The Independent

Ex-Israeli leader says Putin vowed ‘not to kill Zelensky’


A former Israeli prime minister has claimed that Russian president Vladimir Putin promised he would not kill his Ukrainian counterpar­t Volodymyr Zelensky.

In an interview with journalist Hanoch Daum, self-published on Naftali Bennett’s own YouTube channel, Mr Bennett said: “I knew Zelensky was under threat, in a bunker ... I said to him

[Putin], ‘Do you intend to kill Zelensky?’ He said, ‘I won’t kill Zelensky.’ I then said to him, ‘I have to understand that you’re giving me your word that you won’t kill Zelensky.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to kill Zelensky.’”

In the early days of the war in Ukraine, which started on 24 February last year, Mr Bennett emerged as an intermedia­ry. He was one of the few Western leaders to meet Mr Putin during the war in a brief trip to Moscow in March. While his mediation efforts failed – the first anniversar­y of Russia’s invasion is now approachin­g – his comments shed light on those initial efforts at backroom diplomacy aimed at de-escalating tensions.

Mr Bennett said that he subsequent­ly came out of the interview with Mr Putin and telephoned Mr Zelensky. “‘I’ve just come out of a meeting, he is not going to kill you,’ [I said]. He asked me, ‘Are you sure?’ I said ‘100 per cent. He’s not going to kill you,’” he recounted. “Two hours later, Zelensky went to his office and did a selfie in the office, [in which he said] ‘I’m not afraid’ and everything.”

There has been no response from the Kremlin yet to the former prime minister’s remarks, which are reported in The Times of Israel. Moscow has, however, previously denied Ukraine’s claims that Mr Putin intended to assassinat­e Mr Zelensky.

Israel has positioned itself as an ally of Russia in the face of strategic threats from Iran, but it has also maintained good ties with countries in the West, including the US, and has supported Ukraine since the invasion.

Mr Bennett’s short-lived government, which sent the previous (and now reinstated) prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a brief political exile, collapsed last summer following infighting. Mr Bennett has subsequent­ly moved away from public life.

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 ?? (AP) ?? Na ft ali Bennett mediated between Russia and Ukraine early in the war
(AP) Na ft ali Bennett mediated between Russia and Ukraine early in the war
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