Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 15

Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon wound up a three-day visit to Moscow yesterday which produced neither agreements–none were expected–nor any evidence of significant movement in the two countries’ often troubled bilateral relations. During his stay, Sharon held talks with a number of top Russian officials–including Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Russian State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev.

Discussions during Sharon’s visit reportedly focused on the Middle East peace process–in which Russia has generally been sympathetic to the Arab states rather than to Israel–and on Russia’s military cooperation with Iran and Iraq. Sharon also expressed some alarm over the anti-Semitic statements made in recent weeks by several key Communist officials. On that score, he received assurances from Ivanov and Luzhkov that the authorities would do their best to counter any effort to stir up anti-Semitism in Russia. Sharon, in turn, said that Israel had no intention of using anti-Semitism in Russia to encourage greater emigration to Israel (Russian agencies, January 19-21).

Sharon had reportedly come to Moscow seeking Russian support for the Israeli position in the Middle East peace process that progress depends on greater guarantees of “security and peace for Israel.” While Russian officials proclaimed their hope that bilateral ties between the two might be improved, there was little indication that he had received assurances on the “security and peace” issue.

Although few details were available, it is also unlikely that Sharon got much out of Moscow on the key questions of Russian military cooperation with Iran and Iraq. The Israeli minister apparently made clear his government’s belief–one that it shares with Washington–that Russian specialists are continuing to aid Iranian efforts to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons (AP, January 19; Itar-Tass, January 20; Ekho Moskvy, January 21). That issue has been a major irritant in Russian-Israeli relations in the past, and is one of the reasons Israel has refused to allow Moscow a greater role in the Middle East talks.

Sharon appeared to level no direct charges–at least publicly–of Russian complicity in Iraq’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. But he did suggest that any weakening of the arms monitoring regime in Iraq–something that Moscow has supported–could lead to the development of nuclear weapons in that country over the next two to three years (NTV, January 21).

There were no reports of talks between the Israeli and Russian sides over military cooperation between Russia and Syria. But Tel Aviv undoubtedly looks with some dissatisfaction at recent reports in the Russian media suggesting that the two countries might be on the verge of signing several substantial arms agreements (Itar-Tass, November 18; Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, November 27-December 3; Kontinent, January 1999).