Wrapping up a two-day visit to Russia, President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for talks aimed at strengthening bilateral trade and economic relations between the two countries.
In light of US and EU sanctions levied on Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine last year, Medvedev said, Moscow was “open” to increasing its imports from Israel.
“I see in the near future a real opportunity to increase trade. Recently, we have encountered export restrictions to Europe, Turkey has left our market and we are open to more exports from Israel,” he said at a joint press conference, according to a statement from Rivlin’s office.
Both leaders came out in support of ongoing bilateral talks seeking to establish an Israel-Russia free trade agreement, the statement said.
Medvedev called for increased cooperation with Israel in the fields of agriculture, hi-tech, space exploration, energy, and medical technology.
In his remarks, Rivlin said Israel’s sizable Russian minority forged an “unbreakable” bond between the two countries, and praised progress made in Jerusalem-Moscow negotiations regarding the pensions of Russians who immigrated to Israel before 1992.
Rivlin noted talks between the two governments were in their final stages and was optimistic a final agreement would be in place by January 2017.
Earlier on Thursday, Rivlin met with leaders of local Jewish and Christian communities, and visited the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, dedicated to the history of Soviet-era Jewry.
In an address to Jewish leaders, Rivlin said it was “a huge loss” that most Jews in Russia are disconnected from their Jewish identity.
“Out of concern for the future of the Jewish people, we must think how to expand the circle of Jews who identify with Judaism,” he said. “I am pleased that there are Jews who immigrate to Israel and strengthened the State of Israel, and yet I respect and admire those who choose to live here, and sustain Jewish life here.”
Rivlin went on to meet with the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, to whom he expressed concern for the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
“We are proud that Israel has been a safe home for the community, and Christian pilgrims,” he told Patriarch Kirill. “We understand the importance of the rights and the freedoms of the religious communities and the Christian community of the Holy Land.”
“We want to see the Christian community flourish and be part of the Israeli experience,” Rivlin added.
The president arrived in Moscow Tuesday evening ahead of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the implications of Russia’s sudden military disengagement from the Syrian civil war.
During a Wednesday meeting with Putin, Rivlin warned of Iranian gains in Syria and the two discussed the continued coordination between Jerusalem and Moscow regarding military activities in Israel’s war-ravaged northern neighbor.