Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says he got Russian President Vladamir Putin to promise he wouldn't kill Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky during negotiations in the war's first weeks, The Associated Press reports.
Bennett served as an unlikely intermediary between the two nations and was one of the few leaders from the West to visit Moscow during the war. While those mediations ultimately failed to bring the conflict to a swift end, Bennett's account gives insight into the efforts to quell the invasion.
In a five-hour interview on his YouTube account, he outlined the secret behind-the-scenes negotiations that included Putin's promise. Bennett says he asked Putin if he planned to kill his Ukrainian counterpart.
"I asked, 'what's with this? Are you planning to kill Zelensky?' He said, 'I won't kill Zelensky.' I then said to him, 'I have to understand that you're giving me your word that you won't kill Zelensky.' He said, 'I'm not going to kill Zelensky,'" Bennett said, per AP.
He then called Zelensky to inform him of Putin's vow. "'Listen, I came out of a meeting; he's not going to kill you.' He asks, 'are you sure?' I said,'100% he won't kill you,'" Bennett assured him. Bennett also said he got Putin to drop his pledge to demand Ukraine's disarmament, and Zelensky vowed that Ukraine would not join NATO during the mediation.
In response to Bennett's interview, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed his disbelief that Putin could be taken at his word on Sunday on Twitter.
"Do not be fooled: He is an expert liar. Every time he has promised not to do something, it has been exactly part of his plan," Kuleba said about the Russian president, per AP.