Moscow nixes minister's visit over alleged espionage

Russian paper: Warnings were issued over suspected conduct of IDF military attaché as far back as November 2009.

May 23, 2011 10:13
2 minute read.
Deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai.

311_Matan Vilnai. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)


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A senior Russian government minister, scheduled to visit Israel next week for high-level defense talks, cancelled his trip on Monday as tension continued to escalate over the deportation earlier this month of Israel’s military attaché to Moscow.

On Monday morning, the Defense Ministry announced that Homeland Security Minister Matan Vilna’i would host his Russian counterpart, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, and sign an agreement aimed at increasing Israeli-Russian cooperation in emergency situations during a ceremony at the Knesset next Monday.

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By evening, however, Vilnai’s office issued a statement saying Shoigu had cancelled his visit, citing scheduling difficulties. The morning statement had been issued in conjunction with the Russians.

Defense officials said it was possible that Shoigu decided to cancel the trip due the strain in Israeli-Russian relations over the deportation a week-and-a-half ago of Israel’s military attaché to Moscow, Col. Vadim Leiderman.

On Friday, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said Liederman had been arrested and deported after he tried to obtain classified details regarding Russian arms sales to Arab countries.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry told AFP that Leiderman had been “caught red-handed” while trying to obtain secret information on May 12 during a meeting with a source at a Moscow restaurant.

Israel has rejected the accusations. Officials said the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) questioned Leiderman at length upon his return to Israel 10 days ago and concluded that the accusations were baseless.

During Shoigu’s planned visit, Vilna’i was supposed to take him on a helicopter tour of the country. The Russian minister was also to have visited the IDF Home Front Command’s headquarters and various defense industries.

Meanwhile, the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported on Monday that Israel had received three warnings from the Russian government regarding Leiderman’s conduct.

In November 2009, the Russian Foreign Ministry sent the first of three notes to the Israeli Embassy, pointing to what it claimed were violations of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, according to the newspaper.

The second warning was issued to the embassy in April 2010. The final warning, according to the paper, was issued this past December.

Following the third warning, the embassy reportedly sent a conciliatory response: ‘All actions by the military attaché at the embassy, V. Liederman, will be performed with strict observance of the provisions of the Vienna Convention....”

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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