Report: Diplomatic Crisis Brewing as Former Ukrainian President Seeks to Visit Israel

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Israel could soon find itself in the midst of a major diplomatic crisis, torn between its obligations under international law and upsetting Russia. The crisis surrounds former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted from office in 2014 and has since been living in exile in Russia. Now, Yanukovych needs medical attention, and according to Yediot Acharonot he is seeking to get it in Israel – which, if he did arrive in Israel, would necessitate a response to an international warrant issued by Ukraine for his arrest and extradition.

Yanukovych was President of Ukraine during that country’s “Euromaidan protests,” in which tens of thousands took to the streets demanding closer ties with Europe and more independence from Russia. Yanukovych took the opposite tact, increasing economic and diplomatic ties with Russia – and setting off major protests, with hundreds of thousands protesting and confronting police. By the time Yanukovych fled Ukraine for Russia, 125 Ukranians were dead.

Since then, Yanukovych has been living in Russia and has not left the country, because he is wanted in Ukraine on corruption and murder charges. In October, he was injured playing tennis in Moscow, and was reportedly examined by an Israeli doctor who was flown in specifically for that purpose. The Yediot Acharonot report said that his attorney has been in touch with Israeli officials for a visa to receive treatment in Israel.

The report was quoted in Ukranian media, leading the country’s chief military prosecutor to declare that if Yanukovych does come to Israel, his country would immediately demand the former president’s extradition. “We have a good working relationship with Israeli justice officials,” the prosecutor was quoted as saying. “We are obligated to demand his extradition.”

That, however, would put Israel into a difficult position, as Russia is said to have made it clear that it does not want Yanukovych extradited – as Moscow has not done itself, the report said. Israeli officials quoted in the report said that Israel had good relations with Moscow and was unlikely to jeopardize them over an issue like this. However, failing to extradite Yanukovych would be a major breach of international treaties on legal issues.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said that it had received no request or application for an entry visa for Yanukovych.