“If I were you, I would think about the lives of my people and take [Putin’s] offer,” Naftali Bennett reportedly told the Ukrainian president in a phone call today. If anyone should be able to sympathize with a small country determined to resist the bloodthirsty irredentists across its border, one would think the prime minister of Israel should.
“A fascist aggressor invaded a sovereign nation and is running a propaganda campaign to ‘denazify,’ and Israel’s PM told the Jewish president ‘yeah you should just give the fascists what they want,'” a Twitter pal sniffed at the news of the call.
The claim that Bennett urged Zelensky to capitulate comes from sources on the Ukrainian side speaking to the Israeli press. Bennett’s office denies it, insisting that he couldn’t have urged Zelensky to accept Russia’s offer since he doesn’t know what Russia’s offer is. But we all know what Russia’s offer is; Putin’s spokesman announced it four days ago. The Kremlin wants Ukraine to relinquish its claims to Crimea and the Donbas and to formally adopt neutrality with respect to Russia, i.e. pledge not to join NATO.
Not just yet, say the Ukrainians.
The source claimed that the phone call was initiated by Bennett. “If I were you, I would think about the lives of my people and take the offer,” Bennett reportedly said.
Zelenksy’s response was short. “I hear you,” he said.
According to the report, Zelenksy and his people did not like the advice.
“Bennett told us to surrender,” said the official. “We have no intention of doing so. We know Putin’s offer is only the beginning.”
Land for peace, Ukrainian style?
Zelensky has been unhappy with Israel’s neutrality on the war since the start. Bennett was thrust into the role of mediator because Israel has good relations with both Russia and Ukraine, each of which has a large Jewish population. European powers hoped he could leverage those relations to bring the two sides together for talks but Zelensky appears to resent that Israel hasn’t supported Ukraine as ardently as most western nations have. “I saw a beautiful picture today. Jews wrapped in Ukrainian flags by the Western Wall in Jerusalem. They prayed and I thank them for it,” he said last week before adding, “I don’t feel the Israeli prime minister has wrapped himself in the Ukrainian flag.”
Specifically, the Ukrainians believe Bennett is using his status as a mediator as an excuse to avoid taking sides by supplying Ukraine with weapons, something figures like Emmanuel Macron have been willing to do despite their own efforts to mediate with Putin. They’ve also grumbled that Bennett isn’t proactively “mediating” so much as he’s just passing messages back and forth between Russia and Ukraine. One important difference between Israel and, say, France, however, is that Israel has Russian forces across its own border in Syria and would be loathe to antagonize Moscow knowing the trouble that could be made. So they’ve tried to walk a fine line diplomatically, declining to endorse the UN Security Council’s resolution condemning Russia’s war on February 25 but then joining the condemnation of the General Assembly on March 2.
The problem with Bennett’s request at this stage of the war is simple, actually: Zelensky and his country aren’t sure yet that they’re going to lose.
— ConflictsWorldwide (@ConflictsWW) March 11, 2022
They’re probably going to lose, and even “victory” would involve many more Ukrainian deaths. But there’s a scenario out there in which Russia’s army just can’t keep functioning in the field for much longer due to meager funding, poor tactics and training, and shocking logistical snafus. The fact that Moscow is already hunting for foreign reinforcements when we’re all of two weeks into this augurs poorly for Russia’s staying power:
In late February, [the Russian-backed mercenary] Wagner group appeared to be gunning for a surge in hiring in an attempt to bring in more mercenaries to help Russian forces invade Ukraine, Vera Mironova, a Russian-American academic and visiting Research Fellow at Harvard University, told The Daily Beast.
The mad dash to recruit for Wagner is just the latest sign Russia is reaching a point of desperation, lacking the manpower it needs to run its invasion in Ukraine, Mironova said.
“That’s how in a predicament their resources are,” Mironova, who is on the ground in Kyiv, told The Daily Beast. “It means that Russia is running out of troops to fight. They are basically getting everybody they can get possibly.”
Given the state of play, it’s understandable that Zelensky wants to hold out a bit longer and give western sanctions a chance to bleed Russia’s military dry. And simply on a human level, it’s far more rewarding to be the national hero leading the people in a glorious resistance than the politician who has to sign away some measure of Ukrainian sovereignty in the interest of peace. Michael Brendan Dougherty compares Zelensky’s predicament to that of the Irish nationalist Michael Collins, who grudgingly supported a treaty with the British and ultimately paid for it with his life: “Like Collins, Zelensky will move very quickly from being the man who stood up to Vladimir Putin to the man who negotiated with him — who signed what was presented to him, or faced being responsible for yet more ‘immediate and terrible war.’”
The time for earnest negotiation is coming. But not just yet.
Some chilling A-level messaging here by Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/XEss2DeMiR
— Howard Altman (@haltman) March 11, 2022