A former Israeli prime minister who briefly served as a mediator at the start of Russia’s war with Ukraine says he got a promise from the Russian president not to kill his Ukrainian counterpart.

Naftali Bennett emerged as an unlikely go-between in the first weeks of the war, becoming one of the few Western leaders to meet with wartime President Vladimir Putin on a snap trip to Moscow last March.

While Bennett’s mediation efforts appear to have done little to end the bloodshed that continues to this day, his comments, in an interview posted online Saturday night, shine a light on behind-the-scenes diplomacy and urgent efforts that they were underway to try to bring the conflict to a quick solution. conclusion in its early days.

In the five-hour interview, which touched on many other topics, Bennett says he asked Putin if he intended to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“I asked ‘what’s up with this? Are you planning to kill Zelenskyy? He said: ‘I will not kill Zelenskyy.’ So I told him: ‘I have to understand that you are giving me your word that you will not kill Zelenskyy.’ He said ‘I’m not going to kill Zelenskyy’.

Bennett said he then called Zelenskyy to tell him about Putin’s promise.

“’Listen, I left a meeting, he’s not going to kill you.’ He asks, ‘are you sure?’ He said ‘100% it won’t kill you’”.

Bennett said that during his mediation, Putin abandoned his promise to seek Ukraine’s disarmament and Zelenskyy vowed not to join NATO.

There was no immediate response from the Kremlin, which previously denied Ukraine’s claims that Russia intended to assassinate Zelenskyy.

A largely inexperienced leader who had served as prime minister for just over six months when the war broke out, Bennett unexpectedly launched into international diplomacy after placing Israel in an awkward middle ground between Russia and Ukraine. Israel views its good ties with the Kremlin as strategic in the face of threats from Iran, but it sides with Western nations and also seeks to show support for Ukraine.

A practicing Jew and little known internationally, he flew to Moscow to meet Putin on the Jewish Sabbath, breaking his religious commitments and placing himself at the forefront of global efforts to stop the war.

But his pacification efforts did not seem to get off the ground and his time in power was short-lived. The Bennett government, an ideologically diverse union that sent current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into brief political exile, collapsed in the summer from infighting. Bennett has moved away from politics and is now a private citizen.