President Reuven Rivlin (L) with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Mark Neyman/GPO) (Mark Neyman/GPO)
Rivlin Putin

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in the Kremlin to discuss the ever-shifting security situation in the Middle East. 

President Reuven Rivlin met on Wednesday with Russia President Putin at the Kremlin, the first Western leader to meet with Putin after he surprisingly announced the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria.

Before a closed-door meeting, Putin lauded the relationship between Israel and Russia which “has a long history,” noting the million and a half Russian Jews who immigrated to Israel, whom Putin said add “something very special to our relations.”

“There are a range of other issues which we will speak about in our meeting, such as trade and economic cooperation, as well as security in the region. We have also spoken by phone with the Prime Minister of Israel, and we have agreed to speak further on these issues,” Putin told the media.

Rivlin thanked Russia for its efforts and sacrifice in its war against the Nazis in World War II. “I want to say that we will never forget the Russian people and the Red Army for their victory over the Nazis. Around the world, many survivors of the Holocaust remember that the first soldiers they met on their liberation were the soldiers of the Red Army. I thank you again for the invitation and I look forward to our meeting, we have many important issues to discuss.”

Putin and Rivlin exchanged opinions on the situation in Syria during their meeting.

Israel is wary of the possible consequences of Russia’s withdrawal from Syria, and fear that Iran and the Hezbollah terror organization will fill the void, further threatening Israel’s security.

Rivlin reportedly asked Putin for assurances that the withdrawal of its troops from Syria will not be accompanied by a strengthening of Iran and Hezbollah there, adding that Israel will not tolerate a situation in which Iran and Hezbollah establish a foothold on Israel’s northern border, a threat Israel has been contending with the past few years.

Israeli media reported that Rivlin also told Putin that Israel is interested in United Nations peacekeepers returning to their posts along the border with Syria, which they abandoned after rebel forces took control of the area.

The Russian president said he also expects to meet soon with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss regional security issues.

By: Max Gelber, United with Israel