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Heading To Kyiv, Netanyahu Hails Israel's 'Excellent' Ties With Ukraine

By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service August 18, 2019

KYIV -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to embark on a two-day trip to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, where he is expected to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and visit a Holocaust memorial.

The last Israeli head of government to visit Ukraine was Netanyahu himself more than 20 years ago, in March 1999, Israeli media reported.

Netanyahu and Zelenskiy are scheduled to hold talks at the presidential Mariyinskiy Palace on August 19 before presiding over the signing of bilateral documents.

In a video message, Netanyahu said the discussions will touch upon the "establishment of a free-trade area, the pensions agreement, and a host of other issues that will further strengthen the excellent relationship between the two countries."

Kyiv has agreed in principle to pay pensions to Ukrainian immigrants who settled in Israel after Ukraine became independent in 1991, but the measure has not yet passed in the Ukrainian parliament, according to The Jerusalem Post.

It said that the issue concerns up to 8,000 people living in Israel, where more than 200,000 Ukrainian immigrants have arrived since 1990.

When the two countries signed a free-trade pact in January, Netanyahu hailed "strong" relations between the two countries, saying they are based on "deep historical and cultural roots."

"Ukrainian Jews make up a significant portion of the population of Israel. And Ukraine is home to a large Jewish community," he told then-President Petro Poroshenko.

The free-trade deal, which aims at canceling duties for approximately 80 percent of Israeli industrial goods and 70 percent of Ukrainian industrial products, has been ratified by Ukraine but not by Israel.

Trade turnover between the two countries last year equaled $1.34 billion, consisting mostly of grain, ferrous metals, chemicals, and mineral fuel.

Netanyahu and Zelenskiy are also due to visit the Babyn Yar memorial, where Nazis killed more than 33,000 Jews in 1941. By the end of World War II, some 100,000 people considered "undesirables" or regarded as a threat to German authority, including Soviet prisoners of war, partisans, Ukrainian nationalists, and Roma, were executed at the site.

Netanyahu was one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate Zelenskiy on his election victory in April. During the phone call, the Israeli prime minister expressed hope in "continuing good relations between the countries" and invited him to Israel.

Zelenskiy, who is Jewish, is considered a "staunch supporter" of Israel, according to The Times of Israel.

Citing diplomatic officials, The Jerusalem Post reported that Netanyahu's visit to Kyiv has "diplomatic significance" because Ukraine is "helpful to Israel at the UN and other international forums."

Netanyahu's trip comes less than a month before general elections, leading some political analysts to say he is hoping to gain favor with Israeli voters with Ukrainian roots. Sources close to the prime minister were quoted as denying the allegation.

With reporting by The Times of Israel, Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, and AFP

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/netanyahu- ukraine-visit/30116001.html

Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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