Photo Credit: President of Russia, The Kremlin, Moscow
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, meeting in Moscow in March 2017

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday at the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, with Iranian military bases in Syria the main item on his agenda.

Netanyahu thanked Putin in their joint news conference “for the pensions agreement, which benefits citizens of both countries, and for [Putin’s] personal decision to help [Israel’s] Red Army veterans of World War II.

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“We, and I, never forget the historic role that Russia and the Red Army played in defeating the Nazis. We say that at every opportunity, and it was recently also said in the Knesset,” Netanyahu said. He then began to smooth ruffled feathers over a Holocaust memorial project that is being organized by Poland, and which excluded Russia, who blamed Israel for the diplomatic faux pas.

The prime minister reminded Putin that he was the one who initiated the construction of a monument in Netanya commemorating the Red Army and its involvement in the Second World War, and that it was Putin who personally unveiled it.

He added that Israel “obviously has no objection to including Russia in the Sobibór Memorial Site.” The Russian foreign ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador to Moscow, Gary Koren, this past weekend for clarifications over Poland’s decision to exclude Moscow from the commemoration project for victims of the death camp at Sobibór. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement that “Israel’s position, to allow Russia’s exclusion in the project, borders on historic betrayal.” The statement was most likely approved beforehand by Putin himself.

“A Jewish officer in the Red Army led the heroic uprising, and he is a national hero, for good reason, in Israel and in Russia,” Netanyahu told Putin at the joint news conference, making it clear the commemoration decision was Poland’s, and not Israel’s.

Mossad director Yossi Cohen and National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat both accompanied Netanyahu to the meeting.

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