America, belongs to the USA. As early as 200 years ago, they didn’t want France and Britain there. ‘Don’t come here.’ And to a degree that’s Putin’s perception, ‘don’t come here, this is my backyard,’” Bennett said.“So I called the Americans, [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken, [President Joe] Biden and [Jake] Sullivan, the national security advisor, and I said ‘I have Putin’s ear, I can be a pipeline.’ …Zelensky called me and asked me to contact Putin. I have the protocol. He was in distress. Keep in mind, he knew that his days were numbered, that he would be killed. It wasn’t hard to kill him. The Russians had demands, one was denazification, meaning replacement of the leader, and I assume the world understood that this means killing him. There was disarmament – emptying Ukraine out of weapons and army,” Bennett continued.Recalling his conversation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who expressed concerns over Germany’s energy security, Bennett said he had conveyed to the German leader that Putin was interested in a ceasefire.“So I start talks back and forth, Putin-Zelensky, Zelensky-Putin… Drafts are exchanged, not only through us, directly as well. They’re in Belarus in a city called Gomel. There are two negotiation teams – Russian and Ukrainian, that the world looked down on, but I considered it a good thing that they were talking and exchanging,” Bennett said.“Everything I did was fully coordinated with Biden, with [French President Emmanuel] Macron, with [then-British Prime Minister] Boris Johnson, with Scholz, and obviously with Zelensky. I had a debate about [whether peace was possible] with the Americans, I think there was a chance. They said there was no chance,” the former prime minister recalled.‘Big Concessions’ From Both Sides“When I met with Putin, he made two big concessions that are obvious now,” Bennett said, referring to his March 5, 2022 trip to Moscow for face-to-face talks with the Russian president. “3-4 hours into the meeting, I asked ‘are you going to kill Zelensky?’ He said ‘I won’t kill Zelensky.’ After the meeting, in the car from the Kremlin to the airport, I contacted Zelensky by WhatsApp or Telegram to say, ‘I came out of a meeting, he’s not going to kill you’. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked. ‘100%, he won’t kill you.’ Two hours later Zelensky went to his office and filmed himself there on his phone,” recording his now well-known “I’m not afraid” selfie video.Ukraine’s president also “made a big concession,” according to Bennett. “Zelensky relinquished joining NATO. He said, ‘I’m renouncing that.’ These are huge steps on each side. Huge concessions. The conflict broke out because of the demand to join NATO. And Zelensky said ‘I’m renouncing that.’”Outstanding issues were related to territorial questions, including the fate of Donbass, Crimea, the corridor of land between them, plus Kiev’s demands for security guarantees, with the Russian side rejecting the idea of Western countries providing Kiev with security, according to Bennett, because Moscow saw them as “no different than NATO.” Giving the issue “a lot of thought,” Bennett proposed an “Israel model” alternative to Zelensky.“I asked ‘America will give you guarantees? It will commit, that, in seven years, if Russia violates something, it will send soldiers, after leaving Afghanistan and all that?’ I said, ‘Volodymyr, it won’t happen, you won’t get guarantees, why are you negotiating?’” Bennett recalled. Israel, he said, “doesn’t have guarantees” about its security. “No one will come to save us. What we do have is a strong, independent army that can protect itself. So let’s forget about these guarantees and discuss the parameters for building military forces – what kind of weapons, planes, how many officers, soldiers are needed. Because Russia doesn’t want Ukraine. So this was a cognitive breakthrough that they both accepted,” Bennett said.Characterizing Putin as a “very smart, very sharp,” and “very pragmatic” interlocutor based on their conversations, Bennett said he felt the Russian president “totally understood Zelensky’s political constraints. And Zelensky was very pragmatic too.”“I was under the impression that both sides very much wanted a ceasefire,” Bennett reiterated.Bennett said he approached his role as mediator by studying Russian and Ukrainian history, consulting with former leaders, as well as Russian experts, “The Donbass and the history, what happened in 2014, in 2009, what happened all those years, because you can’t come in the middle of the story,” he said, alluding to the 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, and the February 2014 Euromaidan coup in Kiev – which sparked the Donbass crisis in the spring of that year.US, Allies Step In to Stop PeaceAfter speaking to Putin on March 5, Bennett traveled to Germany. “Because Germany is the player – Germany and France are the major players in Europe. And in order to procure an agreement, everyone has to do something…We sat with [Scholz’s] national security advisor… […] From there I think that together, we updated the Americans and Macron, and Boris Johnson.”“Boris Johnson adopted the aggressive line. Macron and Scholz were more pragmatic, and Biden was both. And that’s it. Then I return to Israel and a negotiations marathon of drafts began…It went back and forth and then, I’ll say this in the broad sense, I think there was a legitimate decision by the West to keep striking Putin and not – I mean the more aggressive approach,” Bennett said.“I’m just the mediator, but I turn to America in this regard, I don’t do as I please. Anything I did was coordinated down to the last detail with the US, Germany and France,” the politician added. “So basically they blocked it?” his interviewer asked.“Basically, yes. They blocked it and I thought they were wrong [at the time]. In retrospect, it’s too soon to know the advantages and disadvantages. The downside of the conflict going on is the casualties in Ukraine and Russia, it’s a very harsh blow to Ukraine, the country. There will have to be a huge restoration of infrastructure, like the Marshall Plan; the negative impact on the export of wheat and food to the Middle East, although that was partially taken care of; the rise in energy costs, which puts heavy pressure on the democracies. If there’s hunger in Africa we’ll see immigration to Europe, which will threaten Europe. On the other hand, and I’m not being cynical, there’s a statement here after very many years, President Biden created an alliance vis-a-vis an aggressor in the general perception, and this reflects on other arenas, such as China, Taiwan, and there are consequences. So it’s too soon to know,” Bennett said.Bucha Breaking PointUltimately, the former Israeli leader said he felt about a 50/50 percent chance of a negotiated peace between Russia and Ukraine being possible until the massacre at Bucha – the Kiev suburb where Ukrainian forces carried out a “cleansing” operation against Russia-sympathizing civilians after Russian troops withdrew in late March, but then blamed Moscow for the killings. “The Bucha massacre, once that happened, I said, it’s over,” Bennett said.Commenting on the Bennett’s telling remarks on her Telegram page, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman characterized it as “another confession,” in a possible reference to earlier revelations by former Ukrainian, German, and leaders that the February 2015 Minsk agreements designed to lead to a lasting peace in the Donbass were just a sham designed to buy Kiev time to rearm.Bennett’s comments also add weight to reporting from last fall that Russia and Ukraine appeared to be on the brink of a tentative peace agreement in April before Prime Minister Johnson traveled to Kiev to scuttle the talks.

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naftali bennett, israel, ukraine, russia, talks, peace talks, negotiations, united states, france, germany

17:11 GMT 05.02.2023 (Updated: 17:29 GMT 05.02.2023)

From late February to mid-March of 2022, Russian and Ukrainian officials met five times to try to reach a ceasefire deal. A draft pact was agreed upon, but Kiev inexplicably broke off talks. Israel’s former prime minister has offered new insights into what may have happened.

The United States and its German and French allies halted efforts to put an end to the Russia-Ukraine crisis through a negotiated settlement in the spring of 2022, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has revealed.

“The conflict breaks out and I’m instantly between a rock and a hard place,” Bennett recalled in a broad-ranging five-hour interview with Israeli media that aired Saturday. “On the one hand, the Americans clearly expect…that we all rally for Ukraine. On the other hand, I have two opposing interests,” the politician added, pointing to Israeli military operations against alleged ‘Iranian presence’ in Syria and the need to stay on at least neutral if not good terms with Moscow, plus concerns over the security of Jews in both Russia and Ukraine.

Taking a “third” position of agreeing to mediate, Bennett said the “trust” he had established with Russian President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Sochi in 2021 “was a rare commodity,” and that Washington didn’t know then and still doesn’t know now how to communicate effectively with Moscow. “I don’t think there was anyone else who had the trust of both sides, maybe [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan,” Bennett said.

‘Different Narratives’

“Two very different narratives” quickly emerged around the Ukraine crisis, according to the former Israeli prime minister.

“[Putin] had one narrative and perception, [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky and the West have another. The West sees Putin as an imperialist who wants to take over more places…and that if we don’t stop him in Ukraine he’ll go on to Poland and the Baltics. Putin’s perception, as early as that meeting in Sochi, and even more so [in talks in March 2022], was that when the [Berlin] Wall came down we reached an agreement with NATO that they wouldn’t expand NATO and would not touch the countries enveloping Russia. You know, the Americans, on a side note, have a centuries old doctrine called the Monroe Doctrine, whereby hegemony over the Western Hemisphere, North and South America, belongs to the USA. As early as 200 years ago, they didn’t want France and Britain there. ‘Don’t come here.’ And to a degree that’s Putin’s perception, ‘don’t come here, this is my backyard,’” Bennett said.

“So I called the Americans, [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken, [President Joe] Biden and [Jake] Sullivan, the national security advisor, and I said ‘I have Putin’s ear, I can be a pipeline.’ …Zelensky called me and asked me to contact Putin. I have the protocol. He was in distress. Keep in mind, he knew that his days were numbered, that he would be killed. It wasn’t hard to kill him. The Russians had demands, one was denazification, meaning replacement of the leader, and I assume the world understood that this means killing him. There was disarmament – emptying Ukraine out of weapons and army,” Bennett continued.

Recalling his conversation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who expressed concerns over Germany’s energy security, Bennett said he had conveyed to the German leader that Putin was interested in a ceasefire.

“So I start talks back and forth, Putin-Zelensky, Zelensky-Putin… Drafts are exchanged, not only through us, directly as well. They’re in Belarus in a city called Gomel. There are two negotiation teams – Russian and Ukrainian, that the world looked down on, but I considered it a good thing that they were talking and exchanging,” Bennett said.

“Everything I did was fully coordinated with Biden, with [French President Emmanuel] Macron, with [then-British Prime Minister] Boris Johnson, with Scholz, and obviously with Zelensky. I had a debate about [whether peace was possible] with the Americans, I think there was a chance. They said there was no chance,” the former prime minister recalled.

‘Big Concessions’ From Both Sides

“When I met with Putin, he made two big concessions that are obvious now,” Bennett said, referring to his March 5, 2022 trip to Moscow for face-to-face talks with the Russian president. “3-4 hours into the meeting, I asked ‘are you going to kill Zelensky?’ He said ‘I won’t kill Zelensky.’ After the meeting, in the car from the Kremlin to the airport, I contacted Zelensky by WhatsApp or Telegram to say, ‘I came out of a meeting, he’s not going to kill you’. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked. ‘100%, he won’t kill you.’ Two hours later Zelensky went to his office and filmed himself there on his phone,” recording his now well-known “I’m not afraid” selfie video.

Ukraine’s president also “made a big concession,” according to Bennett. “Zelensky relinquished joining NATO. He said, ‘I’m renouncing that.’ These are huge steps on each side. Huge concessions. The conflict broke out because of the demand to join NATO. And Zelensky said ‘I’m renouncing that.’”

Outstanding issues were related to territorial questions, including the fate of Donbass, Crimea, the corridor of land between them, plus Kiev’s demands for security guarantees, with the Russian side rejecting the idea of Western countries providing Kiev with security, according to Bennett, because Moscow saw them as “no different than NATO.” Giving the issue “a lot of thought,” Bennett proposed an “Israel model” alternative to Zelensky.

“I asked ‘America will give you guarantees? It will commit, that, in seven years, if Russia violates something, it will send soldiers, after leaving Afghanistan and all that?’ I said, ‘Volodymyr, it won’t happen, you won’t get guarantees, why are you negotiating?’” Bennett recalled. Israel, he said, “doesn’t have guarantees” about its security. “No one will come to save us. What we do have is a strong, independent army that can protect itself. So let’s forget about these guarantees and discuss the parameters for building military forces – what kind of weapons, planes, how many officers, soldiers are needed. Because Russia doesn’t want Ukraine. So this was a cognitive breakthrough that they both accepted,” Bennett said.

Characterizing Putin as a “very smart, very sharp,” and “very pragmatic” interlocutor based on their conversations, Bennett said he felt the Russian president “totally understood Zelensky’s political constraints. And Zelensky was very pragmatic too.”

“I was under the impression that both sides very much wanted a ceasefire,” Bennett reiterated.

Bennett said he approached his role as mediator by studying Russian and Ukrainian history, consulting with former leaders, as well as Russian experts, “The Donbass and the history, what happened in 2014, in 2009, what happened all those years, because you can’t come in the middle of the story,” he said, alluding to the 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, and the February 2014 Euromaidan coup in Kiev – which sparked the Donbass crisis in the spring of that year.

US, Allies Step In to Stop Peace

After speaking to Putin on March 5, Bennett traveled to Germany. “Because Germany is the player – Germany and France are the major players in Europe. And in order to procure an agreement, everyone has to do something…We sat with [Scholz’s] national security advisor… […] From there I think that together, we updated the Americans and Macron, and Boris Johnson.”

“Boris Johnson adopted the aggressive line. Macron and Scholz were more pragmatic, and Biden was both. And that’s it. Then I return to Israel and a negotiations marathon of drafts began…It went back and forth and then, I’ll say this in the broad sense, I think there was a legitimate decision by the West to keep striking Putin and not – I mean the more aggressive approach,” Bennett said.

“I’m just the mediator, but I turn to America in this regard, I don’t do as I please. Anything I did was coordinated down to the last detail with the US, Germany and France,” the politician added. “So basically they blocked it?” his interviewer asked.

“Basically, yes. They blocked it and I thought they were wrong [at the time]. In retrospect, it’s too soon to know the advantages and disadvantages. The downside of the conflict going on is the casualties in Ukraine and Russia, it’s a very harsh blow to Ukraine, the country. There will have to be a huge restoration of infrastructure, like the Marshall Plan; the negative impact on the export of wheat and food to the Middle East, although that was partially taken care of; the rise in energy costs, which puts heavy pressure on the democracies. If there’s hunger in Africa we’ll see immigration to Europe, which will threaten Europe. On the other hand, and I’m not being cynical, there’s a statement here after very many years, President Biden created an alliance vis-a-vis an aggressor in the general perception, and this reflects on other arenas, such as China, Taiwan, and there are consequences. So it’s too soon to know,” Bennett said.

Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.02.2023

Bucha Breaking Point

Ultimately, the former Israeli leader said he felt about a 50/50 percent chance of a negotiated peace between Russia and Ukraine being possible until the massacre at Bucha – the Kiev suburb where Ukrainian forces carried out a “cleansing” operation against Russia-sympathizing civilians after Russian troops withdrew in late March, but then blamed Moscow for the killings. “The Bucha massacre, once that happened, I said, it’s over,” Bennett said.

Commenting on the Bennett’s telling remarks on her Telegram page, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman characterized it as “another confession,” in a possible reference to earlier revelations by former Ukrainian, German, and leaders that the February 2015 Minsk agreements designed to lead to a lasting peace in the Donbass were just a sham designed to buy Kiev time to rearm.

Bennett’s comments also add weight to reporting from last fall that Russia and Ukraine appeared to be on the brink of a tentative peace agreement in April before Prime Minister Johnson traveled to Kiev to scuttle the talks.

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