As we all remember in 1997, Russia denounced Israel’s actions against Hezbollah and blamed Israel for deadlock in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Overral diplomatic relations between Russia and Israel were poor.
But since ethnic Jew Vladimir Putin took power in 1999, the Russian relationship with Israel has grown firmly into a strategic alliance. Trade has grown, the two states have signed numerous cultural and technological agreements, and an enormous number of Russian Jews have immigrated to Israel.
In early 2014, Vladimir Putin expressed his wishes to continue support for Israel: “the development of a mutually advantageous and constructive relations with Israel in the political, economic, humanitarian, and other fields will remain the priority of Russia’s foreign policy.”
Israel’s role as an ally to Putin’s Russia that has become important to domestic and foreign politics. A poignant example of this importance came in January 2004 when Russia abstained from a United Nations vote condemning a security barrier Israel had constructed between Israel and the disputed territories.
A similar situation arose with Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea. US, Japan and all major European states condemned that Russia’s move, United States was also urging Jerusalem to do the same, though Israel stayed mysteriously quiet. Israel officials and media instead condemned Ukrainian revolution as a dangerous nazi uprising. Israel was purposefully absent for the 27 March 2014 United Nations vote which officially condemned Russia’s annexation. The absentee decision has become economically beneficial for Israel, as trade between Russia and Israel has increased since the Crimean annexation. When the EU, United States, Australia, Canada, and Norway began sanctions, Moscow banned certain food products from these countries. Israel has taken up this trade gap by largely increasing its exports of fruit to Russia. Additionally, Israel has been approved to begin importing meat and dairy products into Russia. These agreements mean more money for Israel, security for Russia, and a stronger alliance against Western European will.
Overall, Israel’s current pursuit of a steady relationship with Russia may be attributed to three major components. First, Russia has provided first a flood, and then a steady flow of immigrants since opening the borders in the late 1980s. As a small and new country, new, highly skilled citizens are necessary for growth.
Second, Russia provides Israel with oil and, therefore, energy security. In the future, energy and water security will be some of the biggest Israeli existential crises, so this security is imperative.
Third, though Israel fears Russia’s relationship with other Middle Eastern states, Israel hopes their alliance with Moscow may act as a buffer in future conflicts.
The sheer size of the Russian immigration to Israel caused whole Russian towns and villages to appear in Israel. Integration is unnecessary for these migrants, as they can speak Russian and find a community with all the comforts of home without becoming Israeli.
These immigrants also brought their media with them, an additional way in which to stay connected with the Russian network. There are over thirty local and national Russian newspapers and magazines, as well as numerous radio and television channels and films.
Russia has continually assured Israel, that the supplied arms to Syrian government are short-range only, implying Israel is safe from threat. Russian officials argue that keeping Mr Assad in office is good for Israel. His fall would almost certainly result in the rise of Islamic fundamentalists in Syria. As we all know, Israel demanded to apply international sanctions against Iran, due to its nuclear program. Putin's Russia has supported all United Nations Security Council Resolutions which imposed economic sanctions against Iran for failing to stop its uranium enrichment program. We also must remember when the Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu flew secretly to Moscow in a private jet to persuade Putin not to supply Iran with the latest surface to air missiles, Putin sacrificed his Iranian interests for his Israeli ones. The missiles were taken off the flat bed railway trucks destined for Tehran.
Cultural diplomacy with Israel under Putin’s leadership.
When Putin first visited Israel in 2005, the trip was highly publicized and aimed primarily at awareness of both Russian and Israeli people. Putin made symbolic trips to multiple holocaust memorials and met Russian Jews who fought in World War II. He also met with multiple Russian-Jewish émigrés; one of these was his old schoolteacher whom now lives in Israel. Anti-Semitism in Russia has decreased slightly since the 1990s, though only because the number of Jews remaining in Russia is a mere shadow of what it used to be: only 230,000 Jews live in Russia. The cultural sensitivity during his visit, therefore, was used as a platform for Putin to discuss his protection of all Russian Jews, as well as his plans to combat anti-Semitism in Russia. The visit, as seems a trend in Russian politics, was a combination of Russian domestic and international realpolitik. More recently, Israel transferred an area called the Sergei Courtyard, which was previously part of a compound belonging to the Moscow patriarchy, back to Russia. This 2008 move was an act of cultural acceptance and goodwill. Moscow has also established a Jewish museum.
Putin also has a strategic interest in Israel.
Back in 2009 Russia agreed to buy Israeli surveillance drones in a dealpossibly worth as much as $100 million. Russia stepped in as Israel’s defender-in-chief at the UN in October, killing a UNESCO initiative that criticized Israel. In June, on his first trip abroad since returning to office, President Putin went to Jerusalem, where he visited the Western Wall.
In the wake of Putin’s visit, representatives from Gazprom announced they were setting up a subsidiary to help develop Israel’s giant gas reserves. Russia and Israel also share a number of security concerns, including Islamist regimes in the Middle East and beyond, and the rise of Turkey both politically and in the energy geopolitics of the Middle East and Europe.
Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon referred to Putin as a “true friend,” and this claim seems truthful as Ariel Sharon’s family emigrated from Russia and he and Putin often spoke fluent Russian together.
Israel and Russia have cultivated their relationship beyond the political realm. These strategic partnerships cater to each of the state’s strengths, enhancing their bond and increasing their security in the relationship. First, Israel is considered a world superpower in military technology. Moscow has recognized the potential, inquiring into numerous collaborative military deals with Israel. Russia began buying drones from Israel in 2009 and was quite pleased with the result; Moscow ordered an additional thirty-six drones later in the year.
In September 2010, Vladimir Putin and Ehud Barak signed an agreement securing future military development and purchases between the two states. The largest deal, however, came just a month later when Israel Aerospace Industries signed a 400 million USD contract with Russia’s state-owned Oboronprom for the creation of spy drones. The Russian company will utilize Israel intelligence and design to produce the drones in Russia.
Russia has also called Israel a world power in the space and space technology fields. Israel has reduced the size and weight of their satellites and have a singular unique practice: "they launch their satellites westward, against the pull of Earth’s revolution, while all other space programs launch satellites eastward. Russia has sought to capitalize on these innovations, signing a space cooperation agreement in 2011. The agreement is far-reaching, including “areas like astrophysical and planetary research, space biology and medicine, navigational satellites and launching services, and other technology.”
Israel has also shared on Russia’s nuclear technology, including medical breakthroughs and dental imaging. Israel and Russia are also linked through energy cooperation. This part of their alliance is vital; energy security is becoming more and more crucial, and their connection is essential for the Russian energy market and for Israel’s peace of mind. In fact, Russia is Israel’s largest supplier of crude oil. With the increasing problems between the European Union and Russia, the Middle East, especially Israel, has become a more viable market for Russia. As of February 2013, Moscow has also invested in Israeli liquefied natural gas, a future boom in the energy game. The Russians have already advanced loans worth over 3.5 billion USD for excavation of the Tamar and Dalit fields, just offshore of Israel. Russian money has become essential to this Israeli project, and Israel is happy to oblige in the permanent energy partnership. At the beginning of 2014, Russia and Israel began talks about a contract for join renewable energy research as well.
Putin Remarks and Support for Israel
"I am closely tracking what is happening in Israel," Russian President Vladimir Putin remarked in a meeting with a delegation of Chief Rabbis and representatives of the Rabbinical Center of Europe.
The purpose of the meeting, according to the Kremlin, was to discuss joint efforts to prevent the rewriting of history, the fight against neo-Nazism and neo-fascism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
"It is important to discuss the subject of the Holocaust of the World War II era. There are Holocaust survivors among the rabbis, they have their personal, dramatic stories," Rabbi Alexander Boroda, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, told Interfax-Religion.
Boroda was seated across from Putin during the meeting, alongside Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, TelAviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and others.
At one point during the meeting, Rabbi Yosef commented that "hours before I flew here, a rocket landed near my house in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish nation."
"It goes without saying there is great anxiety among my children and grandchildren who were forced to enter bomb shelters, for no fault of their own," he said, adding that it is "hard to describe the emotional damage that is being done to them. All this is just for the crime that they were born to the Jewish nation."
The Chief Rabbi concluded by asking the president to use his power "to bring a stop to the violence. There cannot be a situation where people use religion to slaughter the innocent."
Most of the Israeli population is currently living under the threat of rocket fire. Life between sirens, in and out of bomb shelters, has become the daily reality for millions of Israelis.
Hamas terrorists in Gaza have fired more than 200 rockets at Israel since Operation Protective Edge began on Monday, July 7 – and over 650 rockets since the beginning of 2014.
According a news report, Putin replied by asking Rabbi Yosef to pass along a message to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Russia is a true friend of Israel and of the Prime Minister.
“We have to clearly realize that any attempts to review our country’s contribution to the great victory, and to deny the Holocaust – a shameful page in the world history – isn’t just a cynical and unprincipled lie, but the oblivion of lessons from history which could result in a repeat of the tragedy,” ~ Vladimir Putin.
Quotes about Putin.
"Russia has in Vladimir Putin its “most pro-Jewish leader,” whom he credits with “fighting anti-Semitism more vigorously than any Russian leader before him.” - Russia's chief rabbi, Berel Lazar.
Politicians in today’s Russia “would not risk taking anti-Semitic or a so-called anti-Zionist stand," "Any impartial observer should acknowledge Putin’s big role in this.” - Berl Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia.
"Putin’s pro-Jewish tendencies are part of the reason that anti-Semitic incidents are relatively rare in Russia. In 2013, the Russian Jewish Congress documented only 10 anti-Jewish attacks and acts of vandalism, compared to dozens in France". - Mikhail Chlenov, secretary general of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.
“Putin has facilitated the opening of synagogues and Jewish community centers across Russia, at the Jewish community’s request. This has had a profound effect on Jewish life, especially outside Moscow,” Gorin said. “He instituted annual meetings with Jewish community leaders and attends community events. His friendship with the Jewish community has given it much prestige and set the tone for local leaders.” - Gorin, a Chabad rabbi and chairman of Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center
Zvi Gitelman, a professor of Judaic studies at the University of Michigan who studies the relationship between ethnicity and politics in the former Soviet Union, said “Chabad, with the help of Putin, is now the dominant religious expression of Judaism in a mostly nonreligious population,” Gitelman said.
"Putin is philosemitic and has a warm feeling for Israel, though he is a pragmatist. There are quite a few Jews among his close associates and personal friends." - Yevgeny Satanovsky, member and ex-president of Russian Jewish Congress.
"Medvedev will be wonderful for the Jews, just as Putin was" - Lev Leviev, billionaire tycoon in Israel, Jewish activist and big time Zionist.
"Friendship never hurt anyone. But I have great respect for this person [Putin] and I consider that this is a person sent to our country from God." - Arkadiy Rottenberg, Jewish-Russian multi-billionaire oligarch, personal friend of Putin and his former judo training partner. His nephew now plays for an Israeli team.
"Arkady Rotenberg proves time and time again that if you know the right people the sky is indeed the limit." - Jewish Business News.
"Putin’s pro-Jewish tendencies are part of the reason that anti-Semitic incidents are relatively rare in Russia. In 2013, the Russian Jewish Congress documented only 10 anti-Jewish attacks and acts of vandalism, compared to dozens in France.""Putin is not only not anti-Semitic, he’s philo-Semitic". - Mikhail Chlenov, one of Vice Presidents of World Jewish Congress and secretary general of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.
"The status of Jews in Russia, is often a barometer of how Russia rulership treats its society, Putin has been better for Russian Jews than any in Russian history, and if you want evidence of that, just ask Israel." - Stephen Cohen, professor at Princeton and New York University, CBS News consultant as well as a member of the [American] Council on Foreign Relations.
"Few would dispute that Putin has been friendly to Jewish institutional life in Russia", "Putin is good for Jews" (non-verbatim, but generally implied). - Cnaan Liphshiz and Talia Lavin, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, "Putin’s Jewish embrace: Is it love or politics".