Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is expected to arrive this morning in Israel, his first visit to the region since being re-elected as president in May.
While Putin is scheduled to hold a lengthy meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this afternoon – a one-on-one discussion followed by a larger meeting with staff and other ministers – the bulk of the visit will be symbolic: the dedication of a monument to the Red Army for its victory over Nazi Germany, a state dinner with President Shimon Peres and a visit to Bethlehem.
The focus of the Netanyahu-Putin talks is expected to be on Iran and Syria, where the two countries have wide differences of opinion.
While Israel has said repeatedly that the talks between the world powers and Iran are going nowhere, and only giving Iran more time to advance its nuclear programme, the Russian position is to give the diplomatic process more time. Last week Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on a Russian television network that in order to settle the Iranian issue, “it’s necessary to refrain from constant threats of using force, abandon scenarios aimed against Iran and stop dismissing the talks as failure.”
Regarding Syria, while Israeli leaders have condemned the bloodshed and called for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ouster, Russia is the Assad regimes closest ally, providing him with political and military support.
In addition to his close advisers, Netanyahu has also invited Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein and Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin – all native Russian speakers – to his afternoon meeting with Putin. In addition, vice premier Shaul Mofaz, who met for some 30 minutes in Washington last week with US President Barack Obama, is scheduled to attend, as is the defence minister Ehud Barak
On Tuesday the Russian president will go to Bethlehem and dedicate a Russian cultural centre, and from there to the Allenby Bridge and Jordan for a meeting with King Abdullah, before flying home.
Some 400 people, flying in on four different planes, will accompany Putin. The massive entourage includes Putin’s staff, a large number of businesspeople and around 60 journalists.