Russia has refused to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite previously recognising the west of the city as Israel's capital. The announcement was made yesterday by Russia's Ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Viktorov, through the TASS news outlet.
"The issue of transferring the Russian Embassy to Jerusalem is off the agenda," explained Viktorov. "Russia is committed to the international legal framework concerning Jerusalem, including corresponding United Nations Security Council resolutions."
Such resolutions condemn Israel's actions in the Holy City. Jerusalem was declared to be a corpus separatum, to be run under an international administration, under the 1947 UN Partition Plan, but Jewish paramilitary groups still went ahead and took control of the west of the city in the 1948 "war of independence"; Israel then occupied the east during the Six Day War of 1967.
Russia's announcement will be greeted with frustration in Israel given that Moscow has previously recognised part of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. In 2017, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that "we [Russia] view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Arutz Sheva reported, noting that it stopped short of naming the whole city as the country's capital.
Russia has given other indications that it could follow in the footsteps of US President Donald Trump in recognising Jerusalem as Israel's "undivided" capital and moving the US Embassy a year ago. In June last year, Russia's Embassy to Israel held its annual "National Day" celebration in Jerusalem rather than in Tel Aviv for the first time, adding to speculation about its intentions. The ceremony was attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has maintained close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In his announcement yesterday, Viktorov also spoke about the possibility of Putin visiting Israel in 2020, after receiving an invitation to do so late last year. The Ambassador explained that the invitation is "being considered" by the Russian presidential administration with due attention. "Our Israeli partners hope that President Vladimir Putin's work schedule will allow him to take part in the commemorative events scheduled for 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army."
Despite historic ties, Russian-Israeli relations have been strained in the past few months following an incident in which a Russian military jet was downed over Syrian airspace. In September, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's forces allegedly mistook the Russian jet for an Israeli aircraft, having been responding simultaneously to Israeli attacks on targets in Syria's coastal region of Latakia. The incident sparked a diplomatic row, with Russia placing the blame for the incident – in which 15 Russians were killed – squarely on Israel.
Since then, Russia has called repeatedly on Israel to stop its attacks on Syria, which it strikes regularly despite an official policy of non-intervention in the country's civil war. For its part, Russia has supported the Assad regime and is now expected to be involved in rebuilding the country as the war apparently winds to a close. Netanyahu is expected to meet with Putin in Moscow later this month which, if the plan goes ahead, will be the first time the two leaders have met since September's spat.