Natan Sharansky, a former dissident who left the Soviet Union in 1986, has returned to Moscow for the first time since that date as Israel’s industry and trade minister and head of an Israeli trade delegation. Sharansky was a leading human rights activist who was convicted of treason in 1977, allegedly for spying for the U.S. He served nine years in prison before being freed in an East-West prisoner swap. In Israel Sharansky entered politics with the goal of representing the more than 600,000 Jews who have emigrated to Israel from the former USSR since 1989. His party won seven seats in the Israeli parliament’s May election and has two Cabinet posts. Following talks with Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov on Monday, Sharansky spoke in gracious terms of Russia’s capital city and denied harboring feelings of nostalgia or triumph on his return. Accompanied to Russia by his mother and wife, Sharansky visited the grave of his friend and fellow human rights activist, Andrei Sakharov. He also went to a synagogue where he and other dissident Jews used to meet. (AP, January 26, 28; The New York Times, January 28)
Russia media reportedly focused on Sharansky’s talks with Russian officials. The minister is the first member of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to visit Moscow, and his talks in the Russian capital are aimed in part at advancing plans for a visit by the Israeli leader to Russia. But trade issues topped the agenda. Sharansky’s ninety-member delegation includes government, industry, and trade representatives, and on January 27 Sharansky signed a protocol with Luzhkov to boost trade relations between Israel and Moscow, as well as between Israel and Russia. Yesterday Sharansky announced that the Israeli government intends to earmark $50 million in 1997 to insure Israeli companies doing business in Russia. He also suggested that Jews from the former USSR now living in Israel could become a "bridge" in business dealings between the two countries. (Interfax, Itar-Tass, January 28)
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