Firefighters work to extinguish a fire in Kyiv, March 3, 2022. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky) (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)

Naftali Bennett is first Western leader to meet with Vladimir Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stunned Israelis by paying a surprise visit to Moscow where he spent three hours in talks with Putin.

Bennett is the first Western leader to meet with the diplomatically-isolated Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The two spent three hours in talks, after which Bennett flew to Berlin to update German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in person.

Underscoring the urgency of the visit was that Bennett, who is Sabbath-observant, departed for Moscow on Saturday morning.

The Prime Minister even made it back to Jerusalem in time for Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.

“We will continue to assist as needed,” Bennett said at the cabinet meeting. “Even if the chance is not great — as soon as there is even a small opening, and we have access to all sides and the capability — I see this as our moral obligation to make every effort.”

Israel and the Jewish world are closely watching the unfolding events. There is concern for the fate of thousands of Ukrainian Jews and Israeli nationals still in Ukraine, as well as the war’s unfolding strategic implications.

Here is a synopsis of today’s important Jewish news about the Russia-Ukraine war:

• Moscow cast new uncertainty on the Iranian nuclear talks by insisting the U.S. guarantee in writing that its trade and military cooperation with Iran not be impacted by Western sanctions on Russia. Washington and Tehran rejected Moscow’s linkage, which throws a last-minute monkey wrench into the negotiations.

• Israel’s Health Ministry announced that it will set up a field hospital in Ukraine. Channel 12 News reported that it would be located Ukraine’s western city of Lviv.

Israel also set up an virtual hospital using innovations to telemedicine to treat Ukrainian refugees arriving in Moldova. Doctors working in Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center thousands of mile away provide the diagnoses and treatment with help from staff on the scene.

• Australian rocker Nick Cave, who opposes BDS, refused to cave in to a Turkish fan’s criticism that he hasn’t expressed the same support for Palestinians as he has for Ukrainians. Cave’s reply was posted on The Red Hand Files website and picked up by blogger IsraellyCool.

“There is little I can disagree with in your letter, other than to say that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia is simply not the same thing as the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine; one is a brutal unprovoked attack on one state by another, in the hope of revising the entire security structure of Europe, and the other is a deeply complex clash of two nations that is far from straightforward,” Cave wrote.

Nick Cave

Nick Cave (AP/Markus Schreiber)

• According to Finnish news reports picked up by the Jerusalem Post, Finland is interested in purchasing Israeli air defense systems. In response to growing Finnish interest in joining NATO, Moscow has threatened “serious military and political” consequences.

• Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from post-World War II Nuremburg trials, told The Mirror, a British daily, that Putin and other Russian leaders deserve to be tried for war crimes.

“The crimes now being committed against Ukraine by Russia are a disgrace to human society, those responsible should be held accountable for aggression, crimes against humanity and plain murder. As soon as they start dragging the criminals before a court the happier we will be.”

Although Russia is not a member of the International Criminal Court, Ferencz, who is Jewish, said the trial and imprisonment of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was a precedent.

Karadzic was found guilty of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and is currently serving a life sentence in a British prison.

Benjamin Ferencz

Benjamin Ferencz (Wikimedia Commons)

• A delegation of mental health workers sent by the World Zionist Organisation arrived in Poland to help Ukrainian Jewish refugees needing post-trauma treatment. Besides treating refugees, the delegation will also train Ukrainian caregiver to provide ongoing support.

• The Immigration and Absorption Ministry announced that Ukrainian olim will recognized as immigrants fleeing a war zone, entitling them to additional Israeli support and benefits. More than 40,000 Jews live in Ukraine, and an estimated 200,000 more relatives would qualify to immigrate under Israel’s Law of Return.

• Some 100 Ukrainian Jewish orphans arrived in Israel on Sunday. The children, ages 2-18, traveled more than 400 miles by bus under difficult conditions from northern Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr to Romania before flying to Israel.

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