Former Prime Minister of Israel Naftali Bennet, who led the country for the first several months of the Russo-Ukrainian war, has said the United States and its closest Western allies “blocked” his attempts to broker a peace agreement between the two East Slavic nations.
In a wide-ranging, nearly five-hour interview with Israeli journalist Hanoch Daum posted to the former prime minister’s YouTube channel on Saturday, February 4th, Bennet—who played a central role in mediating between the two sides following a request from Zelensky at the war’s outset—said “there was a good chance of reaching a ceasefire” before key Western powers “blocked” his attempts.
Bennet spoke about having traveled to Russia on March 7th, 2022, roughly a week after the war had broken out, to meet President Vladimir Putin, and recounted his attempts to broker a peace deal, which he said he coordinated with the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Around the same time, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators were holding talks in Gomel, a city in Belarus.
He further explained that during his efforts to broker an agreement, both sides agreed to significant concessions. President Putin, Bennet said, made two big concessions: first, he promised not to kill Zelensky, and second, he reversed his position on demanding the disarmament of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Zelensky, for his part, said that he would not seek NATO membership, which the former Israeli prime minister argued was the primary “reason” for Russia’s military incursion.
Bennet, who described the concessions as “huge steps [for] each side,” said his impression was that “both sides very much wanted a ceasefire.” He described both Putin’s and Zelensky’s approaches to the negotiations as “very pragmatic.”
Recounting how key Western leaders responded to his efforts to broker a ceasefire, Bennet stated that then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson “advocated for more radical measures,” while French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were more “pragmatic.” U.S. President Biden, the former Israeli prime minister said, “supported both approaches.”
Bennett argued: “I think there was a legitimate decision by the West to keep striking Putin” and to take a “more aggressive approach … I turn to America in this regard, I don’t do as I please, anything I did was coordinated down to the last detail, with the U.S., Germany, and France,” he continued.
“So they blocked it?” the interviewer asked, to which Bennett responded: “Basically, yes. They blocked it, and I thought they were wrong. In retrospect, it’s too early to know.”
“I have one claim, I claim there was a good chance of reaching a ceasefire, had they not curbed it,” the former Israeli prime minister said.
In an attempt to provide some insight as to why he pushed so hard for peace negotiations—and positioned himself as a neutral mediator between Russia and Ukraine—Bennet explained that while “the Americans expect … that we all rally for Ukraine” to have done so “would not necessarily have been in Israel’s national interests.”
“[M]y focus is on Israel’s interests … My people,” Bennett declared.
As the news portal AntiWar.com reported:
Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine didn’t stop with Bennett’s efforts. Later in March, Russian and Ukrainian officials met in Istanbul, Turkey, and followed up with virtual consultations. According to former U.S. officials speaking to Foreign Affairs, the two sides agreed on the framework for a tentative deal. Russian officials, including Putin, have said publicly that a deal was close following the Istanbul talks.
But the negotiations ultimately failed after more Western pressure. Boris Johnson visited Kyiv in April 2022, urging Zelensky not to negotiate with Russia. According to a report from Ukrainska Pravda, he said even if Ukraine was ready to sign a deal with Russia, Kyiv’s Western backers were not.
Later that month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that some NATO members were seeking to draw out the war in order to further weaken Russia. Speaking to CNN Türk, Cavusoglu explained:
After the talks in Istanbul, we did not think that the war would take this long … But following the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting, I had the impression that there are those within the NATO member states that want the war to continue—let the war continue and Russia gets weaker. They don’t care much about the situation in Ukraine.
In November, Numan Kurtulmuş, the Deputy Chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK), one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s closest allies, accused the United States is working to protract the Russo-Ukraine War for “its own benefit,” as The European Conservative previously reported.