Netanyahu to meet Putin in Russia five days before election

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to travel to Russia later this week, his office said Tuesday, as he seeks to burnish his leadership credentials days before September 17 polls.

Netanyahu will travel to Sochi on Thursday and is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The premier is in a last-minute push for votes ahead of the election as he fights to continue his reign as the country’s longest-serving prime minister.

His ties to Putin, in particular, are seen by him as important in pulling in votes from Israel’s large community of Russian speakers.

Voters with roots in the former Soviet Union are thought to make up some 12 percent of the 6.3 million eligible voters in Israel — or some 770,000 people.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman greets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Ben Gurion airport on Monday (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu has hoped to pull Russian community voters away from rival Avigdor Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu party has traditionally been their home. Liberman refused to enter Netanyahu’s coalition after the April election, denying him a majority coalition and leading the prime minister to call new elections.

Evidence has so far pointed to Netanyahu’s efforts to hurt Liberman having failed, with Yisrael Beytenu consistently projected in polls to jump to 9-10 seats from its current tally of five.

Netanyahu has also sought to highlight his relations with world leaders, including Putin and US President Donald Trump, in a bid to present himself as Israel’s indispensable leader.

Putin and Trump, as well as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appear on huge campaign posters outside the Likud’s Tel Aviv headquarters.

Netanyahu had been confirmed to fly to New Delhi for a one-day trip on September 9, during which he was scheduled to meet with Modi and possibly sign a number of bilateral agreements.

But last week, Netanyahu called Modi to tell him that he would be unable to come due to “scheduling constraints.”

The prime minister said earlier this week that he would likely travel to Russia to meet with Putin to discuss Iran’s activity in neighboring Syria.

Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran and Tehran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

Like Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have backed Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s civil war.

Israel and Russia have established a hotline to avoid accidental clashes in Syria, but the system did not prevent a friendly fire incident in September 2018 in which Syrian air defenses accidentally downed a Russian plane during an Israeli raid, angering the Kremlin, which blamed Israel.

Netanyahu also met with Putin in Moscow days ahead of Israel’s April 9 elections.

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