Bennett and Putin
Bennett and PutinKobi Gideon/GPO

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett proposed a Russia-Ukraine summit in Jerusalem to Russian President Vladimir Putin in their meeting last October, Ukrainian and Israeli officials told Barak Ravid of Axios on Wednesday.

Ravid noted Israel is one of the few countries that has good relations with both Kyiv and Moscow and is able to pass messages between them. The Ukrainian side first broached the idea of a summit in Israel with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last spring when Russia was massing troops on the border, but it never gained much traction.

When a senior Ukrainian delegation visited Israel in April last year, the government decided to try to use its close relationship with Israel to promote dialogue with Russia, Ukraine's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, told Ravid.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s closest adviser, Andriy Yermak, asked Netanyahu if he would be prepared to organize a summit between Zelensky and Putin. Netanyahu wasn't very enthusiastic but said he'd consider it if both sides wanted it, according to an Israeli source.

Netanyahu's advisers raised the idea with the Kremlin in April and again in May but didn't get a positive response.

Bennett spoke to both Putin and Zelensky within days of replacing Netanyahu last June, the report noted. Then, in October, President Isaac Herzog visited Kyiv and met with Zelensky, who told him about Netanyahu's mediation efforts and asked if the new Israeli government would resume them, Ukrainian and Israeli officials told Ravid.

Herzog briefed Bennett, who was scheduled to meet Putin two weeks later in Sochi. Bennett called Zelensky the day before traveling, and the Ukrainian president again raised the summit idea and said it could perhaps be at a lower level.

When Bennett raised the idea in Sochi, Putin wasn't at all enthusiastic and harshly criticized Zelensky, according to Ukrainian and Israeli officials briefed on the conversation.

Bennett and Herzog's offices both declined to comment, as did Netanyahu.

Korniychuk told Ravid Ukraine remains willing to attend a summit in Jerusalem but is also prepared to fight.

“Our main lesson is to be Israeli — don’t listen to anybody and be ready to defend ourselves by ourselves. A Russian invasion won’t be a picnic [for the Russians]. 30% of Ukrainians said they are ready to fight if Russia invades. The Russians will have heavy losses," Korniychuk said.