Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told a high-level American Jewish delegation here that President Boris Yeltsin is committed to building a Holocaust museum in the Russian capital, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Chernomyrdin’s statement is believed to mark the first time that the Russian president has backed the erection of a Holocaust museum on Soviet soil, where Hitler claimed many of his victims.
Russian Jews have long called for the establishment of such a museum. Chernomyrdin pledged that the Russian government would help find a site in Moscow and render “assistance” to Russia’s Holocaust museum, though he did not mention financial assistance, said Hoenlein, who participated in the meeting.
The hour-long meeting with Chernomyrdin marked the high point of a four-day visit to Russia and Belarus by the eight-member delegation, organized jointly by the Conference of Presidents and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
In an unusual move, Chernomyrdin sought to highlight the meeting by inviting a Russian television crew to film the gathering of broadcast on the local evening news.
Traditionally, Russian leader’s contacts with foreign Jewish organization have been downplayed in the local media.
In an interview here, Hoenlein expressed pleasure at Chernomyrdin’s decision to let a Russian spotlight fall on the delegation.
“It shows the Russian leadership feels secure,” despite evidence of anti- Semitism, he said.
In addition to Chernomyrdin, the group met Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and Vladimir Lukin, a former Russian ambassador to Washington and now a parliamentary leader.
Kozryev said despite current difficulties between the United States and Russia, particularly over the Russia-Iran nuclear reactor deal, the relationship was maturing and becoming more stable.
He cited as evidence the co-sponsorship of the Middle East peace process as an unsung success story, adding that he had reason to hope that peace between Israel and Syria was not far off.
Lukin told the delegation about the hardship of Russian life and U.S.-Russian differences in a blunt manner described by Hoenlein as “friendly, but firm.”
There were two common themes in all the meeting with Russian leaders — “the desire for foreign investment and concern over Russia’s international image,” said Mark Levin, NCSJ’s executive director.
As the group departed for the Moscow airport to return to the United States on Tuesday, Hoenlein said he was impressed by the “high level of coordination” among agencies active on Jewish concerns in Russia.
But he stressed that the situation here is “dynamic” and that “there are a lot of things to be concerned about.”