Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to problems between Russia and Israel at the start of his first meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Sochi on Friday.
“There are a lot of problematic topics, but there are also points of contact and opportunities for cooperation, especially in relation to fighting terror,” Putin said.
The Russian president’s remarks come as his government has been pushing Iran to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, and amid hitches in the Israel-Russia deconfliction mechanism in Syria.
Bennett said that he and Putin will discuss “the situation in Syria and the efforts to stop Iran’s military nuclear program,” in addition to economic, technological, scientific and cultural cooperation.
“Israel has a million ambassadors, a million Russian-speaking Israelis, who are a great contribution to Israel’s culture, as well as the mentality they bring here of hard work, power, strength,” Bennett said.
Bennett said his meeting with Putin is “based on the deep connection between the two nations. We see you as a real friend of the Jewish people.
Putin said that he hopes, “despite the political problems in Israel,” that Jerusalem will continue its approach to Moscow.
“We had good business relations with the previous government, and we are happy to host the prime minister of Israel here in Russia,” he stated.
The Israeli prime minister referred to the Red Army’s role in defeating Nazi Germany, an important matter for Putin, and Israel’s efforts to commemorate that history, such as the memorial in Jerusalem for those who perished in the siege of Leningrad, which Putin dedicated last year.
“As a student of history, one must appreciate the courage in those difficult years for the entire Russian nation,” Bennett stated.
Israel and Russia mark 30 years of diplomatic relations this year. The countries established full ties after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Bennett was in Sochi, a Black Sea resort town where Putin has a home, at the Russian president’s invitation.
The prime minister had considered authorizing tourists who had received the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine against COVID-19 to enter Israel, over the objections of the Health Ministry, as a gesture to Putin.
The visit also comes amid friction in the deconfliction mechanism between Israel and Russia in Syria, where the Russian Army maintains a presence.
Israel attacks Iranian targets in Syria in order to stop Iran and its proxies from establishing bases on Israel’s northern border or transferring weapons to Hezbollah.
In August, the Russian military in Syria said its air-defense systems had shot down 22 of 24 missiles launched by Israel into Syria. Two weeks later, a Russian-made missile launched from Syria landed in central Israel.