PRINCETON – A Foreign Ministry official said Saturday evening that the Russian posture on Iran is improving, but that differences on the issue between Jerusalem and Moscow remain.

Ahead of an anticipated visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yacov Livne, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Eurasia department, described a “positive evolution in the Russian attitude toward Iran.”

Speaking at the Limmud FSU conference held in Princeton over the weekend, Livne pointed to Russia’s decision not to sell Iran a sophisticated missile defense system as among the steps that Israel has greeted warmly.

He attributed the shift in the Russian position to Moscow’s own desire not to see Tehran acquire nuclear weapons technology and spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. He said the decision not to sell the system was particularly significant given Russia’s growing concerns about being edged out of the international arms sales market.

But he indicated that Israel and Russia were not entirely on the same page about what steps should be taken to halt Iran’s ambitions.

“There is a question of what Russia is prepared to do to prevent this horror situation from happening,” Livne said. “There is a gap, but this gap is getting smaller – not larger – over time.”

He added that when it comes to Russia’s actions on Iran, “It’s true that they have not done as much as we would like them to do. But it’s not only Russia, it’s the international community – [they] should have done much more.”

Livne assessed that Russian policy toward Israel and Iran would not change substantially as a result of the change in Russian leadership, with Putin reassuming the presidency this month after a stint as prime minister.

Putin’s anticipated visit to Israel, expected to coincide with the unveiling of a memorial in Netanya dedicated to Red Army soldiers who helped end the Nazi threat, would be one of his first visits abroad following his inauguration.

Livne was addressing the conference – which focused on exploring Jewish traditions and culture in realms relevant to American Jews of Russian descent – on the relationship between Israel and Russia 20 years after establishing ties.

Livne, who previously served in Moscow and Berlin, said the attitude on the ground toward Israel was also improving in Russia and other FSU countries. He noted that in contrast to Western Europe, there was almost no trace of efforts to delegitimize Israel, and that anti-Israel campaigns were absent in Eastern Europe as well as former Soviet states.

Livne highlighted the explosion in tourism to the Jewish state, noting that upwards of 500,000 Russians visit Israel every year, second only to the approximately 600,000 Americans who visit. On top of that, 200,000 Ukrainians visit annually. He pointed to religious interest, friendships and business ties with the large Russian-speaking Israeli community, and tourism opportunities at the Dead Sea and Eilat as major reasons for the number of visits.

“One can hardly find people in the Russian elite who have not visited Israel,” Livne said.

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