Two Russia experts fear Putin played Bennett by inviting him to Moscow


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Two Russia experts fear Putin played Bennett by inviting him to Moscow
Analysts say Russian leader may have used Israeli PM to buy time for regrouping, and to win legitimacy from world leaders
By Carrie Keller-Lynn
8 March 2022

Israel, a regional power but hardly a global one, is very unlikely to be the negotiating force that derails Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decades-long lust for Ukraine’s land, two Russia experts told The Times of Israel. Rather, they believe Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Shabbat shuttle to Moscow is more likely to have served Putin’s goals than Israel’s. “The idea that Israel is going to be the linchpin in Putin’s decision-making and somehow come to an arrangement between Russia and Ukraine, or Russia and the West, is self-delusion,” said Uriel Epshtein, executive director of Renew Democracy Initiative, an organization founded by Garry Kasparov that has long pushed for democratic reform in Russia. “There is no place, none,” for Israel to help end the conflict, Epshtein added.

Since Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s February 25 request to Bennett that he open a diplomatic channel with Moscow, Bennett has spoken numerous times with Zelensky and Putin. On Saturday he visited Putin and later German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to debrief, and has maintained coordination with France and the United States — all in the service of opening a space for dialogue between Moscow and Kyiv. Since the Saturday meetings, Bennett has spoken again with Putin by phone. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with the Ukrainian diplomacy efforts among the issues under discussion.