Russian President Vladimir Putin is due in Israel Thursday to participate in the ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that he remains “optimistic” that Israeli Naama Yissachar will be released from prison in Russia in the wake of that visit.
Over the past several weeks, news of a deal between Israel and Russia for Naama’s release have been percolating, and on Wednesday, Channel 12 revealed what could be the basis for that rumor: On December 30th, Israel quietly transferred responsibility for a Russian institution in Yerushalayim’s Old City to the Russian government. The site, known as the Alexander Courtyard, contains, among other things, a Russian church.
In addition to that site, the report said that the Russians were negotiating with Israel to purchase the Russian Courtyard, located in central Yerushalayim and currently the site of the Israel Police overnight lockup in the city. Israel acquired the site from the Soviet government in the 1960s, but the current Russian government is interested in repurchasing it, at market value.
The report added that part of the deal will entail a speech by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu praising Russia’s role in fighting and defeating the Nazis during World War II. The Russians are interested in this in order to bolster their position against the Poles, who regard the Russians almost as bad as the Nazis, and who claim that Russia did not effectively fight Hitler.
Yissachar was several months ago sentenced to seven years in a Russian prison, on what many consider to be trumped-up drug charges. Yissachar was arrested for carrying less than 10 grams of cannabis in her luggage, nabbed by Russian police in the international transfer zone at Moscow’s airport en route from India to Israel. Israeli officials have appealed to Putin to release Yissachar, among them Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who spoke with Putin on the phone last Thursday about a variety of subjects, including Yissachar.
In a statement, Netanyahu’s office said that the discussion “was warm and topical. It also strengthened the prime minister’s view that the issue of the freedom of Naama Yissachar is near a solution.” Netanyahu’s comment comes just two days after Russian Foreign Minister Michael Bogdanov said that no deal was in the works for Yissachar’s release. Earlier, Netanyahu wrote to Yissachar saying that “Israelis are thinking about you. We don’t leave any person to their fate, and that includes you. The state of Israel and myself are investing great resources in efforts to bring you home. We are in touch with your family, and in every conversation with them we stress our commitment to bringing you home as soon as possible.”
Putin is one of dozens of world leaders attending the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Along with Putin, world leaders set to participate in the event are French President Emmanuel Macron, President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier, President of Italy Sergio Mattarella, President of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen, Spanish King Felipe VI, Britain’s Prince Charles, and many others.