MOSCOW: Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Russia, hoping to burnish his image as an international statesman, despite Moscow s condemnation of the Israeli Prime Minister s pre-election pledge to annex part of the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu is campaigning to maintain his status as Israel s longest-serving prime minister at next Tuesday s general election.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin stopped short of a full endorsement of his visitor s political ambition, saying only that Russia is “not indifferent as to which people come into the Israeli parliament” because it regards Soviet-born Israelis as “compatriots”.
“We hope that these will be responsible politicians who in any case will keep everything that was achieved in bilateral relations in recent times, and will keep developing relations with us,” Putin told Netanyahu during their meeting at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi
“Thanks largely to your efforts our relations have reached a new level in terms of security and military cooperation. We know how important this is given the continuing threat of international terrorism,” added Putin, who announced he had accepted an invitation to visit Israel in January to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp.
Netanyahu is looking to pull votes away from his rival Avigdor Lieberman of the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party who relies heavily on support from Israelis with roots in the former Soviet Union.
Moscow on Wednesday condemned Netanyahu s vow to annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, with the foreign ministry saying it could lead to a “sharp escalation of tensions” and undermine peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.