The leading candidate for the Ukrainian presidency, former Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko, visited Israel over the weekend and met with President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Poroshenko told Lieberman he expected Israel to clearly declare support for maintaining the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which Israel has refrained from doing since the beginning of the crisis.
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Poroshenko arrived in Israel secretly last Thursday for a very low-profile, private visit of a few days. He did not make his arrival public, and both the President’s Office and the Israeli Foreign Ministry kept quiet about the visit. It was not until after his return to Ukraine on Monday night that Poroshenko reported on his visit.
Poroshenko met separately on Friday with Peres and Lieberman in Jerusalem, discussing both the Ukrainian presidential elections, scheduled for May 25, and the crisis with Russia.
“During a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Petro Poroshenko expressed hope that the Israeli side will give clear signals in support of the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Poroshenko’s office said in a statement. In his meetings with Peres and Lieberman, Poroshenko asked Israel to help the Ukrainian security forces in their war against terror.
Since the start of the crisis between Russia and Ukraine, Israel has maintained its neutrality. Jerusalem did not join the United States and the European Union in expressing support for Ukraine, and did not condemn the Russian invasion. The fact that Israel is “sitting on the fence,” along with the fact that Israel’s United Nations representatives did not report for the vote in the General Assembly on the crisis in Ukraine, aroused a great deal of anger in the White House. Senior U.S. officials expressed astonishment at Israel’s conduct and said that they were “surprised” at its abstention from the vote at the UN.
The issue also occupied most of the meeting between Lieberman and U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice at the White House about two weeks ago. Lieberman explained to Rice that Israel was staying neutral out of fear of a Russian reaction that would harm Israel’s security interests regarding Syria’s chemical weapons or Iran’s nuclear program.
Lieberman’s office confirmed that he had met with Pororshenko but declined to give details, saying the meeting was private. Lieberman said on Tuesday morning, in an interview with Voice of Russia Radio, that both Russia and Ukraine are friends of Israel and that Jerusalem is willing to help the two states to “normalize” their relations.
“The sooner they [restore good relations between them], the better,” Lieberman said, adding. “It is one of the top priorities for Israel’s foreign policy now to help Russia and Ukraine to reestablish good relations.”
Poroshenko met with Lieberman on several occasions times when the former was Ukraine’s foreign minister. They became friends, in part over a shared love of tennis. In addition to running for president, Poroshenko is chairman of the Ukrainian parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee.
A poll published on April 10 gave Poroshenko the lead in the campaign, with 38 percent support. A subsequent poll raised his support to 42 percent support. In an interview last week with the Israeli Russian-language website news.ru.co.il, Lieberman said he has a good relationship with Poroshenko but doesn’t support him or any other candidate in the Ukrainian presidential election.
In addition to his political activity, Poroshenko is a major Ukrainian oligarch. He is head of the Roshen group, which owns one of the largest chocolate factories in the country. He also owns automobile spare-parts factories, shipyards, a defense manufacturer and a television channel. He is considered one of Ukraine’s main anti-Russian politicians, and his election platform is based on continuing to foster closer ties with the European Union. Due to his anti-Russian views, the Kremlin imposed sanctions on his businesses several years ago, and banned the import into Russia of chocolates from his factories.