Netanyahu congratulates Putin, refrains from criticizing Russian elections
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Netanyahu congratulates Putin, refrains from criticizing Russian elections

PM hails ‘personal dialogue’ with re-elected leader, as Europe largely denounces process and inclusion of Crimea in vote

File: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of their meeting in Sochi on August 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky)
File: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of their meeting in Sochi on August 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated newly re-elected Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, hailing the two leaders’ “trust and understanding,” but refraining from criticizing the election process, as many in Europe have done.

“Mr. President, please accept my sincere congratulations for your victory in yesterday’s elections,” Netanyahu wrote in a letter sent to Putin, his office said.

“I deeply appreciate the personal dialogue between us, and I look forward to continuing to closely work together, in the spirit of the trust and understanding between us, to promote the vital interests of our countries,” he added.

Netanyahu and Putin have met regularly since Russia became heavily involved in the Syrian civil war, and Israel has been wary of bumping up against the Kremlin in its bid to keep Iran and proxy Hezbollah from gaining a foothold near the Israeli border.

Israel’s skittishness about butting heads with Russia was recently on display in a statement condemning a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in the UK, which did not refer to Russia.

Iran and Syria were both quick to congratulate Putin after his victory.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged to boost ties.

“I am sure that during your new term, relations between our two countries will develop further,” he said.

Iran and Russia have strengthened ties in recent years, both giving major military and financial backing to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“The Russian people’s exceptional trust in you is a natural outcome of your outstanding national performance,” Assad told his close ally in a congratulatory cable.

Earlier, China was the first world power to react to Putin’s re-election, vowing to push ties to a “higher level,” but Germany questioned the fairness of the vote and warned that Moscow would remain “difficult.”

Just a day after Xi Jinping was unanimously re-appointed president, the Chinese leader said Beijing was willing to work with Moscow.

“Currently, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership is at the best level in history, which sets an example for building a new type of international relations,” Xi said in a message to Putin, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

“China is willing to work with Russia to keep promoting China-Russia relations to a higher level.”

China’s President Xi Jinping swears under oath after being elected for a second term during the fifth plenary session of the first session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Greg Baker)

However, the European Union said “violations and shortcomings” in the election flouted international standards, pointing to one-sided media coverage and curbs on political freedoms.

“We expect Russia to address the violations and shortcomings,” an EU statement said.

‘Challenges’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Putin, but the message will also raise “challenges” in their relations, her spokesman said.

Berlin and Moscow have “differences in opinion” on issues ranging from Russian politics to the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

“Nevertheless, the continuous contact with Russia’s leadership is very important to us.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas takes the oath of office after the new government was appointed after German Chancellor Angela Merkel was elected for a fourth term as chancellor in the German parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, March 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was more critical, saying: “We certainly cannot talk in all respects about a fair political contest as we know it.”

It was “unacceptable” that the election also took place in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine four years ago in breach of international law, Maas said.

“In this respect, we assume that Russia will remain a difficult partner.”

Poland also took up the Crimea theme with the foreign ministry saying the vote on the peninsula was “illegal” and urged respect for Ukrainian territorial integrity.

In a phone call with Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron wished him “success for the political, democratic, economic and social modernization” of Russia.

But he also urged Putin to shed light on the “unacceptable” double-agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban led the applause from some friendly former Soviet-bloc states with a letter of congratulations.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said he looked forward to working with Putin.

The pro-Russian Czech Republic President Milos went further, saying he looked forward to hosting Putin in Prague.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has cultivated cooperation from Putin, especially on Syria, congratulated the Russian leader by telephone, state media said.

They also discussed a three-way summit on Syria, due to be held with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Istanbul on April 4.

‘Denuclearize North Korea’

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated Putin and the two leaders agreed to work together for North Korea’s denuclearization, the Japanese foreign ministry said.

“The two leaders confirmed their close cooperation in realizing North Korea’s denuclearization” before an expected summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it said.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo, on September 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Toru Yamanaka)

Abe and Putin also discussed joint economic activities on disputed islands and “humanitarian measures” for former Japanese islanders.

‘Strategic ties’

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi sent his “warmest congratulations,” according to a statement.

“(Sissi) lauds the strategic relations that the two countries share and their keenness to further enhance them so as to realize the interests of both peoples.”

The presidents of leftist regimes in Venezuela and Bolivia effusively congratulated Putin, both using the same word — “overwhelming” — to describe the victory.

Russia and Venezuela are “brother countries,” as both must “face the frequent maneuver of imperialism” to “impose doctrines of world supremacy,” said President Nicolas Maduro.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Twitter that Putin’s win “guarantees geopolitical equilibrium and world peace before the onslaught of imperialism.”

Saudi Arabia’s new strongman, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father King Salman sent congratulations and wished Putin “constant good health and happiness and his people steady progress and prosperity.”

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