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In late April, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Middle East area where he met with both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. In Israel, Putin offered good wishes and a warm handshake. However, once in the West Bank area, Putin was generous in his support of the Palestinian people by way of financial assistance and offers of security. This month’s article will take a look at the recent Palestinian-Russian cooperation.

Russia–Israel

There were several items on the agenda when the leaders of Israel and Russia met in April. Unfortunately, most of the items were of a reactive rather than a proactive nature. First and foremost, Israel desired to question Russia on their recent sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. This was followed by the matter of rising anti-Semitism in Russia. To Russia, the most pressing matter was the return of the Russian “oligarchs” who live in Israel, particularly those wanted by Moscow over suspicion of criminal activity, dubious business deals, and large-scale tax evasion.

In late 2004, Russia arrested and detained the billionaire President of Russian oil company, Yukos. It was later reported that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was Jewish as were his deputies at the oil company. Although Khodorkovsky remains detained in a Moscow jail, his deputy along with two other wanted figures fled to Israel, where under Israeli law they were granted citizenship.

As reported by CNN: “The three are a billionaire oil executive, a publishing tycoon and a former Putin ally turned Kremlin critic, who have all taken up residence in Israel in recent years under the Jewish Law of Return as Russia sought their arrests, rankling officials in Moscow.” “They are Israeli citizens and that’s it,” said Asaf Shariv, a spokesman for Sharon. Sharon has made clear he is against any such extradition. “I do not intend to turn anyone over,” Sharon said last week. “Since the days of my youth, I have been opposed to turning over Jews. I am saying this in the clearest manner possible.”

Further exasperating matters was Russia’s refusal to facilitate pension payments to Russians living in Israel. Israel’s perspective on this matter is that Russia’s refusal to honor immigrants’ pension rights is unconstitutional and also contradicts the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Moscow is a signatory.

Today, only a small number of immigrants who continue to hold Russian citizenship receive pension payments. The vast majority of immigrants, amongst them veterans who served in the Red Army during World War II, have yet to receive their benefits.

Russia–Palestine

The meeting between Putin and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas went as smoothly as could possibly be expected. During the meeting, Putin offered a wide range of assistance to the Palestinians. As reported by the BBC: “We support the efforts of President Abbas to reform the security services and fight against terrorism,” said Putin in a joint press conference with Abbas.

“If we are waiting for President Abbas to fight terrorism, he cannot do it with the resources he has now. We will give the Palestinian Authority technical help by sending equipment and training people. We will give the Palestinian Authority helicopters and also communication equipment.”  Putin promised that aviation technology and helicopters would come first, along with law enforcement training in Moscow. Putin remarked: “If we expect President Abbas to fight effectively against terrorism, we cannot expect him to do this with stones.”

The most interesting aspect of the assistance that Russia is providing to Palestine is that it will be accomplished while being “fully transparent and not cause any concern on the Israeli side.”  How this can be accomplished defies imagination, for in the same statement Putin also called for Palestinian prisoners to be freed and limitations on the freedom of movement to end, saying: “I am not sure these restrictions really help the fight against terrorism effectively.”

According to Abbas, with Russia’s involvement, the conditions were ripe for an international Middle East peace conference in Moscow. Abbas also said that the Palestinians were determined to have peace, and he called on the Israeli government to enter negotiations.

Once again Russia is drawn into the Middle East situation. As we know from the scriptures, this small area, so important in the divine plan, will continue to play a vital part in world affairs right up to the establishment of the kingdom of God.

George Rayner

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