Two days ago the Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed that newly elected Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (this is his third non-consecutive term) will make an official 24-hour visit to Israel on June 25. His stop in Israel will be followed by meetings in the West Bank with the Palestinian Authority and in Jordan with King Abdullah.
This will be Putin’s second visit to the Jewish state as the leader of Russia; he last visited in 2005. According to the report, he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres, among other senior officials. The Russian Prime Minister will also attend the unveiling ceremony of a memorial constructed in Netanya in honor of Red Army soldiers killed during World War II.
There are differing opinions on the purpose of the pending visit, or the message that Putin is trying to send. Some believe it could be a public relations move geared toward the West, but it is not likely to move many. Putin is blatantly suppressing his own people, openly providing support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and has made warnings of the dire consequences of a Western attack on Iran’s controversial nuclear program; all likely topics to be discussed between the Russian leader and Israeli officials.
Upon the announcement of Putin’s intention to visit in June, the Forward ran an editorial calling for Israel to cancel Putin’s visit on the grounds of his support for Assad:
“But even if the West is still moving too slow, Russia has only made matters exponentially worse. It has obstructed even the most symbolic attempts in the United Nations to condemn Basher al-Assad’s regime. And Putin’s continued support for Assad — not just with diplomatic backup, but with weapons as well, including attack helicopters — has only made the Syrian dictator that much more intransigent… Israel should not associate itself with a leader like Putin, who worries only about perpetuating his own power.”
Commentary Magazine senior political editor Jonathan Tobin refuted those sentiments when he said in an article, “[Putin’s] visit is more than just a diplomatic exercise as it sends a powerful message about Israel’s legitimacy to hostile Middle East nations that still look to Russia for support.” In the same article he also drew attention to how the visit reflects on US President Barack Obama, who has yet to travel to Israel during his first term. Speaking about Israeli resentment toward the US President, Tobin stated:
“Much of this hostility might be ameliorated by a state visit where he could publicly show his respect for Israeli sensibilities and support for its security. But though Jewish Democrats have called for such a trip and Republicans have feared that it would lessen their chances of an increased Jewish vote in November, it hasn’t happened.
“Those Democrats who have attempted to claim that Obama is Israel’s best friend ever in the White House — a claim that has been met with hilarity by many American Jews and incredulity by Israelis — the fact that Putin is going to Israel this summer while Obama still avoids it makes this argument even less credible.”
While Putin might support causes that go against Israel and the West’s interests and morals, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently described Israeli-Russian relations as “very positive.”
Rob Lattin is Jspace News' Foreign Affairs Correspondent. In addition to covering foreign affairs for Jspace, Rob is a blogger on Israeli and Middle Eastern foreign policy for the Foreign Policy Association, as well as a freelance writer. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.