TEL AVIV, May 11 (RIA Novosti) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Russia to discuss the supplying of Russian weapons to Syria, a high-ranking source in Jerusalem told RIA Novosti on Saturday.
“Netanyahu plans to visit Russia. The main theme [of discussions] will be the export of weapons to Syria,” the source said on condition of anonymity, since the Israeli authorities have not yet officially announced the visit.
Netanyahu plans to come to Russia for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that the date is being agreed upon.
A source in diplomatic circles told RIA Novosti that the Israeli prime minister expects to travel to Sochi at the beginning of next week. “The visit is currently at the active planning stage,” the source said.
The two leaders discussed the Syrian crisis by telephone on May 6, after reports emerged that Israel had carried out several air strikes on Syrian territory in the previous days. Reuters reported that the strikes targeted weapons designated for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, while the Syrian state news agency SANA said that a research center near the capital Damascus had been attacked.
Media reports had previously stated that Israel wants Russia to agree not to supply Syria with S-300 missile batteries.
Russia’s supply of weapons to Syria was also a topic of discussion at Friday’s talks in Sochi between Putin and British Prime Minister David Cameron, where the Russian side repeated its position that it is simply honoring existing contracts, a source from the Russian delegation said.
“It’s quite clear: There is no embargo on deliveries, and we are fulfilling agreements signed previously, i.e. we are carrying out the obligations we took upon ourselves.”
The source added that all the weapons Russia is currently delivering to Syria were of an “exclusively defensive nature.”
On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow had no plans to supply Syria with weapons beyond the current contracts that Moscow is honoring. The announcement came a day after The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel had informed the United States about the suspected sale of Russian S-300 missile batteries to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. According to the information the Israelis provided, Syria has been making payments on a 2010 agreement with Moscow to buy six launchers and 144 operational missiles for $900 million.
Commenting on the media reports, US Secretary of State John Kerry said “the missiles are potentially destabilizing with respect to the state of Israel.”
The sale of Russian weapons to Assad’s regime has been a source of bilateral tension between Moscow and Washington, with US officials accusing Russia of arming a regime the United States says is killing its own citizens in Syria’s raging civil war.
Russia, however, has insisted that the deliveries are legal under international law and that it is not supplying Syria, the largest importer of Russian arms in the Middle East, with offensive weapons that can be used to kill civilians.
About 70,000 people have died in Syria since the beginning of the uprising against Assad in March 2011, according to UN figures. Russia, along with China, has faced widespread condemnation over its refusal to approve UN sanctions against Assad’s regime.