Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Monday in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his country would open a high-tech and investment center in Jerusalem.
Israel had pushed for Zelensky to announce moving the Ukranian embassy to Jerusalem, but welcomed the president's move nonetheless and said it would open a similar high-tech center in Kiev.
Netanyahu and Zelensky signed bilateral agreements in the field of education, culture and sports valid until 2022. They also signed a memorandum of understanding on agricultural cooperation between the two countries.
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Zelensky touted Israel as one of Ukraine's key trading partners in the Middle East, with trade exceeding 1 billion dollars. "This amount will increase significantly due to the signing of the free trade agreement between Ukraine and Israel, which, I hope, Israel will soon ratify," Zelensky said in comments tweeted by his spokeswoman, Iuliia Mendel.
Referring to the conflict with Russian-supported separatist groups in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky said his country has "a lot to learn from Israel, especially in security and defense," according to an official statement.
Defense issues were first on the agenda for Zelensky's talks with Netanyahu, his office said. Earlier on Monday, Zelensky welcomed Netanyahu at the presidential palace in Kiev, and the two leaders held a private meeting.
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In his statement, Netanyahu stressed the importance of the Jewish community in Ukraine, the fourth largest in Europe, and the role played by Ukranian Jews in the founding the Zionist movement and revival of the Hebrew languageץ Zelensky himself is Jewish, and prior to his landslide victory in April, was a comedian best known for playing the role of the Ukranian president in a TV series.
Before leaving to Kiev, Netanyahu said that "We have hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens from Ukraine who constitute a living bridge between the two countries, and the link between us is tightening. The president and I will discuss the establishment of a free trade zone and a pensions agreement, as well as a series of other issues that will further strengthen the excellent connection between the two countries."
Some Israeli political sources have claimed that Netanyahu's trip, which comes a month before Israel's September 17 election, is part of the premier's efforts to garner support among Russian-speaking voters, many of whom tend to back Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu. Sources close to the prime minister deny this claim.
Later on Monday, the two leaders are slated to visit the memorial site for the Babi Yar massacre, where the Nazis murdered over 33,000 Jews during World War II in 1941, and attend an extended meeting with Israel's Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.
Elkin had come to Ukraine a few days earlier and met with several senior officials, including Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman.
Netanyahu is also expected to visit India a week before the election. A week after the election, he will attend the United Nations General Assembly's annual meeting.
Last April, five days before the previous election, Netanyahu visited Russia and attended a Kremlin ceremony for Israeli soldier Staff Sgt. Zachary Baumel, who went missing in the Sultan Yaaqub battle in 1982 and whose remains were returned to Israel with Russia’s help 37 years later.