Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin wants to visit Israel in June, and has expressed interest in unveiling a monument in Netanya honoring Jewish Red Army soldiers who fought in World War II, a senior Israeli official told Haaretz on Monday.
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There have been no talks about specific arrangements because Putin has yet to be inaugurated, the source said. After he is sworn in on May 7, Israel is expected to begin preparing for his visit, the date of which will be formally announced, the official said.
Israel is expected to be Putin's second foreign destination after he is inaugurated on May 7. Putin is due to travel to the United States on May 20 to attend the G8 summit, where he is slated to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Since Putin was elected president earlier this month, senior Russian officials have made several requests to the Foreign Ministry regarding Putin's interest in visiting Israel.
The Russian ambassador to Israel, Sergei Yakovlev, and Russia's deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, are among those who have made such requests. Other requests were brought directly to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Putin earlier this month to congratulate him on winning the presidential election. Netanayhu's aides issued a statement saying the two discussed the Middle East situation and the Iranian nuclear program.
Netanyahu invited Putin to visit Israel and received an invitation from him to visit Moscow.
Netanyahu met with Putin in Moscow in February 2010, and the two announced they would set up a monument in Netanya to commemorate Jewish soldiers who served in the Red Army during World War II. The monument, designed by three Russian artists in the shape of a labyrinth, is about to be completed and Putin would like to unveil it, the Israeli official said.
Putin last visited Israel in April 2005, when Ariel Sharon was prime minister. The highly irregular visit took place on Passover, with only three weeks' notice. Israel lobbied unsuccessfully to get the visit postponed.
In January 2011 Russian President Dmitri Medvedev was scheduled to visit Israel, but the visit was canceled because of a Foreign Ministry workers' strike here. Medvedev, who was visiting the Middle East, did pay a visit to Jericho, where he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Putin won more than 60 percent of the votes in the Russian presidential election of March 5. Like the Russian parliamentary elections a few weeks earlier, the presidential election was marred by claims of voter fraud and problems at the polling stations. Mass anti-Putin rallies took place in Moscow.
Several reports by international organizations found rampant fraud in the Russian parliamentary elections, which Putin's party won. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern over the way the election was conducted.
A few days after the parliamentary election, Putin met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Moscow. Lieberman said after the meeting that the Israeli observers posted in several polling stations in Russia deemed the elections "fair, free and democratic."