Will Putin release Issachar when he visits Israel in January? – analysis

Yaffa Issachar is using every resource at her disposal to secure her daughter’s release. So far, all efforts, including those by high-ranking Israeli politicians, have failed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (photo credit: REUTERS/MAXIM SHEMETOV)
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Other than playing guessing games about whether efforts to form a government will succeed or whether there will be a third election, the big question for many Israelis is whether Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is due to visit Jerusalem in January, will bring with him Naama Issachar, the American-Israeli woman who could spend up to seven-and-a-half years in a Russian prison because 9.5 grams of cannabis were found in her possession during a routine security check at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport when she was flying home from India via Russia.
Most people agree that even if Issachar made an innocent mistake, she should be punished, but say that her sentence of seven-and-a-half years in prison is far too harsh, especially in light of the fact that several countries have recognized or are in the process of recognizing the medicinal value of cannabis.
Several appeals have been made to Putin to commute her sentence, or simply order her release.
The most recent appeal was made last week by Theophilos III, the charismatic and eloquent Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, in the course of a visit to the Russian capital as a recipient of the Patriarch Alexei II Prize for the Orthodox People’s Union. Theophilos had been invited by the Russian Orthodox Church.
En route to Moscow, Theophilos, accompanied Naama’s mother, Yaffa, who has been on a monthly commute between Tel Aviv and Moscow, ever since her daughter’s incarceration seven months ago.
Yaffa Issachar is using every resource at her disposal to secure her daughter’s release. So far, all efforts, including those by high-ranking Israeli politicians, have failed. Thus Yaffa turned to the Greek Orthodox Church, which she knows has some sway in Russia.
Although Theophilos, who is a multi-lingual avid reader of newspapers, was no stranger to the case, Yaffa described it to him in detail including the intolerable conditions under which Naama is being held.
Moved by Naama’s plight, Theophilos promised to do his utmost to help her.
He was accompanied to his meeting with Putin by Kirill, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Noting that Putin celebrated his 67th birthday last month, Theophilos wished him a happy birthday. The Russian leader thanked Theophilos for the care that he provides for Russian pilgrims to the Holy Land, and said that he was well aware of the hardships faced by Christians in the Middle East, “the cradle of the Christian faith.” Putin emphasized the need for unity in all endeavors to protect the interests of Christian communities throughout the Middle East.
At the meeting, Putin referred to his visit to Israel in the new year to attend the International Holocaust Remembrance Forum and the unveiling of a monument to the victims of Nazism in the Soviet Union during WWII, specifically the Siege of Leningrad.
There are other Russian monuments in Israel, one of which is located in the grounds of the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Putin declared his belief that cooperation with Israel is essential, and expressed his satisfaction with the good cooperation achieved with the Israeli leadership as well as with the Jewish community of Russia, whose representatives, he said, serve as a bridge in Russia’s relations with Israel.
According to Hebrew media reports, Theophilos presented Putin with a letter from Yaffa Issachar pleading for her daughter’s well-being and asked Putin to pardon her daughter.
Putin holds the trump card in this matter, and is unlikely to announce his final decision until moments before his plane lands in Israel in January, unless of course he is persuaded earlier by his good friend and Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar.
But if Putin continues to play his cards close to his chest, he will wait until his plane is in Israeli air space before announcing whether he has answered the prayers of Naama’s family and friends.
To bring her home would be a political coup in the face of all the negative publicity that Russia has received. It would show that one person can make difference by demonstrating the humane side of his character.