MESOP MIDEAST WATCH: Russian envoy-Our talks with Israelis don’t focus on Ukraine tensions

Anatoly Viktorov decries ‘hysterical’ speculations around expected Russian invasion; blames US and Europe for arming Kyiv and stoking tensionsBy LAZAR BERMAN 28 January 2022,  ISRAEL HAYOM

With tensions in Europe continuing to rise, Russia’s ambassador to Israel told the Times of Israel on Wednesday that conversations with Israeli officials have not focused on Ukraine.

“We prefer to focus on the bilateral and regional agenda as well as other issues, which can contribute to the further development of Russian–Israeli friendly relations for the benefit of the peoples of our countries,” said Anatoly Viktorov. “Rest assured we have a lot to discuss.”

Israel’s close relations with Russia and Vladimir Putin are often seen as linked to the two countries’ close military coordination in Syria, in particular when the Israel Defense Forces is alleged to carry out strikes on sites within Syria, where hundreds of Russian troops are deployed.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a warm relationship with Putin, which seems to have continued with the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid government. Still, Israel is in somewhat of an awkward spot as the US, its closest ally, prepares for the possibility of war in Ukraine.

Viktorov emphasized that Western speculation around an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine is needlessly creating tensions.

“We see the purpose of this hysterical campaign in creating an information cover for preparing potential large-scale provocations, which could inevitably lead to the most tragic consequences for regional and global security,” he warned, indicating that Kyiv was determined to “totally sabotage” the Minsk Agreements designed to bring fighting in eastern Ukraine to an end.