Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday expressed hope that bilateral relations with Israel would stay on track, as Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three probes, pending a hearing.
Putin told journalists in Moscow that Netanyahu was personally overseeing the “consistent progress” in diplomatic relations between the two countries.
“We hope that despite internal political events, the pre-election situation, no matter how it unfolds, continuity will be preserved in the development of Russian-Israeli relations,” Putin said, according to a statement from the Russian embassy in Israel.
“As for the development of our bilateral relations, there has been quite consistent progress. We must acknowledge the Israeli leadership’s efforts: Prime Minister Netanyahu is working on this personally,” he said.
Putin’s remarks came a day after he met Netanyahu in Moscow to discuss military cooperation in Syria, where Israel is waging an airstrike campaign against Iranian military targets.
Relations between Israel and Russia have strained since September, when Syria’s air defense systems shot down a Russian plane by mistake during an Israeli airstrike on an Iranian military installation.
The resultant deaths of 15 Russian troops caused serious tensions between Israel and Russia. Netanyahu and Putin have spoken several times since the incident, and had a brief encounter in Paris in November.
Prior to his Moscow visit, Netanyahu said he and Putin would focus on Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and discuss how to coordinate and avoid military clashes on Syrian territory.
Netanyahu rushed back to Israel after Wednesday’s meetings to prepare for Mandelblit’s indictment announcement.
Meanwhile, Mandelblit has said he intended to charge the premier pending a hearing, where Netanyahu would be given a chance to defend himself before charges are filed.
The announcement comes ahead of April 9 elections in which Netanyahu is facing a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance headed by a respected former IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz.
Speaking in a televised statement a couple of hours after the attorney general’s announcement, Netanyahu called the corruption allegations a “witch hunt” meant to topple him.
Netanyahu, who rejects all the charges against him, opened his remarks by thanking Putin and US President Donald Trump for backing his strong leadership style.
“This special connection with the leaders of the world powers isn’t something to be taken for granted,” he said. “I’ve built it up for years, and it helps me ensure our security and future and defend our country.”
Agencies contributed to this report.