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Russia’s foreign minister cancels trip to Israel, North Africa

Sergei Lavrov backs out of meeting with Bennett and Lapid amid Ukraine tensions and delicate Iran talks; Israeli sources say visit officially postponed

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks to reporters during a news conference during 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at United Nations headquarters, on September 25, 2021. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks to reporters during a news conference during 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at United Nations headquarters, on September 25, 2021. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov canceled on Friday a planned trip to Israel and the region, during which he had been slated to meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog.

Lavrov had been scheduled to meet with the Israeli officials on Sunday and Monday, before meetings with Palestinian, Algerian, and Moroccan leaders, according to Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.

He had been expected to attend the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum in Marrakesh, Morocco as well.

Israeli officials who spoke to The Times of Israel did not know why Lavrov canceled the trip, pointing instead to Russian reports that cited “personal reasons.” They stressed that it was officially postponed, though a new date has yet to be announced.

The cancellation comes as indirect talks between Iran and the United States over the future of the 2015 nuclear deal continue in Vienna. The last round ended on Thursday, and the next round has yet to be announced. Iran’s nuclear program was sure to be a focus of the meetings between Lavrov and Israel’s leaders. Little progress has been seen so far, with Western leaders expressing frustration at Iran’s positions.

It also comes at a time of growing tensions between Russia and the US over Ukraine. Last week, US President Joe Biden said he’d warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow will face severe economic pain if it tries to attack Ukraine, but promised prospective talks to address Russia’s concerns about NATO’s expansion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is shown during his talks with US President Joe Biden via videoconference in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday, December 7, 2021. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Biden said he was “very straightforward” with Putin during their call Tuesday, warning the Russian leader that he will pay a heavy price if he invades Ukraine.

The leader-to-leader conversation — Biden speaking from the White House Situation Room, Putin from his residence in Sochi — was one of the most important of Biden’s presidency and came at a perilous time.

US intelligence officials have determined that Russia has moved 70,000 troops near the Ukraine border and has made preparations for a possible invasion early next year. Moscow has denied any plans to attack Ukraine, rejecting Western concerns as part of a campaign to smear Russia.

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