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Avigdor Lieberman: In Russia with love

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On the eve of Avigdor Lieberman’s first official visit to the United States, Cliiford J. Levy of The New York Times writes from Moscow about why the Israeli foreign minister may be nurturing closer ties between Israel and Russia.

For one thing, Levy writes, Lieberman can talk to Vladimir Putin in his native tongue:

Mr. Lieberman is an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, and the notably warm reception that he received in Russia could be a sign of things ahead. His hard-line positions have disquieted the Obama administration, but in Moscow, there was no such squeamishness.

There was no way to tell, of course, how much of the cordiality was simply a display for the cameras. Still, it pulled back the curtain a bit on how Israel and Russia are trying to navigate the crosscurrents of a Middle East profoundly in flux — notably in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and in Iran, where the tumultuous election on Friday was perhaps the most vivid illustration.

Israel’s new government has voiced its reservations about the United States’ new policies under President Obama in both of those areas, so Mr. Lieberman’s trip could easily be seen as a tactic — using his access in Russia to suggest that Israel might become less dependent on the United States and look to Moscow for support.

Even if it is just a bluff, his pivot toward Russia — which itself seeks a larger diplomatic role in the Middle East — adds one more element to a list of shifts under way in the region…

The maneuvering in recent weeks has at times had the feel of shadowboxing. With a new diplomacy-oriented administration in Washington and a new hawkish one in Jerusalem, the various parties in the region are trying to prod and test one another to see how positions are being recast.

The Kremlin is hoping to use this period to reassert itself in the Middle East and challenge American dominance there. If it has good relations with both Israelis and Arabs, it can more readily present itself as an honest broker. It is also planning to sponsor a Middle East peace conference in Moscow.

Mr. Lieberman seemed to thrive here because he speaks not only the language of Russia, but also that of the Russian leadership. Both sides believe in a tough use of state power, according to political analysts, as well as a resolute nationalism and a willingness to act against Islamic extremism in ways that may be perceived in the West as excessive.

Full story here.

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