Russian President Vladimir Putin’s whirlwind 24-hour visit in Israel not only included official meetings with top Israeli officials, but also a sing-along in Russian with the bilingual Gesher troupe during a lavish dinner, and a midnight tour of the Old City early Tuesday morning.
Putin arrived in Jerusalem’s Old City at 1:30 am Tuesday, and made his third visit to the Western Wall, a yarmulke on his head, commenting on the deep Jewish connection to the holy site: “You can see how the Jewish past is engraved in the stones of Jerusalem.”
During the course of his visit, Putin spoke with other visitors at the site, asked many questions, and according to Yedioth Ahronoth, chatted at length with an ultra-Orthodox immigrant from the former Soviet Union. The Russian president also received a book in Russian about the Western Wall tunnels, and asked to visit the tunnels himself.
Putin also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during his visit to the Old City, which followed a lavish dinner at President Peres’s residence.
During the festive meal, the bilingual Gesher troupe sang Russian songs that have Israeli adaptations, and encouraged Peres and Putin to sing along. To the surprise of many dinner guests, Putin sang along loudly to the song “Captain,” and appeared to enjoy himself immensely.
Not everybody was impressed by Israel’s feting of the Russian president.
Chess master Garry Kasparov, an opposition activist in Russia and strong adversary of Putin, offered harsh criticism of the warm welcome Israel offered the Russian president, who has consistently vetoed sanctions against Iran, supplied Syria with arms and acted against Israel’s national interests.
“Putin is a dictator, he has erased all the remaining elements of democracy in Russian standing, he supports Ahmadinejad, the leader of Iran, he supports Chavez, and now Bashar Assad, so I can hardly understand the rationale for Mr. Netanyahu and his government to host Mr Putin, who is their enemy by definition, because Israel is a democracy and Putin is a dictator,” Kasparov told Israel’s Channel 10.
The Russian president, on his first visit to the Middle East since his re-election in March, visited Israel on Monday, and traveled to the Palestinian Authority Tuesday. He is also expected to visit Jordan later on Tuesday and Wednesday.
He met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Tuesday morning after touring sites in Bethlehem.
While in Israel, Putin met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
His official meetings were mainly focused on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, and Putin reassured President Shimon Peres on Monday evening that Russia is interested in preserving peace for the Jewish State, although he warned about taking preemptive action against Iran, saying Jerusalem should learn lessons from the US experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.