A Member of Knesset visited Russian-annexed Crimea without permission from Kiev, angering Ukrainian officials. Israel’s foreign ministry says it was done without their prior knowledge.
Israeli lawmaker Yaakov Margi of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party is under criminal investigation by the Autonomous Republic of Crimea over his visit last week to the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014. Margi, chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, met on Wednesday with Prime Minister Sergei Aksionov, head of the Russian-established government there, without authorization from Kiev.
Margi’s visit – or, as described by the Prosecutor’s Office, his “Illegal entry” into Crimea – breached Israel’s policy of strict neutrality in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed several bilateral agreements in December, which bolstered the multi-faceted ties between the two nations.
Meanwhile, Russia and Israel are planning to sign a free trade agreement that will allow for the establishment of joint ventures in the high-tech and agriculture sectors, the Russian news agency TASS reported Friday. Both Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and Russian Deputy Agriculture Minister Sergey Levin confirmed that the agreement is expected to be finalized by the end of 2016.
Last month, the government of Ukraine warned Israeli citizens visiting Russian-occupied Crimea and companies that working there without permission from the Ukrainian government that it could impose sanctions on them.
Margi’s visit may also jeopardize annual travel by tens of thousands of Israelis to Uman, where they visit the grave of 18th-century Hasidic leader Rabbi Nachman of Breslov on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Since 2011, when Israel and the Ukraine signed a visa-waiver agreement, the Israelis have been participating in the pilgrimage without any need to obtain visas, but this could change, according to a threat made by Gennady Nadolenko, Ukraine’s ambassador in Tel Aviv.
Israeli foreign ministry officials say Margi’s trip was not coordinated with the government. Had they been aware of it, they would have advised him not to go, they said.