“The meeting was warm and positive and dealt with a range of issues of importance to both nations,” a statement from Bennett’s office said after the two leaders met at the Black Sea resort. for their first face-to-face interviews since Bennett. took office earlier this year.
The statement said the official meeting at Putin’s residence lasted about five hours, after which the two leaders “came out to speak on the balcony of the residence, then walked the alleys of the field towards the sea.”
There was no immediate comment on the talks on the Russian side.
Bennett had originally planned to return to Israel three hours after the 10 a.m. meeting, but with lengthy discussions Bennett and his entourage were forced to stay in Sochi until Saturday evening to avoid traveling on Shabbat.
The statement seemed to try to emphasize that the two were developing a personal bond. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long argued that only his close personal ties to Putin kept Israeli-Russian relations close, and a Russian official previously said it would take time for the Russian leader to establish the same connection with Bennett.
Bennett subsequently called the discussions “excellent” and said they were “extremely thorough”.
“Russia is a very important player in our region, a kind of neighbor for us in the north,” Bennett said, referring to Russia’s strong military presence in Syria.
“As such, our relationship with Russia is strategic, but also almost daily, and we have to keep this discourse direct and intimate,” Bennett wrote in a Facebook post. “With Sochi beach in the background, Putin and I talked about a wide range of issues, from his special relationship with the Jewish people to ways of fighting Islamic fundamentalism. “
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shake hands during their meeting in Sochi, Russia on Friday, October 22, 2021 (Evgeny Biyatov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who accompanied Bennett to act as translator and advisor, said the two had had “extensive” discussions about Iran’s nuclear program and a “very broad” conversation about maintaining a coordination mechanism regarding Syria, which Israel sees as a key part of its air campaign against Iranian-backed forces that transfer weapons or attempt to gain a foothold in the country.
“It was decided to keep in place the policy vis-à-vis Russia (concerning air strikes) on Syrian territory,” he said in a statement.
Elkin said the couple also discussed setting up a task force to work on allowing Russian tourists into Israel. On Thursday, Israel announced that vaccinated tourists would be allowed to enter Israel from November 1, but only those with vaccines approved by the World Health Organization or the United States Food and Drug Administration, which does not ‘does not include Russian Sputnik V firing.
Elkin claimed the FDA was close to approving the shot, although it’s not clear whether U.S. regulators have even started to consider doing so. WHO’s approval of the vaccine was put on hold earlier this month due to concerns about its manufacturing process, but the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which promotes the vaccine abroad, said on Wednesday that WHO had resumed its evaluation of the vaccine.
A native Russian speaker who had also been a regular at Putin-Netanyahu meetings before breaking up with the former prime minister, Elkin described the meeting as “one of the warmest and most intimate of this decade,” and said that the two had also discussed “personal matters”. . “
At the start of the meeting in Sochi, Putin told Bennett that the couple had “many problematic issues” to discuss, but also many “points of contact and opportunities for cooperation, especially in the fight against terrorism.”
The Russian president also told Bennett – who became prime minister in June, ousting Netanyahu after 12 years – that he hopes and expects Israeli-Russian relations to continue smoothly.
“I really hope that despite the internal political battles, which are inevitable in every country, your government will pursue a policy of continuity in Russian-Israeli relations,” Putin said, stressing his close ties with the previous Israeli government.
In his own comments ahead of the meeting, Bennett said the talks between the nations “will be based on the deep bond between the two countries. We consider you to be a true friend of the Jewish people.
Some one million Russian speakers live in Israel, with Putin calling the country a Russian outpost in the past.
Bennett told Putin he expects “to discuss a whole host of current issues, to strengthen ties between countries in the economic, technological, scientific and cultural fields.”
The prime minister also briefed the Russian president on efforts to build a museum in Israel commemorating Jewish soldiers who fought in various armies during World War II, including the Russian Red Army.
Bennett left Israel for Russia at 5 a.m. Friday morning, landed about three hours later, and was due to return to Israel at 1 p.m., leaving plenty of time before Shabbat begins at sundown. Elkin said the meeting was only to last two hours.
Although Bennett is the country’s first Orthodox prime minister, social conventions and the sensitivities of religious personnel have generally prevented even secular leaders from traveling in public on Shabbat. This is the second time that Bennett has spent an unforeseen Shabbat abroad. In August, a meeting with US President Joe Biden was postponed as the president faced a deadly explosion in Afghanistan, forcing the prime minister to mark the day of rest in Washington.
He was accompanied by national security adviser Eyal Hulata, diplomatic adviser Shimrit Meir and military secretary to the prime minister, Major General Avi Gil, as well as Elkin.
“The ties between Russia and Israel are an important part of the foreign policy of the State of Israel because of both Russia’s special status in the region and its international role, and the million Russian speakers in Israel , which form a bridge between the two countries, ”Bennett said on the tarmac before leaving on Friday morning. “In general, Israel’s foreign policy and international status are strengthening considerably. There is considerable energy and the management is very good.
Putin and Bennett spoke two weeks ago when Bennett congratulated Putin on his 69th birthday.
“The two will discuss a range of diplomatic, security and economic issues involving the two countries, as well as important regional issues, primarily Iran’s nuclear program,” the prime minister’s office said when announcing the visit. several days ago. His spokesperson said the trip was made at Putin’s invitation.
Netanyahu boasted of having close ties with Putin, which he said created space for Israel to conduct a multi-year air campaign against Iranian-backed fighters in Syria. This campaign continued under Bennett, although recent reports have pointed to tensions in Israeli-Russian relations over the policy towards Syria.
According to a report released earlier this week, Netanyahu promised Putin that he would “return soon” to power after his ouster in June. Netanyahu, who has repeatedly tried to delegitimize Bennett and his new government, has long argued that only his personal connections with Putin prevent Israel from facing Russia in Syria, where their two armies operate.
Russia is also a member of the P5 + 1 group of countries that negotiated the Iran nuclear deal, talks about returning the United States to the dying pact may be expected to resume shortly, officials say.
Israel lobbied against resuming the deal and lobbied for a concerted international effort to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose political base is largely Russian-speaking from the former Soviet Union, said on Thursday that a military clash with Iran was “only a matter of time.” .
Bennett’s visit follows a trip by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to Moscow last month, where he met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The Walla news site later reported that during this meeting, Lavrov called on Israel to push the United States to agree to hold trilateral talks on the ongoing conflict in Syria.
Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes inside Syria during the country’s civil war, targeting what it says are suspected arms deliveries destined for the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, which fighting alongside Syrian government forces. Israel rarely recognizes or discusses such operations.