What To Expect From Israeli Prime Minister Visit to Ukraine
Director of the Hennadii Udovenko Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine Serhiy Korsunskyi said that this meeting will help both parties to achieve their goals
For the first time in 20 years, the Israeli Prime Minister will visit Ukraine. Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Kyiv on August 18th and meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He will also attend a remembrance ceremony for all those killed at Babyn Yar during the Second World War.
Now what to expect from this visit? To discuss this we’re joined in the studio today by Serhiy Korsunskyi, he’s the director of the Hennadii Udovenko Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine.
— So, the first question, as we’ve said, they are going to meet on August 19, Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Ukraine one month before the September 17th parliamentary election. Some experts say that Netanyahu also has the potential of helping him politically. What’s your stance on that?
— It’s quite possible. Let’s remember that Benjamin Netanyahu is a very savvy politician, he’s been in politics for more than 20 years. The first time he was elected in 1996 as Prime Minister of Israel, he’s the leader of a major political force Likud, so for him definitely, the current situation is quite uneasy because there are early parliamentary elections. They were not able to form a coalition after the last election, so he is now quite resolved to get back to power.
From this point of view, there are two issues in one package. On one hand, definitely there are like 500 thousand, up to one million, of Jews who, I mean repatriates, they are called aliyah in Israel, from Ukraine, and they normally feel positively toward Ukraine, so for Bibi, it’s quite important to show that he cares about Ukraine. But the not less important issue is the tradition of Orthodox Jews to visit Ukraine quite often and specifically on Rosh Hashanah — on the Jewish New Year because of the Uman story, you know, they go to Uman. Tens of thousands of those Orthodox Jews come to meet the Jewish New Year. And as you probably know, there are problems in airports with crossing the border, they are often stopped by our border guards. Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes they claim it’s unjustified, but reciprocity is that there were problems for the Ukrainian center in Israel, we have the visa-free regime, but often Israel just turns back our citizens in Ben Gurion Airport.
So from this point of view, it’s quite important that we finalize the solution to this problem on both hands, and for Bibi, it’s very important to show to Orthodox Jews that he cares about them, too. And this is not just because of the Jewish religion, but because they are part of the political party — Shas, which is a member of coalition, normally, traditionally, and the Minister of Internal Affairs in Israel, who is a very important person is normally an Orthodox Jew from this party, so that means he would show first — positivity toward Ukraine and second — that he cares about Orthodox Jews visiting Ukraine unabridged, and they would be welcomed and not stopped at the Boryspil Airport.
— So using, in a way, foreign policy to settle with some problems in domestic policy because…
— This is normal. It is what happens all the time.
— But, because let’s face it, Benjamin Netanyahu as the Israeli Prime Minister has a complicated situation, he’s facing a certain accusation of corruption. Do you think that this visit might help him going through accusation and if it might help him consolidate his position in going through this ordeal?
— I’m not sure about corruption, but definitely that would help him to consolidate his position and another message which will be probably floated around this visit is already visible on the headquarters building in Tel Aviv. There are two big posts: one where Netanyahu is shaking hands with President Trump, on the other one he’s doing the same with President Putin. And that is like a show to all the Israel that this Prime Minister is not just a Prime Minister, but somebody who can handle two biggest and most important countries for Israel.
The United States is the traditional supporter, there’s a huge Jewish lobby, but sometimes (Israel and USA) have complicated relations. And with Obama, relations were quite tough. Sometimes there were even scandals when Netanyahu was visiting the United States without even informing the White House and Washington that he is visiting. That was quite surprising events. On the other hand, the position of Russia in the Middle East is extremely important.
— And complex.
— Very complex. And again, if you can remember, how they now handle Syria with Iran, which threatens to destroy Israel, and with Turkey, which is now in quite, I would say, difficult relations with Israel, very tough relations.
So for Bibi, it was absolutely mandatory to have personal connections with Putin, that he would be able to call Putin whatever happens. It doesn’t mean that they are completely on the same tune with Putin, but when it comes to the survival of Israel, and that is exactly the point, they would stop at nothing, they will even shake hands with the Devil. That’s an explanation of why Bibi was on May 9 on the Red Square with Putin, with this sign of victory. That is very important for Bibi, and probably his experience in dealing both with Trump and with Putin will be interesting for us.
— Which brings me to my next question. How was this presence of Netanyahu on the Red Square, how was it perceived in Ukraine?
— If you just take it as a separate fact, definitely it’s disturbing and quite, you know, uneasy for us.
Why? I mean, among all the leaders in the world, a Jewish leader on the Red Square.
But at the same time, if you know what comes after and before that, you would understand that. Again, for Israel, there are no two chances. They always say: “We have only one chance. When we are attacked — we have to win. We don’t have two chances, we don’t have the territory, we don’t have the strategic depth, we are between the sea and the enemy, just a very small Israel.”
This is why they have to be very strong and they act very deliberately if anything happens, so, therefore, they must understand if Syria and Iran put C-200 and C-300 in Syria against the airplanes of Israel army.
How do you handle that? And why it is important is because if they attack Iran, they would attack it with airplanes, so that means that they have to understand exactly the policy of Russia in Syria with both the Assad regime and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and that Shiite militia that are stationed in Syria.
— But, and that’s going to be a bit of a controversial question when Netanyahu comes to Ukraine to meet Volodymyr Zelensky, doesn’t he put at risk his, let’s say, complex situation and relation with Russia?
— I don’t see that absolutely why, I mean, President Zelensky is a new phenomenon and a very interesting phenomenon for everybody. The victory of elections with 73 percent in a democratic country which nobody questioned, that’s a phenomenon itself. So he is from a Jewish family, he’s not hiding his positive attitude towards Judaism, I mean he met with all rabbis, yes, one of the first meetings, nothing bad in that, and he’s very balanced on both the Christian side and the Jewish side.
But anyhow, I don’t see that that could be considered as a kind of negative sign for Putin. Quite opposite, I think they believe that this visit could serve positive purposes, quite sobering for Ukraine to understand how you have to behave, particularly because Bibi Netanyahu made an effort to be friends with Putin, so they in Moscow may hope that this experience will be delivered to Zelensky.
You want peace with Russia — you have to be friends with Putin. Probably this is too much to stretch, a bit risky, and we do not expect that it’s going to happen. But nevertheless, to listen to such an experienced politician like Bibi, that’s worth all the time and effort.
— Now, Volodymyr Zelensky said in May that he considers Israel a role model when it comes to self-defense, and you said yourself this attitude of attacking and winning. Quote: “We must become Icelanders in soccer, Israelis in defending our land, Japanese in technology.” Well, that’s the quote of Volodymyr Zelensky. What’s your stance on that?
— He’s absolutely right. I mean, in Israel, the attitude toward the army and how the army is structured and what kind of incentives exist for those who serve in the army, this is absolutely unique in the world. But that means that in time of need, all the population of Israel is trained to fight, and they will fight. So, therefore, it’s very important to get this experience.
Maybe we do not need that exactly duplicate the model in Ukraine, but how to organize this territorial defense and training of civil people who are just normal people, not in the army, but to train them to fight if it’s necessary is extremely important. And Israel is very savvy in military technologies.
For example, they have been doing an upgrade of MiG airplanes of Soviet production in many countries for many years. We do have those MiG and SU (airplanes). And Israelis can change electronic equipment on those planes and make them very modern, completely different by quality, so probably that could be as well on the table for discussion. To understand Israel you have to get all these small details that make this nation so strong and so important. It’s worth learning, definitely.
— Now and just to conclude this interview and quickly according to you, during this meeting, what will be on the agenda when you talked about defense system, what could potentially be on the agenda, just as a quick overview?
— It could be economy, too, because the free trade agreement just entered into force. Free trade means not just free trade, but investment, we do need investment, and a lot of very rich Jews in Israel and outside Israel, so they can facilitate definitely to discuss issues on how to deal with the United States, what kind of assistance could be provided with a Jewish hand in Washington, that’s very important.
So how I see it, humanitarian issues, defense and security, and trade and investment. Those three pillars are quite enough for both of us to get started. And then, if Bibi Netanyahu is elected and if he is the Prime Minister, there should be a continuation on each side.