Mother of US-Israeli backpacker jailed in Russia predicts Putin pardon

Yaffa Issachar, back from Moscow where she worked to secure release of daughter Naama, calls on supporters to show respect for Russian president when he visits Jerusalem this week

Screen capture from video of Yaffa Issachar, whose daughter Naama was jailed in Russia for tax offenses, seen arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel, January 19, 2020. (Channel 12 news)
Screen capture from video of Yaffa Issachar, whose daughter Naama was jailed in Russia for tax offenses, seen arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel, January 19, 2020. (Channel 12 news)

The mother of Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American woman jailed in Russia on drug charges, touched down in Israel amid growing optimism that Russian President Vladimir Putin could pardon her daughter when he visits Jerusalem later this week.

“I believe [Putin] will pardon her and that he’ll send her home as soon as possible,” Yaffa Issachar told reporters at Ben Gurion Airport. “That is the hope and belief.”

Issachar has been in Russia to be near Naama, 27, who in October was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison after some 10 grams of cannabis were found in her luggage during a stopover in Moscow, en route to Israel from India.

“This is the moment of truth,” Yaffa Issachar said. “This week we’ll know when she is being released.”

Issachar said she hopes that when she returns to Russia it will be to bring her daughter home.

“I left [Russia] in tears because I left her there, and if there are no surprises I’ll go bring her [back],” she said.

Issachar also called on supporters of her efforts to free her daughter to show respect to Putin, rather than to protest him.

“I very much want to honor Putin,” she said.

Israeli Naama Issachar gestures during an appeal hearing in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, December 19, 2019. (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr.)

Putin is set to arrive in Israel on Thursday for a one-day visit, during which he will hold private meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin. The Russian president is coming to participate in an international forum on the Holocaust hosted by Rivlin.

Netanyahu has several times over the past week spoken of his optimism that Putin’s visit would mark a change for the better regarding Issachar. He repeated those hopes in remarks he made Sunday at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

“I also spoke with President Putin regarding Naama Issachar and I hope that on the occasion of the visit, we will also hear good news soon,” Netanyahu said.

Putin is not expected to bring Issachar with him, as some had hoped, but rather to announce a pardon and a release date.

Issachar’s release is likely to come at a price, Channel 12 TV news reported, citing a senior Israeli official who said Saturday that “what Israel is giving doesn’t harm it — but is important to Putin.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for a conference on Libya at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, January 19, 2020. (Jens Meyer/AP)

One possibility could be a statement supporting Moscow’s narrative in an ongoing spat between Russia and Poland on how the two countries’ World War II history, the report said.

Netanyahu could make a statement backing Russia’s stance during the Holocaust forum on Thursday, the report said.

Channel 12 said that the Issachar family has been asked to lie low and refrain from giving press interviews ahead of Putin’s arrival. The request came from senior Israeli officials who are hoping Putin will announce a pardon for Issachar and fear any missteps, the station said.

Russian media over the past week indicated that progress was being made, with Russian government sources telling the Kommersant newspaper that Putin was mulling releasing Issachar as a humanitarian gesture.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on January 19, 2020. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP)

The sources expressed regret that Israel had extradited a Russian hacker to the United States, rather than trading him for Issachar.

Moscow had sought Aleksey Burkov in exchange for Issachar, according to Israeli officials, but Jerusalem in November rejected the demand and sent the hacker to the United States as agreed to face trial on embezzlement charges. Reports in Hebrew-language media have said Israeli officials believe Burkov may be connected to Russian intelligence. Burkov, in an interview with Channel 13, denied any such involvement.

Earlier this month, Israel released two Syrian prisoners in what was seen as a gesture toward Putin.

A Russian court last month rejected an appeal against Issachar’s conviction. Her mother said she would file another appeal with a higher-level court and also turn to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

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