JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Israel on Monday for a 24-hour visit with a 300-person entourage on four planes. At the high point of the visit Putin inaugurated a memorial site to the Red Army, but he also held brief meetings with Israel’s leaders on the standoff with Iran and the uprising in Syria.
In a speech dedicating the Red Army memorial in Netanya, Putin called the Holocaust the “darkest, most shameful chapter in human history” and praised the former Soviet Union for defeating the Nazis.
Noting that Soviet troops were the first to liberate the Nazi death camps, Putin lauded the Red Army’s role in helping to “smash the head of the Nazi monster and allowing all nations to survive.”
Putin thanked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and “all of his Israeli friends” for the establishment of the monument.
At the inauguration Peres praised the Soviet Union’s resistance against Nazi Germany, as well as Putin’s government’s efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Israel owes a deep debt of gratitude to Russia and the Russian army for its decisive role in the liberation of camps and the triumph over Nazi Germany,” Peres said. “Today as well, Israel views Russia as a lighthouse, as a state that plays an important role in the advance of peace in the Middle East, and a state that takes steps to improve the world while battling terrorism.”
After the dedication Putin traveled to Jerusalem for a luncheon meeting with Netanyahu, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz. A brief discussion was expected to take place regarding Israel’s concerns over Iran’s program to develop nuclear weapons and Russia’s support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
At a joint press conference with Netanyahu following the meeting, Putin stated that Israel and Russia would continue consultations aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff with Iran through peaceful means.
The Russian president emphasized that he felt in Israel that he was “among friends.” He stated that the ties between Israel and Russia are ones of “deep friendship, not something that will pass, and that will endure in the future.”
“We held a thorough discussion of the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, and, even in the current situation, I estimate that we will continue to consult and work together, and that these issues will be resolved peacefully for the good of all sides,” Putin added.
Netanyahu spoke of the need to restart peace talks with the Palestinians, and encouraged Putin at his meeting on Tuesday in Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to give Abbas this message: “One of two things can happen. Either President Mahmoud Abbas comes over here, or I go over there. Either way, we must start talking.”
The prime minister reiterated Israel’s position regarding the standoff with Iran, saying Tehran must stop enriching uranium, export any already enriched uranium, and dismantle its underground enrichment plant at Qom. Contrasting Iranian genocidal threats toward Israel and Russia’s relations with the Jewish people, Netanyahu said there “are those who wish to deny the Holocaust, and there are those who erect monuments to honor the actions of the Red Army, which saved Jews in the Holocaust.”
In the evening, Putin was to be given an official reception at Beit Hanassi by President Peres, including an Israel Defense Forces honor guard. Peres is also expected to bring up the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. “The combination of nuclear weapons and a fanatical political leadership poses a genuine threat to the peace of the world as a whole,” Peres stated.
The reception was to be followed by a festive dinner featuring an artistic tribute to Russia including Hebrew versions of Russian songs.
Putin’s entourage is to visit Bethlehem on Tuesday morning and continue on to Jordan for the rest of the day.