Israeli Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky wound up two days of talks in Moscow on March 3 that the Israeli minister described as an effort to boost bilateral relations between the two countries. It was unclear at the conclusion of the talks whether he had done so.
During his stay in Moscow, Sharansky met with the Kremlin’s foreign policy coordinator, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, as well as with Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and recently named Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin. A Russian daily noted the secretive nature of Sharansky’s talks with Primakov and Chernomyrdin — discussions held behind closed doors with little information about their substance being made public. Quoting unnamed Russian officials, the newspaper attributed the secretiveness to what it described as a sensitive proposal made by the Israeli minister: namely, that Israel offered to increase its military technical cooperation with Russia in return for a curtailment of Russia’s cooperation in defense matters with Iran and Syria. (Russky telegraf, March 3)
In that same vein, Russian sources indicated that Sharansky had also expressed Israel’s objections both to Russian-Syrian cooperation talks recently held in Damascus (see Monitor, February 26), and to similar talks that have taken place recently between Russian and Iranian officials. Indeed, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi paid a high-profile visit to Moscow late last month (see Monitor, February 27), while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak departed on March 3 for four days of talks in Tehran.
Sharansky also used his talks in Moscow openly to restate once again Israel’s strong objections to Russian aid for Iranian efforts to develop ballistic missiles. Russian leaders have repeatedly denied any involvement in Iranian missile projects. They did the same on this occasion. Yastrzhembsky repeated, among other things, that the Kremlin had recently taken steps to toughen controls over the export of dual-use technologies. Sharansky made clear that he did not find the Russian assurances convincing. (Russian agencies, March 3)
Although trade between Russia and Israel has grown somewhat in recent years, relations remain strained both by Russia’s diplomatic support for the Palestinians and by its friendly ties to Iran and Iraq. Sharansky traveled to Moscow in January of last year in a much-publicized first effort to create what he called "new foundations for strategic cooperation" between Israel and Russia. But there is little to suggest that relations between the two countries have improved since that time. (Russian agencies, January 28, 1997; see Monitor, January 29, 1997)
Russian Opposition to Form Shadow Cabinet.