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Putin, Netanyahu Meet In Sochi Ahead Of Israel's Parliamentary Elections


Russian President Vladimir Putin (rigth) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Sochi on September 12.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (rigth) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Sochi on September 12.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said at the start of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Kremlin has an interest in who wins Israel’s parliamentary election next week.

Putin made the remarks to Netanyahu as the two met in Russia's Black Sea resort city of Sochi on September 12.

Putin noted that more than 1.5 million immigrants from former Soviet republics now live in Israel.

"We always considered them our people, compatriots. And, of course, we are not indifferent to what kind of people will come into the Israeli parliament," Putin said.

Netanyahu told Putin that coordination with Russia's military was important because of the presence of Russian forces in Syria.

Netanyahu told Putin "over the past month we have seen a sharp increase in Iran's attempts to use the territory of Syria to attack us."

Netanyahu, who is accompanied on his visit to Russia by Israeli national-security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Air Force chief Aviv Kochavi, was also expected to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Syria Cooperation

Ahead of his departure, Netanyahu said his trip was designed to continue cooperation between Israel and Russia to prevent miscommunication between their forces in Syria.

He said the focus of the discussions would also be to "continue to advance the common goal that we agree on, which has yet to be achieved and which is far from being achieved, and that is the withdrawal of Iran from Syria."

A Kremlin statement ahead of the talks said the leaders would discuss "the further development of bilateral relations and the situation in the Middle East."

Moscow this week expressed concern over Netanyahu’s plan to annex part of the West Bank, saying its implementation could escalate tensions in the region.

Netanyahu and Putin have met regularly in recent years to coordinate military activities in Syria, where Russia and Israel are involved.

Russia, along with Iran, has given Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crucial military and diplomatic backing throughout the war that began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011.

Israel has pledged to stop Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, carrying out hundreds of air strikes there against what it describes as Iranian targets and those of allied militia such as the Lebanon-based Shi'ite militant group Hizballah.

Netanyahu’s visit comes as the Israeli prime minister’s right-wing Likud party is heading toward a close race against rivals in the September 17 elections to the Knesset.

Last month, he met Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv during the first visit of an Israeli prime minister to the former Soviet republic in two decades.

Voters with ties to the former Soviet Union play a considerable role in elections in Israel, which more than 1 million people from ex-Soviet countries now call home -- making up a fifth of its population.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu announced he intended to "apply Israeli sovereignty" to the Jordan Valley and adjacent northern Dead Sea -- territory in the West Bank that it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians seek for a state.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said late on September 12 that it had noted what it said was the Arab world's "strongly negative reaction" to the announcement.

It said the ministry would share its concerns with Israel since "implementation could trigger a sharp escalation in the region and undermine hopes for establishing a lasting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors," a statement said.

With reporting by AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters, and TASS
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