President Vladimir Putin called Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday to invite him to visit St. Petersburg, Bennett’s office said, noting that the PM accepted the invitation and said he would be pleased to make another visit to Russia.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin called Prime Minister Naftali Bennett today, on October 23, 2021. The Russian president invited the prime minister and his wife to visit St. Petersburg. The Prime minister accepted the invitation and said he would be delighted to pay another visit to Russia,” Bennett’s office said in a statement.
Putin and Bennett held their first talks on Friday in Sochi. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the meeting, which lasted more than five and a half hours, was “constructive and open.” After the talks, Bennett stayed in Russia until Saturday evening, although he had been originally scheduled to fly back to Israel on Friday.
The prime minister’s office said that in Saturday’s phone call, “Putin inquired about Bennett’s weekend in Sochi and thanked him for yesterday’s warm and comprehensive meeting.”
“The prime minister thanked the president for his hospitality and for the warm and fruitful meeting, which will help forge ties between the countries,” Bennett’s office added.
Following are Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s remarks at the start of the meeting:
Thank you for the warm welcome.
Relations with Russia, the 30th anniversary of which we are currently celebrating, are very special because of the past, the present, and the future.
We remember the past, the wonderful mobilizing of the Russian nation and the Red Army to defeat the Nazis in the Second World War. These were the most decisive days for the world and also for the Jewish nation.
It is our responsibility to instill our gratitude in the next generations, through discourse, through documentation, and through physical commemoration, such as the Victory Monument in the city of Netanya and the monument commemorating the victims of the siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem – two places that you, Mr. President, inaugurated.
On a personal note, as a student of history, it is impossible not to appreciate the heroism of the entire Russian nation during those difficult years.
Right now, we are concluding the project of constructing a large museum in Israel to commemorate the Jewish soldiers who fought in various armies during World War II. But the special and significant contribution was in the Red Army, in which 500,000 Jews fought and 200,000 Jews fell during the war against the Nazis, serving in the Red Army.
The museum will be named after president Chaim Herzog, the father of the current President of Israel, and I will be pleased to discuss this with you.
I expect to discuss with you a whole range of current issues, to strengthen ties between the countries in economic, technological, scientific, and cultural matters. In Israel, we have a million ambassadors, Russian-speaking Israelis who constitute a great contribution to Israeli culture. They bring with them a mentality of hard work and strength. This is a very great contribution to the State of Israel.
I will relate to you a short story from this week. I visited in hospital a wounded soldier of Russian origin. He was severely wounded for the second time this year. I told him ‘I am the Prime Minister of Israel; how can I help you? What do you want?’ He told me: ‘I just want to go back to my unit and fight.’
We will also discuss economic strengthening. As Mr. President said, we can significantly increase trade and we must do so.
We will also discuss the situation in Syria, and of course, our efforts to halt the Iranian military nuclear program.
One last word: All of these relations, this entire discussion, will be based on the deep ties between the two countries, which you have led for the last 20 years.
On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I can say that we see you as a true friend of the Jewish people. Thank you very much.”
Construction and Housing Minister Zeev Elkin is a member of the Prime Minister’s entourage; he participated in the preparatory work for the visit and took part in the meeting between the two leaders.