Israel–Russia relations

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Israel–Russia relations
Map indicating locations of Israel and Russia


Israeli embassy in Moscow, Russia.
The Russian Compound in Jerusalem

Israel–Russia relations refers to the bilateral foreign relations between the two countries, Israel and Russia. Russia has an embassy in Tel Aviv and a consulate in Haifa. Israel has an embassy in Moscow and a consulate-general (to open) in Yekaterinburg.

Russia is a member of the Quartet on the Middle East. For many years, Israel was a sanctuary for many Russian Jews. This was especially the case during the Aliyah in the 1970s and the Aliyah in the 1990s. Israel and Russia were on opposing sides during the Cold War. However, the relationship between Israel and Russia began to improve significantly from the early 2000s onwards, with the election of the more pro-Israel Vladimir Putin, and in 2001 with election of the more pro-Russian Ariel Sharon.[1]

Israel is also part Russophone and considered to be the world's only part Russophone country outside the Former Soviet Union. Russian is now the third most widely spoken first language in Israel, (after Hebrew and Arabic), and has the third largest number of Russian speakers outside of former Soviet countries, and the highest as a proportion of the total population.[2]


The Soviet period[edit]

From late 1944, Joseph Stalin adopted a pro-Zionist foreign policy, apparently believing that the new country would be socialist and would speed the decline of British influence in the Middle East.[3] Accordingly, in November 1947, the Soviet Union, together with the other Soviet bloc countries voted in favor of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine,[4] which paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel. On May 17, 1948, three days after Israel declared its independence, the Soviet Union officially granted de jure recognition of Israel,[5] becoming only the second country to recognise the Jewish state (preceded only by the United States' de facto recognition) and the first country to grant Israel de jure recognition.

Israeli ambassador to the Soviet Union Golda Meir surrounded by crowd of 50,000 Jews near Moscow Choral Synagogue on the first day of Rosh Hashanah in 1948.

Golda Meir was appointed Israel's minister plenipotentiary to the Soviet Union, with her term beginning on 2 September 1948 and ending in March, 1949.[6] During her brief stint in the USSR, Meir attended Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at the Moscow Choral Synagogue.[6]

In addition to the diplomatic support, arms from Czechoslovakia, part of the Soviet bloc, were crucial to Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. During the war, the Soviet Union supported Israel when it was attacked by Arab countries that opposed the 1947 United Nations General Assembly resolution for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.

A major episode in the Soviet relation to the Arab–Israeli conflict was the Suez Crisis, with Egypt negotiating an arms deal with communist Czechoslovakia in September 1955, thereby ending Egypt's reliance on Western arms. Later, other members of the Warsaw Pact also sold arms to Egypt and Syria. In practice, all sales from the Eastern Bloc were authorized by the Soviet Union, as an attempt to increase Soviet influence over the Middle East. Political relations between the two countries remained poor throughout the Cold War, with the Soviet Union helping Arab states such as Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Algeria and Iraq improve their military capabilities by providing state-of-the-art weaponry and training.

During the Six-Day War in 1967, the Soviet Union broke off diplomatic relations with Israel. The two countries would not resume diplomatic relations until 1991. In the meantime, Finland served as the protecting power for the Soviet Union in Tel Aviv, while the Netherlands served as the protecting power for Israel in Moscow.

Paul Johnson and other historians argue that November 10, 1975 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 that labelled Zionism as racism was orchestrated by the USSR. It was rescinded by the Resolution 4686 in December 1991, which coincided with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

After the Fall of Communism[edit]

The USSR finally resumed diplomatic relations with Israel on October 18, 1991.[7] The popular journalist Alexander Bovin became the first Soviet ambassador to Israel in 24 years. After the Soviet Union collapsed two months later, he continued to serve as Russia's ambassador to Israel.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union caused a very large immigration wave of Jews from Soviet states. Due to demand from the new immigrants, many Russian language newspapers appeared, and with the development of the multichannel television in Israel during the 1990s, many Russian channels started being rebroadcast in Israel. In November 2002, a new Israeli-Russian channel, Israel Plus, emerged.

On October 19, 1999, Defence Minister of China, General Chi Haotian, after meeting with Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass in Damascus, Syria, to discuss expanding military ties between Syria and China, then flew directly to Israel and met with Ehud Barak, the then Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Israel, where they discussed military relations. Among the military arrangements was a $1 billion Israeli-Russian sale of military aircraft to China, which were to be jointly produced by Russia and Israel.[8]

Victory Monument in Netanya, Israel, dedicated to the victory in WW2.

In 1999, as Foreign Minister, Ariel Sharon began to court more friendly relations with Russia as a result of the large-scale immigration of Russian-speakers to Israel, saying "The Russian vote will decide the outcome of the [Israeli] election."[9]

However, the relationship between Israel and Russia only began to improve in 2000, with the election of the more pro-Israel Vladimir Putin, and in 2001 with election of the more pro-Russian Ariel Sharon, who described Putin as "a true friend of Israel".[10]

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Vladimir Putin meeting in Israel

In 2006, Israeli troops found evidence of Russian made Kornet-E, and Metis-M, anti-tank systems in Hezbollah's possession in southern Lebanon. In 2007, in response to accusations that it was supplying terrorist groups with weapons, Russia said it was conducting inspections of Syrian weapons storage facilities to prevent the weapons from reaching unintended customers. This strained the already-deteriorating relations between Russia and Israel.[11]

In 2006, Vladimir Zhirinovsky visiting as part of a government delegation said that he was concerned particularly about the economic situation for the more than one million Russians living in Israel, and that "Russia will never allow any kind of violence against Israel".[12][13]

Russia planned to sell advanced surface-to-air missiles to neighboring countries,[14] and condemned Israel's actions in the Gaza War.[15][16] Russia also sent 60 tons of tent, medicines, food and other humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.[17][18]

In 2011, Putin said: "Israel is, in fact, a special state to us. It is practically a Russian-speaking country. Israel is one of the few foreign countries that can be called Russian-speaking. It's apparent that more than half of the population speaks Russian."[19] Putin additionally claimed that Israel could be considered part of the Russian cultural world, and contended that "songs which are considered to be national Israeli songs in Israel are in fact Russian national songs." He further stated that he regarded Russian-speaking Israeli citizens as his compatriots and part of the 'Russian world'.[20]

During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Putin stated that “I support Israel’s battle that is intended to keep its citizens protected.”[21]

In August 2014, Russia began increasing fruit imports from Israel, after banning food imports from the EU, Norway, United States, Canada and Australia.[22]

In October 2014, India and Israel started to export meat to Russia.[23]

In October 2015, Israel and Russia held meetings to coordinate over Syria, and avoid accidentally clashing or scrambling each other's communications while operating over the country.[24][25]

In March 2016, Putin said the relations with Israel were special and based "on friendship, mutual understanding and the long common history." Putin stated: "Russia and Israel have developed a special relationship. 1.5 million Israeli citizens come from the former Soviet Union, they speak the Russian language, are the bearers of Russian culture, Russian mentality. They maintain relations with their relatives and friends in Russia, and this make the interstate relations very special."[26]

Expatriate communities[edit]

Russian language in Israel[edit]

States in which Russian is an official, semi-official, and working language.

The native Russian-speaking population of Israel is the world's third-largest population of Russian native-speakers living outside the former Soviet Union territories, and the highest as a proportion of the population.[27][28] The number of native Russian-speaking Israelis numbers around 1.5 million citizens.[29]

Russian citizens living in Israel[edit]

A political party in Israel, Yisrael Beitenu is one of the most popular choices amongst Russian-speaking Israeli voters.

Hundreds of thousands of Russian-Israeli citizens live in Israel. During Russian elections, the Russian government sets up polling stations across many Israeli cities as well as smaller towns, in order to enable the Russian citizens who are living in Israel to cast their vote. During the 2012, Russian Presidential elections, hundreds of thousands of Russian-Israelis cast their vote in Israel.[30] Election polls found that in the 2012 election, Mikhail Prokhorov was the most popular candidate for Russian-Israelis to vote for, with Putin coming in second place. However older Russian-Israelis were more likely to vote for Putin.[31]

Victory Day in Israel[edit]

Putin meets with Red Army veterans in Israel.

Israel hosts the most extensive Victory Day celebrations outside of the former USSR.[32] Due to the large number of Red Army veterans who retired to Israel from FSU countries, the Russian government and military regularly send delegations to meet with the Red Army veterans associations in Israel, as well as to take part in the annual Victory Day events.[33]

Israeli community of Moscow[edit]

Moscow has the largest Israeli expatriate community in the world, with 80,000 Israeli citizens living in the city as of 2014, almost all of them native Russian-speakers.[34][35] Many Israeli cultural events are hosted for the community, and many live part of the year in Israel. (To cater to the Israeli community, Israeli cultural centres are located in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg.)[36] There are 60 flights a week between Tel Aviv and Moscow.[34]

Military collaboration[edit]

In 2004, a three-way deal was signed between Israel, Russia and India: Israel supplied the $1.1 billion EL/W-2090 radar to the Indian Air Force, with the radar fitted onto the Ilyushin Il-76 platform by Russia.[37]

On 6 September 2010, Russia and Israel signed a five-year military agreement.[38][39]


In April 2009, Russia purchased its first package of drones from Israel (the Bird Eye-400, eight I-View Mk150 and two Searcher Mk.2 UAVs). The deal was worth $53 million.[40]

In a second deal, at the end of 2009, Russia purchased an additional 36 drones from Israel, in a deal worth $100 million.[37]

In October 2010, in a third deal, Russia purchased an additional $400 million of drones from Israel Aerospace Industries. The Israeli drones are to be assembled in Russia.[41] The production of the Russian-Israeli drones began in 2012, with delivery to the Russian military scheduled for 2014.[37]

In 2015, one of the drones was reportedly shot down by Ukrainian military near the city of Donetsk, Ukraine. [42]

In September 2015, the Russian army purchased another $300 million package of drones from Israel, its fourth purchase of Israeli drones.[43]

Russian tourism to Israel[edit]

Israel recently became a destination for Russian tourists. The city of Tel Aviv in particular is a popular destination in Russia due to its ease for Russian-speakers, hot weather, and beaches.[44] According to polls, Russian tourist satisfaction after visiting Israel was found to be significantly higher than the average, compared with lower satisfaction ratings from tourists from other countries visiting Israel.[44] However, in 2015, Russian tourist numbers to Israel fell dramatically due to the economic crisis in Russia and the fall in the value of the ruble.[45] The 2015 economic crisis in Russia precipitated a crisis in Israel's tourism industry, as many Russian tourists could no longer afford to visit Israel.[46]


The Church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem, a popular pilgrimage site

Over 400,000 pilgrims from Russia visited Israel in 2015-2016, said Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. Patriarch Kirill said that the fact that "people in Israel speak Russian creates a special atmosphere for our pilgrims, and they often feel at home in Israel". Speaking about the life of the Jewish community in Russia, he cited the chief rabbi of Russia: "He has told me many times that he does not know any other such place than Russia, where Christians and Jews have such good relations."[47]

Russian oil supplies to Israel[edit]

As of 2014, Russia is Israel's largest supplier of crude oil (alongside Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan).[48] As of 2016, Russia was Israel's main supplier of oil.[49]

Israel–Russia visa-free agreement[edit]

In 2008, Israel and Russia signed the Visa-Free agreement, allowing mutual visa-free travel between the two countries. Immigrants from Russia and other former Soviet republics account for a significant proportion of Israel's citizens, meaning that visits to friends and relatives in Russia are likely to be facilitated.[50]

Customs union talks[edit]

Israel plans to enter a free-trade agreement with Russia. The Customs Union, bringing together Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and Israel have launched an exploratory committee to study the prospects for the creation of a free trade zone, the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC - a single permanent regulatory body of the Customs Union) reported in March 2014.[51]

Encrypted communication line[edit]

Russia and Israel have agreed to install a direct encrypted communication network, to facilitate communications between the Russian President and Israeli Prime Minister. One analyst says: "Russia feels very close to the Israeli leadership... The Russians want to speak to Israel without anyone eavesdropping."[52]

Scientific collaboration agreements[edit]


In 2011, Israel and Russia signed the Space Co-operation Agreement. The framework agreement is meant to develop joint research programs and other collaborations in areas like astrophysical and planetary research, space biology and medicine, navigational satellites and launching services and technology.[53]

Nuclear technology[edit]

In 2013, the Israeli and Russian government signed agreements to collaborate on nuclear imaging and the development of radioactive materials for dental treatments. Although the agreement is limited to medical treatments, it could form the basis for wider collaboration for ventures between the two countries in nuclear technology.[54]

Technology incubators[edit]

In the field of technology incubators, collaborative projects are being establish between the two states. Rusnano, the Russian government's vehicle for investments in nanotechnology, has established a branch in Israel, with the aim of setting up a fund for investment in Israeli nanotechnology ventures.[55] Similarly, Russia's Skolkovo innovation center has established a branch in Israel, the Israel-Skolkovo Gateway/Center (IsraelSK), which involves raising private capital and government grants leveraging for Israeli and Russian start-up companies.[56]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Maturing of Israeli-Russian Relations Anna Borshchevskaya, inFocus Quarterly, Spring 2016
  2. ^ Putin Pledges To Protect All Ethnic Russians Anywhere, So, Where Are They? By Robert Coalson for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 10, 2014
  3. ^ Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (1987) p.527
  4. ^ UN General Assembly Resolution 181 Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  5. ^ Recognition of Israel JSTOR - The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 4, No. 3, July 1948.
  6. ^ a b Yossi Goldstein, "Doomed to Fail: Golda Meir's Mission to Moscow (Part 1)", The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs Vol. 5 No. 3 (September 2011), pg. 131
  7. ^ Haberman, Clyde (19 October 1991). "Israel and Soviets Restore Full Relations". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ "China defense minister visits Israel". World Tribune. Thursday, October 21, 1999
  9. ^ Little Russia Monday 3 May 1999, The Guardian
  10. ^ The Maturing of Israeli-Russian Relations Anna Borshchevskaya, inFocus Quarterly, Spring 2016
  11. ^ Ariel Cohen (2007-03-20). "Russia’s New Middle Eastern Policy: Back to Bismarck?". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  12. ^ Владимир Жириновский: я – не "сын юриста". Рассказ об отце время публикации: 25 июня 2006 г,
  13. ^ Жириновский в Израиле говорил об антисемитизме на Украине 25 февраля 2014 г., 21:14,
  14. ^ Hassonyesterday, Nir. "Netanyahu aide likely to pay price for 'secret' Russia trip - Haaretz - Israel News". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  15. ^ Israel Kills at least 225 and wounded 700 People in Gaza, 28 December 2008 Sunday Retrieved on 2009-01-08
  16. ^ Reuters AlertNet - Russia asks Israel to end Gaza attacks, let in Retrieved on 2009-01-08
  17. ^ "Российская гуманитарная помощь доставлена в сектор Газа | РИА Новости". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  18. ^ "Медведев поручил оказать дополнительную помощь Палестине". 2016-10-17. Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  19. ^ "Russian Prime Minister Putin: Israel Is, in Fact, a Special State to Us". 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  20. ^ DIASPORA & CITIZENSHIP, by Claire Sutherland, Elena Barabantseva, (Routledge 2013), page 88
  21. ^ President Putin: I Support Israel July 10, 2014 By COLlive reporter. Pictures: & COL
  22. ^ Hassonyesterday, Nir (2014-08-13). "After shunning Europe, Russia turning to Israel for fruit imports - Business". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  23. ^ "India and Israel to supply meat and dairy to Russia — RT Business". 2014-10-28. Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  24. ^ Netanyahu says ties with Russia good, doesn't join criticism of Syria attacks i24 News, PUBLISHED October 04th 2015
  25. ^ Russia-Israel Military Coordination Talks to Open Tuesday Reuters, Oct. 06 2015
  26. ^ Putin says he plans to meet Israeli prime minister soon March 16, 18:50, Tass
  27. ^ Reeves, Philip (2 January 2013). "On Multiple Fronts, Russian Jews Reshape Israel". NPR. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  28. ^ Estrin, Daniel (2 January 2013). "Back from the USSR". Times of Israel. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  29. ^ К визиту Нетаньяху: что Россия может получить от экономики Израиля] Алексей Голубович, Forbes Russia, 09.03.2017
  30. ^ Russian-Israelis vote for next Kremlin leader by Polina Perlman, Published: 03.04.12, ynetnews
  31. ^ Israelis elect the President of Russia: Prokhorov Publication time: 22 February 2012,
  32. ^ Israel to host most extensive Victory Day celebrations outside of former USSR 7 May, Voice of Russia
  33. ^ Жириновский в Израиле говорил об антисемитизме на Украине 25 февраля 2014 г., 21:14,
  34. ^ a b Israelis Find A Lively Jewish Niche in Moscow by Rena Greenberg - Moscow, Russia, MARCH 19, 2014
  35. ^ Russian-born Israelis chase capitalist dreams to Moscow By Ofer Matan, Feb. 21, 2014, Haaretz
  36. ^ "Новости израильских культурных центров | Израиль для вас". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  37. ^ a b c "Россия и Израиль: путь к военному сотрудничеству". 2016-05-20. Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  38. ^ "Russia and Israel sign military agreement — RT News". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  39. ^ [1]
  40. ^ Sputnik (2012-05-16). "Russia ‘May Buy’ $50 Mln Worth of Israeli UAVs". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  41. ^ Hassonyesterday, Nir (2010-10-14). "Israel signs $400 million deal to sell spy drones to Russia - Haaretz - Israel News". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  42. ^ Bender, Dave (2014-09-16). "Israel Backs Off Ukraine Drone Deal, Fearing Russian Ire: Report (VIDEO) | Jewish & Israel News". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  43. ^ Российская армия продолжит закупать беспилотники израильской разработки 03.09.2015, Ведомости, Алексей Никольский
  44. ^ a b Russian tourists flock to Tel Aviv instead of vacationing in Europe By Lital Levin, May 7, 2010, Haaretz
  45. ^ Israeli tourism industry praying for a Russian revival By Rina Rozenberg, Mar. 24, 2015, Haaretz
  46. ^ Russian tourists stop coming to Israel's southern resort By Rina Rozenberg, Feb. 18, 2015, Haaretz
  47. ^ Russian pilgrims feel at home in Israel - Patriarch Kirill 18 March 2016, 10:00
  48. ^ Israel and Kazakhstan: Assessing the state of bilateral relations Kevjn Lim, 6 May 2014, Open Briefing
  49. ^ К визиту Нетаньяху: что Россия может получить от экономики Израиля
  50. ^ Russia, Israel sign visa-free agreement RIA Novosti, 20/03/2008
  51. ^ Israel may create free trade zone - Customs Union 18 March, 2014, Voice of Russia
  52. ^ Netanyahu and Putin to get direct and secure hotline By Itamar Eichner, 06.01.14,
  53. ^ Hassonyesterday, Nir (2011-03-28). "Israel, Russia sign space agency cooperation agreement - Haaretz - Israel News". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  54. ^ "Israel, Russia to collaborate on dental nuclear imaging". Globes English. Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  55. ^ "Rusnano Israel to help Russias Rusnano cultivate Israeli nanotech developers | Central regions, Finance, business". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  56. ^ "Israel Skolkovo Gateway". Retrieved 24 September 2011. 

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