Monday, May 20

Interview of the Russian Ambassador to Israel A.D. Viktorov, published in the newspaper “Izvestia”

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Question: British Foreign Minister L. Truss called on the “liberal governments” of the allied countries to reconsider relations with the Russian Federation and China, which the Minister called “aggressor countries”. Has the current tension between Russia and the West affected relations with Israel?

Answer: Can I not comment on the statement of the British Foreign Minister? Because it has a completely indirect relation to Russian-Israeli relations. Of course, I will make a general remark. These are all cheap tricks in order to distract attention from really pressing problems. This has been commented on many times both at the level of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov. Therefore, I am unlikely to add anything to you here.

What they called us – well, it’s their choice. That’s not the point. The fact is that well-known processes are taking place in world governance and in the world order. And not everyone likes it, so in such ways they try to hold on to those positions that, as they believe, belong to them by right and forever. It doesn’t happen. There are other centers of power, many countries in the world with their own interests that need to be taken into account.

As for the Russian-Israeli “corner”, the situation around Ukraine or these accusations that a number of Western countries are making against Russia, they are not supported by officials and the leadership of Israel, to put it mildly. I remember the President in one of his speeches said that such a sport appeared – to hurt Russia. I want to confirm: Israeli officials do not participate in this sport. I’m not talking about the media, it’s a different path, it’s different rules and different people.

Question: The American portal “Axios” reported that in October last year, during a visit to Sochi, Israeli Prime Minister N. Bennett proposed to hold a Russia-Ukraine summit in Jerusalem. This information has not yet been confirmed by any of the parties. What, in your opinion, are the prospects for Israeli mediation between Moscow and Kiev?

Answer: You offer me to comment on media reports. In general, there is no subject for comment for me, as the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Israel. And therefore, answering the second question right away, there is nothing to comment on. Of course, various issues are discussed during meetings, including at the highest level, but they are not necessarily discussed in the modalities in which the press presents it.

Question: So you don’t consider Israel as a mediator in the dialogue between Russia and Ukraine?

Answer: And I return you to the previous comment. We do not comment on what is reported in the media. This is a matter for journalists.

Question: In mid-January this year, Russia proposed to bring to the ministerial level the activities of the Middle East Quartet (the Russian Federation, the USA, the EU and the UN) to resume the Palestinian-Israeli political dialogue. How did the other members of the quartet react to this idea? When will the next meeting of this format take place?

Answer: This is a well-known proposal, you mentioned it quite correctly. We consider the Quartet to be an important tool for promoting the Middle East peace process. From the very beginning of the creation of this mechanism, we have been actively involved in it. This, we emphasize– is the only legitimate recognized international mechanism for promoting a Middle East settlement. Our proposal to hold a ministerial meeting of the Quartet was definitely not rejected, this is all being discussed. We hope that such a meeting will take place in the near future or when favorable conditions develop. We consider it important in order to maintain the dynamics or, rather, to give a new dynamic to the Middle East settlement, despite the differences in the positions of the parties to this conflict.

In addition, our proposal remains on the table, made more than five years ago, at the request, by the way, of one of the parties to the conflict – about the possibility on our part to facilitate a meeting of the leaders of Israel and Palestine in Moscow, if they find it convenient for themselves. The idea of an international conference was also expressed and supported by the Palestinian side. In accordance with the decisions previously adopted within the framework of the UN, such a conference could also be useful in the future.

Question: Is there any progress on these conferences and negotiations between the leaders of Israel and Palestine? Or until they agree to Russia’s mediation in the settlement of this conflict?

Answer: We confirm these proposals regularly in our contacts with both parties. Normalization of Israel’s relations with neighboring countries is important and positive in itself, and we welcome this process. The principle of good neighborliness is one of the key principles of the UN Charter, and this is very correct, it contributes to the stabilization and consolidation of peace in the Middle East. But at the same time, there is no need to “sweep under the carpet” or forget about the importance of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement. This is the most long-standing crisis issue in modern international relations. Without his decision, it is simply impossible to move further along the path of strengthening stability in the region. It needs to be solved, and Russia will contribute to this in every possible way.

Question: Speaking of good-neighborly relations, I would like to mention Israel’s other neighbors, namely Syria. At the end of January this year, the Russian Federation conducted joint patrols with Damascus along the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic, including in the Golan Heights area. In Israel, according to the “Times of Israel” and “Ynet” portals, they were wary of this. Has the Russian security strategy in Syria changed? How does this affect the negotiations between the Russian Federation and Israel on security in the region?

Answer: Here again, you refer to some media reports that no one has confirmed. Whether there was a patrol, whether there was, in what format, if there was, and how the Israeli side reacted – these are all comments and considerations of the media, which I am not fully authorized to comment on, and it is not my task.

As for Syria, indeed, there is a communication channel between Israel and Russia, between our military. This is due to the fact that there is a Russian military contingent in Syria, which, due to known circumstances, was introduced in September 2015. And our goal in these contacts with the Israeli military is not to endanger the health, safety and even the lives of soldiers in Syria. It’s nothing more and nothing less.

Of course, we have never approved of the activities of the Israeli military in the Syrian direction and have always said on principle – both publicly and in a closed format – that we do not consider it right and even consider it unacceptable to strike at the territory of a neighboring sovereign state, a member of the UN. And such actions, to put it mildly, do not contribute to strengthening stability and peace in this region.

Question: The Minister of Tourism of the Jewish State Y.Razvozov called on the Russian Federation to recognize Israeli vaccination certificates and start letting his fellow citizens into Russia. Is there any progress in the negotiations on this issue?

Answer: Indeed, recently the Israeli authorities, primarily the Ministry of Health, have made decisions that allow citizens of all countries, including Russia, vaccinated by Sputnik, to visit Israel. But if you still comply with rather complex and stringent requirements: a double PCR test plus a serological test on arrival.

Actually speaking, it would be necessary to cancel this, too. The explanations of the Israeli side why they are introducing a serological test are due to the fact that the Sputnik vaccine has not yet been recognized internationally, namely by the World Health Organization. And as soon as it is recognized, then this requirement for a serological test will be removed.

Indeed, the Minister of Tourism Y.Razvozov appealed to the Russian Government with a proposal to discuss the provision of opportunities for Israeli citizens to visit the Russian Federation. Here I have to say: there is an appeal, but so far the results of its study are not known to me.

I would like to emphasize that the Government decree of March 2020 does not discriminate against Israel. In accordance with the decisions of the Government and the Headquarters, so far the entry of foreign citizens to Russia is limited, only certain categories can come for humanitarian reasons and others. There is such a mechanism, and it works if necessary. You can see what the situation in the world is, not very favorable, alarming. And therefore we will see how it will develop further.

Question: February 10 is your professional holiday, the Day of the Diplomatic worker. What features of the work of diplomats in Israel would you highlight?

Answer: The choice of this date is due to the fact that on February 10, 1549, there was the first documentary mention of the Embassy Order – the first state agency that dealt with, was in charge of foreign affairs.

Every country is unique. Israel is an unusual country for Russian diplomats for many reasons. To begin with, most of the Israeli population is Russian-speaking, as we call it, or Russian-speaking, whichever you like. These are immigrants from the former Soviet republics, now independent states, from the Russian Federation very much. I call the figure up to 2 million people, I think I am not much mistaken if I count how many came in the 1990s, how many came before that, how many children were born in these families.

This is a very serious and powerful factor in the sense that the influence of these Russian-speaking citizens, our compatriots, on all spheres of life of the Israeli state, society, science, culture, education, medicine, business – it is universally recognized and obvious. And this positive influence is recognized by all the Israeli authorities.

When I came here, I was told: well, why should the Russian Ambassador learn Hebrew? Here you can either agree in Russian or in English everywhere. Nevertheless, at the beginning of last year I decided to learn Hebrew, because it is bad for a diplomat of any country, including the Russian Federation, not knowing the official language of the host country. I won’t say that I have made much progress, but there is some progress.

So this factor of the Russian-speaking population, it is very important, it determines in many ways. Here we are united not only by cultural ties, but also by human mutual understanding.

The importance of the Russian-speaking segment of Israeli society also lies in the fact that we remember well about the common history since the XIX century. This is the period of the Great Patriotic War, the Second World War, the common memory of the common victory over Nazism, the role of the Red Army, Soviet soldiers and commanders, and the leadership of the Soviet Union in saving Jews, ending the horrors of the Holocaust. Here in Israel, this is generally recognized. Firstly, the documented things are historical, and secondly, there is no need to convince anyone of this.

And joint efforts to preserve the memory of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War, to prevent distortion of the role of the Soviet Union in that war, its causes, its results, results – this unites us.

Question: What advice would you give to aspiring diplomats or people who are interested in the Middle East? What needs to be done to better understand this region?

Answer: I would wish hard work to young diplomats – any talent requires development. Even if nature, parents, God have awarded some abilities, they need to be placed in a certain order and applied.

The Middle East is a delicate matter. Even thinner than the whole East. Sometimes dark. It happens in different ways. In order to become a specialist in the Middle East, which I was not originally, as you know, my professional activity was not directly related to the Middle East region, of course, you need to know languages: both Arabic and Hebrew. In order to operate successfully here, it is necessary to understand the psychology, motivation, history, culture of the peoples of the region. Language is a “window” into the culture of each nation’s worldview. It is necessary to use your brains regularly and update them, give them food, well, hard work, perseverance will not hurt either.



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