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After Netanyahu win, Kremlin touts hopes for ‘common approach’

Putin spokesman says too early to discuss meeting between Russian leader and Israeli PM-designate, noting ongoing coalition talks

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with a bouquet of flowers and then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool/AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with a bouquet of flowers and then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool/AFP)

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman struck a hopeful note on relations with Israel, after former premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc won the recent Israeli elections, but said it was too early to talk about a possible bilateral meeting between the two.

“We definitely value constructive relations with our Israeli partners,” Dmitry Peskov said Monday, according to the state-owned TASS news agency.

“It is certainly important for us to see people at the helm of Israel and the government, who share a common approach toward further developing bilateral relations,” he continued.

The comments appeared to signal that Moscow may be willing to put aside its spat with Jerusalem over its support for Ukraine, which has less to a significant deterioration in ties between the countries.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his predecessor Naftali Bennett had sought to walk a tightrope between Moscow and Kyiv, showing support for Ukraine while also making sure that Israel did not take any actions that threatened security coordination with Russia in Syria or the welfare of Jews in Russia.

Though a scathing critic of the outgoing coalition, Netanyahu praised its “prudent” approach toward Ukraine during an interview last month, highlighting Israel’s absorption of refugees and other humanitarian initiatives while refraining from supplying weapons.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov speaks to journalists in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2021. (AP Photo)

During his recent 12-year stint as prime minister, Netanyahu developed a warm personal relationship with Putin, while much of Europe and the US increasingly saw him as a threat, and boasted of his close ties with Putin in past election campaigns.

Nonetheless, Peskov said the time was not yet ripe to talk about a possible meeting.

“It is still too early. The process of forming the coalition will require time and will not be easy,” said Peskov,

In recent weeks, Jerusalem has seemed to warm to the idea of supplying defensive equipment as Iran supplies the Kremlin with attack drones, and Netanyahu told USA Today last month that he would consider supplying arms to Ukraine if he won the November 1 vote.

Netanyahu also said at the time he hopes Putin is “having second thoughts” about his expansionist efforts, while revealing that he was asked to mediate between Russia and Ukraine after the war broke out.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that Russia warned Israel that it would respond if Jerusalem passes along air-defense systems directly or through a third party to Ukraine. The report did not specify what action Moscow might take.

The report followed remarks made by former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev last month, who warned Israel against sending weaponry to Ukraine, saying it would “destroy all diplomatic relations” between Jerusalem and Moscow.

Also last month, former chief rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmidt called on Russian Jews to flee the country, after the deputy head of Russia’s security council called the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement a cult. The head of the council later apologized for the remarks, which were made in article calling for the “desatanization” of Ukraine.

“An attack by the Russian government against Chabad, as well as the attacks against the Jewish Agency for Israel, are antisemitic acts against all of us,” said Goldschmidt, who fled Russia earlier this year after working in the country for decades.

Goldschmidt was referring to an ongoing legal battle that Russian authorities launched against the Jewish Agency, a group that encourages Jewish immigration to Israel and also organizes Jewish cultural and educational activities in Russia.

“We reiterate our call to all of our brothers and sisters still remaining in Russia and able to leave the country to do so,” said Goldschmidt, who also serves as the president of the Conference of European Rabbis.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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