Putin planning first trip to Israel since 2005

The Russian president — who considers Israel a ‘Russian-speaking country’ — will inaugurate a memorial to the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany

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

Vladimir Putin (right) welcomes Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow last March (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Vladimir Putin (right) welcomes Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow last March (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories later this month, the Foreign Ministry confirmed Tuesday. Officials said Putin’s schedule for the two-day trip has not been finalized but talks will likely focus on Iran’s nuclear program and the ongoing violence in Syria.

Putin — who began his third term as president last month, after having served for four years as prime minister immediately post an eight-year presidential stint — is scheduled to arrive in Israel on June 25, where he will meet his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and other senior officials.

The Russian leader will also attend the unveiling ceremony of a memorial erected in Netanya in honor of Red Army soldiers killed during World War II.

On June 26, Putin will move on to the Palestinian territories and Jordan, where he will meet President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah, respectively. He is also expected to visit the Baptism site of Jesus Christ, in the Hashemite Kingdom.

Then-Russian president Dimitri Medvedev planned a trip to Israel in January 2011, but was forced to cancel because of a strike of Israeli diplomats.

Putin — who already visited France, Germany, Belarus and China since re-taking office on May 7 — last came to Israel in 2005, but he has met with Netanyahu since, including last year in Moscow.

During a 2010 state visit to Moscow, Netanyahu agreed with Putin, who was then prime minister, that there should be a memorial in Israel to commemorate the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany.

“The memorial will express the great appreciation that we feel for the Russian people,” Netanyahu said at the time. “Many Jewish Red Army veterans currently live among us, here in Israel. The memorial on the shores of Netanya will also symbolize their contribution and heroism.”

Last year, Putin called Israel a Russian-speaking state, according to the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. “Israel is, in fact, a special state to us. It is practically a Russian-speaking country,” Putin is quoted as saying in a conversation with the congress’s secretary-general last year. “Israel is one of the few foreign countries that can be called Russian-speaking. It’s obvious that more than half of the population speaks Russian.”

At home, Putin is facing increasing opposition, with thousands of Russians taking to the streets protesting his rule, claiming he is turning the country into a police state and quashing opposition.

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