Russia's Vladimir Putin Visits Israel

Russian President Vladimir Putin is beginning his first Middle East tour in seven years with a trip to Israel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to visit Israel

Russian President Vladimir Putin is beginning his first Middle East tour in seven years with a trip to Israel.

Iran's nuclear ambitions and the continuing crisis in Syria are expected to top the agenda of his talks with Israeli leaders.

Israel and Russia have strong cultural ties, with Israel home to more than a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

But politically relations have often been strained, correspondents say.

Mr Putin returned to the Russian presidency - with responsibility for Russian foreign policy - earlier this year, after four years spent as prime minister.

He will spend a day in Israel, followed by talks in Bethlehem on Tuesday with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday before heading to Jordan, where he will meet King Abdullah.

Tensions

Mr Putin will attend the official unveiling ceremony of a memorial to the millions of Russian soldiers who died resisting Nazism in World War II.

He will also meet Israel's Russian-speaking Foreign Minister Avignor Lieberman, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.

His discussions on the subject of Iran will highlight some of the tensions in relations, says the BBC's Middle East correspondent Jon Donnison.

Mr Putin has said an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear sites would be "truly catastrophic".

But many Israelis accuse Russia, which built some Iran's nuclear facilities, of dragging its feet over the tightening of sanctions against Tehran.

Syria - which buys Russian arms and provides a deep-water Mediterranean port for the Russian navy - is also likely to be discussed.

The Israeli leadership has avoided commenting publicly on the crisis.

In 2005, Mr Putin became the first Russian president to visit Israel. He also visited the West Bank and Egypt.