With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu busy cobbling together the merger between Bayit Yehudi and the Otzma Yehudit Party, a scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday – one Netanyahu himself characterized on Sunday as “very important” – was postponed at the last minute.
“The meeting planned for tomorrow between the prime minister and Putin has been delayed by a few days, as agreed upon between both sides,” a diplomatic official said Wednesday morning. “The two will hold a telephone conversation tomorrow and a new date for the meeting will be set soon.”
The postponement came just a day after the Kremlin announced that the meeting would take place to discuss the situation in the Mideast. Netanyahu was scheduled to leave Wednesday evening.
No reason for the postponement was given, though it led to speculation that it had to do with the political situation in Israel and Thursday’s deadline for party mergers.
The postponement of the Putin meeting comes less than two weeks after Netanyahu canceled another high-profile trip at the last minute – this time to India.
According to diplomatic officials, Netanyahu asked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a meeting during a phone conversation in late January, made while Modi was meeting with visiting National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat.
The officials said that Modi agreed to the meeting, though he made it clear that he would be unable to accompany Netanyahu to any other events during the visit, as he did when the prime minister visited India in January 2018.
Plans were made for a meeting to be held on February 11 in New Delhi, the officials said. Two days beforehand, however, Netanyahu’s office informed the Indians that he would have to postpone. With Modi now also engaged in an election campaign, it was made clear to Netanyahu that there would not be another opportunity before the April 9 elections for the visit.
No reason for the postponement was given to India, although it was also assumed to have been connected to the election campaign.
Netanyahu’s planned meeting with Putin in Moscow on Thursday would have been the first meeting since the two leaders met briefly on the sidelines of a ceremony in Paris in November marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.
Ties between the two countries were strained in September when Syria downed a Russian spy plane after an Israeli air attack, and Moscow blamed Israel for being indirectly responsible.
Netanyahu spoke of the planned meeting at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
“On Thursday, I will meet in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin,” he said. “I will discuss with him the continued strengthening of the coordination mechanism in order to prevent friction between the IDF and the Russian military. These talks are very important and are part of our continuing effort to ensure freedom of action for the State of Israel against Iran and its proxies, which declare their intention of using Syria as a front in their war to destroy Israel.”