Medvedev in Jerusalem as Putin waits for Trump
DEBKAfile Special Report
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his prime minister Dmitry Medvedev to Israel Wednesday, Nov. 9 as a gesture to mark the 25th anniversary of the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
It was not the only one: Almost his first action on arrival was a symbolic visit to the Western Wall, the eternal Jewish shrine in Jerusalem. Medvedev chose this gesture to underscore the comment he made last week: “Russia never denied Israel’s or the Jewish people’s rights in Jerusalem and in its holy sites, and the subject has been blown out of proportion.”
The Russian prime minister was therefore demonstrating Moscow's recognition for Jewish rights in Israel, Jerusalem and its holy places – most of all Temple Mount – not just for the Palestinians. It was a message directed by the Kremlin to extremist Muslim organizations, which have set themselves the goal of “liberating Jerusalem from Israeli occupation.”
On the broader level, Putin through Medvedev was telling the world, and the US in particular, that Russia was ready to act as peacemaker between the Arab world and Israel, with greater flexibility on the Jerusalem question than Washington has exhibited.
Since his visit to the Western Wall took place Thursday, the day after Donald Trump, who recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, was elected US president, the Russian prime minister was also extending the hand of cooperation to the new administration on a long list of Middle East issues.
In Moscow, a few hours later, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov made this disclosure in relation to the president elect: “There were contacts before the election. We continue this work of course.”
Another official source elaborated on this: Representatives of the Russian embassy in Washington had met members of the Trump campaign, he said, whereas Hillary Clinton’s advisers had refused to meet.
Both Putin and the incoming American president had therefore shown they would be open to doing business together.
This did not prevent Moscow making another sort of telling gesture on America’s election day: It was announced that the carrier strike group from Russia’s northern fleet, along with additional ships from the Black Sea fleet, were on their way to the Mediterranean to launch a crushing bombing and cruise missile assault on the Syrian rebels holding out in eastern Aleppo.
This fleet is led formidably by the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier, the Peter the Great guided missile cruiser and the Admiral Grigorovich guided missile frigate.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that this demonstration of Russian naval might and its mission did not catch the US administration by surprise. Some weeks ago, Putin informed President Barack Obama that he was determined to go through with the capture of Aleppo, Syria’s second city, and hand it over to Bashar Assad.
Moscow almost certainly moved these pieces on the board in readiness for the election of Hillary Clinton rather than Trump. The ships would have loosed a hellish barrage on Aleppo as soon as her victory was announced. The Russian president has a long reckoning with Clinton ever since she was US Secretary of State, and especially when in early 2011, she rebuffed his appeal for cooperation to save the life of the Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi after he was ousted by a NATO operation managed from Washington.
The Russian operation to reclaim Aleppo for the Assad regime was originally set to show the incoming US president that the Russians have no qualms about using military force in other confrontation arenas, too, if that’s what it takes to achieve their ends.
But like most of the world, the Kremlin was sure that Hillary would win the presidency and was taken aback when Donald Trump walked off with the prize. In view of this surprise, Putin may now decide to pause for second thoughts before bombing the Syrian rebels in Aleppo, or just hold off until his first direct meeting or contact with President elect Trump.