Russian President Vladimir Putin apologized in a phone call on Thursday to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for inflammatory comments made by the Kremlin’s top envoy earlier this week, the Russian Prime Minister’s office said.
Remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who claimed that Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood,” and the ensuing fallout between Israel and Russia was the worst flare-up between the two countries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The prime minister accepted President Putin’s apology for Lavrov’s comments and thanked him for articulating the president’s view of the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust,” Bennett’s office said.
The Kremlin said Putin spoke with Bennett about “historical memory”, the Holocaust and the situation in Ukraine, without making any apologies.
Bennett also asked Putin to “examine humanitarian options” to evacuate the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. “The request came after Bennett’s conversation with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, yesterday,” Bennett’s office said.
The prime minister’s office said Putin had said Russian forces would allow the evacuation of civilians.
Earlier on Thursday, Putin sent a letter to President Isaac Herzog to “congratulate” him on Israel’s Independence Day.
“I am confident that Russian-Israeli relations based on the principles of friendship and mutual respect will continue to develop in the interests of our peoples and in the interests of strengthening peace and security in the Middle East,” Putin said, according to Herzog’s office.
In their call, Bennett thanked Putin for his Independence Day wishes.
Channel 12 reported that Bennett called Putin, and the Russian president apologized.
Relations between Israel and Russia soured after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that Adolf Hitler had a Jewish heritage, in an attempt to explain Moscow’s attempts to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish.
Israel – along with many Western countries – has harshly criticized Lavrov to comment Sunday, claiming that “Hitler also had Jewish blood” and that “some of the worst anti-Semites are Jews.”
Lavrov made the remarks in an interview with an Italian media outlet while trying to justify Russia’s repeated point that it invaded Ukraine in an attempt to “de-Nazify” a country led by a Jewish president.
Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Monday to discuss comments that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called “unforgivable.”
Then the Russian Foreign Ministry doubled down on the claims on Tuesday in the current situation which accused Lapid of making “anti-historical statements” that “largely explain why the current Israeli government supports the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv.”
Lapid said Tuesday morning that the Russian government should apologize to Jews and Holocaust victims for Lavrov’s comments.
In an interview with public broadcaster Cannes, Lapid said he could not “rule out” the possibility that Lapid’s comments were made in response to Lapid’s comments accusing Russia of war crimes amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Bennett Talk to Zelensky on Wednesday About Lavrov’s comments.
Zelensky said the two leaders discussed “the scandalous and completely unacceptable statements” of Lavrov, according to Reuters.
Bennett has avoided directly criticizing Russia as Israel seeks to preserve its freedom of movement over neighboring Syria, which is dominated by Russian forces.
Jerusalem and Moscow have maintained in recent years the so-called Non-conflict mechanism It works to prevent Israeli and Russian forces from clashing in Syria. Russia is the main player supporting the Syrian government in a grinding civil war, while Israel has been waging a years-long campaign of air strikes targeting pro-Iranian fighters there and blocking the transfer of Iranian-supplied weapons.
Early in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began at the end of February, Israel sought to walk a diplomatic tightrope between Moscow and Kiev, maintaining relations with each of its allies and offering to mediate talks, while providing Ukraine with humanitarian assistance.
But recently, Jerusalem has turned toward Ukraine’s support, denouncing Russia for committing apparent war crimes and sending helmets and flak jackets to Ukraine, reversing a previous policy of not providing military aid.
Reports this week indicated that Israeli officials are set to discuss expanding aid to Ukraine, including supplies of defensive military equipment that Jerusalem has so far withheld.
Moscow has repeatedly sought to justify its invasion of Ukraine by claiming that it is working to counter neo-Nazi forces in the country, something that has been largely rejected by most Western countries.
Also Thursday, Lapid spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Kuliba Lapid congratulated Lapid on Israel’s 74th Independence Day, and Lapid said Israel was a “true friend of Ukraine,” citing humanitarian aid to the war-torn country, and promising to help with post-war reconstruction.
Kuleba thanked Lapid for Israel’s support, including the Israeli field hospital in Ukraine, which closed last week after treating more than 6,000 patients.
AFP contributed to this report.