Netanyahu heads to Moscow for fourth Putin parley in a year

PM and Russian president to discuss security cooperation in Syria, mark 25 years since establishment of bilateral ties

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) hold a joint press conference after their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, November 20, 2013. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) hold a joint press conference after their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, November 20, 2013. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is heading to Moscow on Monday for a two-day trip during which he will hold his fourth meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in less than a year. The two leaders on Wednesday are expected to discuss Moscow’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and its reported delivery of advanced Russian weaponry to Iran.

In addition, Netanyahu is marking some 25 years of Israeli-Russian diplomatic relations, which were reestablished in January 1992, after the Soviet Union severed them in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War.

During their meeting, the two leaders will continue their ongoing discussion over security coordination between the Russian and the Israeli armies, especially their so-called deconflicting mechanism installed to assure the Israel Defense Forces does not strike Russian jets operating in Syrian airspace.

“They will also discuss various regional issues including the global fight against terrorism, the situation in and around Syria and the diplomatic horizon between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as bilateral economic and trade cooperation and the strengthening of cultural and humanitarian ties,” the Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday in a statement.

During Netanyahu’s visit, Jerusalem and Moscow will also sign a bilateral pensions agreement, which seeks to “correct a historic injustice regarding emigres from the former USSR up to 1992 who lost their eligibility for a Russian pension,” the PMO said.

The agreement, which will only take effect after Russian authorities ratify it, will be signed by outgoing Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Russian Labor and Social Protection Minister Maxim Topilin. Payments to Soviet-born Israelis are expected to commence next year.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara — who routinely accompanies the prime minister on his foreign trips — will also visit the armored corps museum in Moscow, which is host to an Israeli Magach-3 tank captured during the Battle of Sultan Yacoub of the 1982 First Lebanon War. Last month, Israel announced that Putin had agreed to return the tank to Israel.

Wednesday’s meeting in the Kremlin is the fourth time in recent months the two leaders are meeting. Netanyahu visited the Russian capital in September 2015 and in April 2016. In addition, the two briefly got together last November on the sidelines of the Paris climate conference. In comparison, in the same time frame, Netanyahu has only met twice with US President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu told Putin — during their last powwow in April — about Israel’s “clear red lines” for purposes of self-defense. “First,” he said, “we are working to the best of our ability to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Second, we are working to prevent the establishment of an additional terror front against us on the Golan Heights. These are red lines and we will continue to maintain them.”

During this week’s trip, Netanyahu will also meet with several local Jewish leaders, including Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar; the chief rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt; and Russian Jewish Congress president Yuri Kanner.

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who will also accompany Netanyahu to Moscow, is scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding with his Russian counterpart, Alexander Tkachev, on cooperation in agriculture, the dairy industry and advanced dairy technology.

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