With the Muslim Brotherhood now in charge in Egypt and Syria in flames, Russian President Vladimir Putin makes his first visit to the volatile region on Monday since becoming president again in May, with a quick two-day journey to Israel and Jordan.
While Putin is scheduled to hold a lengthy meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the 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.
While Israel has said repeatedly that the talks between the world powers and Iran are going nowhere, and only giving Iran more time to move its nuclear program forward, the Russian position is to give the diplomatic process more time.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week on a Russian television network that in order to settle the Iranian issue, “it’s necessary to refrain from constant threats of using force, abandon scenarios aimed against Iran and stop dismissing the talks as failure.”
Regarding Syria, while Israeli leaders have condemned the bloodshed and called for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ouster, Russia is providing him with political and military support.
Despite the differences, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview with The Washington Post last week that he thought the Russians could – “in an honest, frank discussion” – be convinced to cooperate on Syria. “They could have a major role in helping to solve the Syrian issue,” he said.
Also expected on the agenda are Sunday’s dramatic developments in Egypt where the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy was declared the country’s new president, though Russia has little to no influence in Cairo.
Putin, who will be met at the airport in the morning by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, will go directly to Netanya and dedicate – together with Peres – a memorial to the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany. Netanyahu, who was originally scheduled to attend the ceremony, has canceled because of his broken leg and will meet Putin in Jerusalem.
In addition to his close advisers, the prime minister has also invited Liberman, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein and Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin – all native Russian speakers – to an afternoon meeting with Putin.
In addition, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, who met for some 30 minutes in Washington last week with US President Barack Obama, is scheduled to attend, as is the defense minister.
Following that meeting, Putin will meet Peres, who will then host the state dinner.
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.
Putin 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.
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."
Jpost.com staff contributed to this report