Putin to meet mother of Israeli backpacker imprisoned in Russia – Kremlin

Russian leader to sit down with Yaffa Issachar amid Israeli officials’ optimism he may announce a pardon for daughter Naama, as he visits Jerusalem for World Holocaust Forum

Yaffa Issachar speaks to Channel 12 news in October 2018 (Channel 12 screenshot)
Yaffa Issachar speaks to Channel 12 news in October 2018 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet the mother of jailed backpacker Naama Issachar while in Israel for the World Holocaust Forum, a senior Kremlin official told the Russian business daily Vedomosti on Wednesday.

Issachar was sentenced by Russia to 7.5 years in prison after 9.5 grams of marijuana were found in her luggage during a layover in a Moscow airport in April.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told Vedomosti that Putin will meet Issachar’s mother Yaffa during his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Putin lands in Israel Thursday to attend the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem.

Speaking with reporters outside the family’s home in Rehovot, Yaffa Issachar said she was hoping to hear “good news” from Putin.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” she said, adding the expressions of support for her daughter have “caused me to cry.”

Separately on Wednesday, Hebrew media reported that Russia has asked Israel to transfer a piece of Russian Orthodox Church property near the Old City of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Kremlin, as a goodwill gesture ahead of Issachar’s release.

Israeli-American Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court on December 19, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)

Russia has been demanding Israel hand over rights to the Alexander Courtyard for over a decade, Hebrew media reported, but Justice Ministry officials along with two senior Likud lawmakers and immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Yuli Edelstein and Ze’ev Elkin, have opposed the measure.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for a conference on Libya at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, January 19, 2020. (Jens Meyer/AP)

On Wednesday, Channel 13 published a document allegedly showing that Israel began the process of transferring the property over to Moscow three weeks ago.

According to Hebrew media reports on Monday, Israeli officials believe the release of Issachar from Russian prison is all but agreed upon, and Jerusalem and Moscow have only to finalize the details of her return home.

Despite the optimism, the officials cited in the reports cautioned that the situation is fluid and no final agreement has been made.

According to Channel 12, the sides are still hashing out the mechanism by which Issachar will be allowed to return to Israel.

One possibility is that Putin would pardon Issachar in the near future and allow her to return to Israel. Another option reportedly under consideration — in order to avoid embarrassing the Russian justice system — is for Issachar to be sent to Israel, ostensibly to continue her prison sentence there, whereupon she would be pardoned in a move quietly agreed upon by both sides.

Issachar, 27, has been held in Russia since April when just under10 grams of cannabis were found in her luggage during a layover in Moscow. She has denied smuggling drugs, noting she had not sought to enter Russia during the layover on her way to Israel from India, and had no access to her luggage during her brief stay in the Russian airport.

Yaffa Issachar speaks to the media at Ben Gurion Airport on January 19, 2020. (Flash90)

She has become a cause celebre in Israel, where many see her jailing as politically motivated.

Putin and Netanyahu are set to discuss the case when Putin visits Israel on Thursday, the Kremlin said earlier Monday according to Russian network TASS.

Netanyahu also met with Issachar’s mother Yaffa, who returned to Israel on Sunday from a months-long vigil she has been keeping in Moscow to support her daughter.

Channel 12 also reported Monday that in recent days a letter from Issachar was brought to Netanyahu — one that she requested would be for the eyes of Netanyahu and his wife only.

On Saturday Channel 12 reported that in exchange for the pardon, Israel has been asked to provide some sort of backing for the Russian narrative surrounding World War II and speculated that Netanyahu would make a remark to that effect in his World Holocaust Forum speech. Russia has recently feuded with Poland as it has accused Warsaw of bearing some of the blame for World War II.

Putin is set to arrive in Israel on Thursday for a one-day visit for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp and will hold private meetings with Netanyahu and Rivlin.

Activists who have pushed for Issachar’s release have been asked in recent days to suspend their vocal campaign for fear of upending the delicate talks with Russia.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on November 24, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

Earlier this month, Yaffa Issachar appealed to Rivlin in an open letter on Facebook, asking him not to host Putin and threatening to physically block the Russian leader’s path to stop him from entering the President’s Residence. The family has since said it was not planning any provocative activities during Putin’s visit to the country — apparently due to their understanding that Naama’s release may be at hand.

On Friday, Netanyahu said that there was a “real willingness” on Putin’s part to help resolve the situation.

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