President Shimon Peres hailed the Russian triumph over the Nazis at a ceremony attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Without the Red Army victory it is unclear if we would be able to meet here as a free people," he said." During the ceremony in Netanya, the two presidents inaugurated a monument commemorating the Red Army's triumph over Nazi Germany. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was originally scheduled to attend the ceremony, has canceled because of his broken leg and will meet Putin in Jerusalem.
"You came at the right time, with the right attitude. Thank you, and welcome to Israel," he said, adding "Spasiba" (thank you) in Russian.
Putin also spoke at the ceremony, thanking Israel for welcoming him and for its honoring of the Red Army.
Putin is scheduled to hold a lengthy meeting with Netanyahu this afternoon – a one-on-one discussion followed by a larger meeting with staff and other ministers – the bulk of the visit will be symbolic: the dedication of a monument to the Red Army for its victory over Nazi Germany, a state dinner with President Shimon Peres and a visit to Bethlehem.
The focus of the Netanyahu- Putin talks is expected to be on Iran and Syria, where the two countries have wide differences of opinion.
Putin, who was met at the airport in the morning by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, was accompanied by some 400 people, flying in on four different planes. The massive entourage includes Putin’s staff, a large number of businesspeople and around 60 journalists.
On Tuesday the Russian president will go to Bethlehem and dedicate a Russian cultural center, and from there to the Allenby Bridge and Jordan for a meeting with King Abdullah, before flying home.
Meretz announced Monday that activists will hold a demonstration outside Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem while he hosts the visiting Russian president. Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On is expected to be among the participants of the demonstration.
Former Meretz MK Mossi Raz, who initiated the protest, stated "Meretz calls on the prime minister not to meet with Putin until he stops providing assistance to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad to kill his own people."
He added: "Russia stands today as the main block preventing the international community from intervening in Syria. Putin, who sells weapons to Assad that are in turn used to massacre civilians, has blood on his hands. Meeting with him is a moral disgrace and a political blunder."
Herb Keinon contributed to this report