Lieberman, Putin, Lavrov, and Peres - Reuters - June 25, 2012
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (2nd L) listens to Russia's President Vladimir Putin (3rd L) as Russia's FM Lavrov (L) and Israel's President Peres (R) sit beside them in Netanya, June 25, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman greets Russian President Vladimir Putin at Ben Gurion Airport, June 25, 2012. Photo by GPO
Reuters
A monument commemorating the victory of the Soviet Red Army in World War Two in Netanya. Putin will visit Monday. Photo by Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in the city of Netanya on Monday morning on an official state visit.

During a speech given at a memorial to the Red Army, Putin called the Holocaust "the darkest, most shameful chapter in human history," and praised the Soviet Army was the one to "smash the head of the Nazi monster and allowed all nations to survive.”

Putin added that he was “very excited” and thanked Netanyahu, Peres and “all of his Israeli friends” for the establishment of the monument.

President Shimon Peres was the main Israeli representative at the dedication ceremony. He praised the Soviet Union's actions against Nazi Germany, as well as the current Russian government's efforts to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Israel owes a deep debt of gratitude to Russia and the Russian army for its decisive role in the liberation of camps and the triumph over Nazi Germany," Peres said. "Today as well, Israel views Russia as a lighthouse, as a state that plays an important role in the advance of peace in the Middle East, and a state that takes steps to improve the world while battling terror."

Peres also congratulated newly-elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, adding that Israel will respect the peace agreements between the two countries, as "peace is the real victory for both Israel and Egypt."

Putin heads a large entourage comprised of government ministers, advisers and journalists. The 300-person delegation arrived in four planes.

Israeli officials are hoping to recruit Russia's government to join their efforts against Iran's nuclear program. They also want to encourage a number of security and economic initiatives.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman greeted the Russian contingent at Ben-Gurion Airport, and visitors headed straight to Netanya.

Putin will later travel from Netanya to Jerusalem, where he will meet with Netanyahu at his official residence. The prime minister cancelled his participation in the Netanya event because of a cast on his leg.

Joining the two for lunch will be two Likud members: Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, and Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin. Edelstein and Elkin traveled with Netanyahu to Moscow in February 2010; they will serve as translators during the meeting with Putin, and also be on hand to express support for the prime minister's intentions to evacuate the Beit El's Ulpana neighborhood.

Also invited to the lunch meeting with Putin are Lieberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz.

In the evening, Putin will meet with Peres. He will be received by an Israel Defense Forces honor guard, and by children who are both Hebrew and Russian speakers; Putin will be welcomed in both languages.

Peres is expected to bring up the issue of Iran's nuclear program, and to stress Tehran's effort to assemble nuclear weapons. "The combination of nuclear weapons and a fanatical political leadership poses a genuine threat to the peace of the world as a whole," Peres stated.

Putin will then partake in a festive dinner at the President's House, to which top Israeli and Russian security and diplomatic officials are invited.

The event will feature an artistic tribute to Russia, in which performers from the bilingual Gesher troupe will sing Russian songs that have Israeli adaptations. The performers are expected to encourage Peres and Putin to join the singing.

Tomorrow Putin will visit Bethlehem and Jordan.