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From the lowest point: Israeli-Russian relations then and now

Recently, Maariv (מעריב) published a column by EAJC Board Chairman Aaron G. Frenkel. The article in English is provided below.

Several events were held in Russia and Israel during 2021, marking the 30th anniversary of the renewing of Russian-Israeli diplomatic ties. Why is this important and why is it not just a formality?

The fact is that at the very beginning, the USSR supported the Jewish state, counting on another Middle Eastern ally in the bloc of socialist countries. Moreover, the Soviet Union became the first country to legally recognize Israel on May 17, 1948. However, in 19 years the political picture of the Middle East has changed dramatically: Israel and the USSR with its Arab satellite countries found themselves on opposite sides of the barricades in a big game called the Cold War.

Among other things, the Suez Crisis and finally the Six Day War pushed tensions in diplomatic ties between the two countries to the limit. However, as it was correctly noted, any, even the tensest relationship is better than none.

At that time, I was informally involved in the process of gradually building relationships. Even before the formal restoration, I had an opportunity to cooperate with Soviet and Russian airlines and organize the first planes for Soviet repatriates (‘Olim’). It wasn’t easy at all. Back then, few could imagine where we would come in 30 years, how widely the anniversary of the restoration of relations between our countries will be celebrated. If I were told, then that in 30 years at Tel Aviv University the Russian Ambassador would talk about the close ties between our countries – I wouldn’t believe it.

But it’s true – we have made tremendous progress in 30 years. The Moving Forward Conference, organized by Tel Aviv University and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, is another major event this year celebrating high diplomatic achievements between Israel and Russia.

Repatriates from the former USSR represent a very significant sector of Israeli society today, in Russia and other post-Soviet countries live some of the largest Jewish communities in the world. According to various estimates, an average of 800 thousand to a million, among them about 500 thousand in Russia. We have established full-fledged partnerships with Russia, which is still a large and significant player in the Middle East; we cooperate and launch many projects in various fields. Given all this, the importance of this relationship is obvious.

One of the remarkable joint projects demonstrating the “maturity” of our relations is the publication of Soviet-Israeli diplomatic documents. Today, as it was fairly noted at the conference, we have nothing to hide, and it is for the sake of the development of modern relations between our states that we unite efforts in the study and comprehension of our complex history. In 2000, the first volume was released, publishing documents from 1941-1953. The declaration signed in 2015 by the governments of the two countries launched a new stage in the publication of documents from 1954-1967. The editorial teams in Russia and Israel have selected 700 of the most interesting documents, which will be revealed soon.

The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress supports this project and several other joint initiatives. We believe in the power of public diplomacy and the importance of scientific and other informal contacts for the development of modern interstate relations. In recent years, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress has established close relations with the Israeli embassies in the countries of the region and the representative offices of the EAJC member countries in the Jewish state. We are very pleased with our active cooperation with the Russian diplomatic mission in Israel and will continue to work in the field of developing diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties between our countries.