Russia Backing Abbas, Supplying Iran
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has thus far received enthusiastic support from Moscow during his three-day trip to Russia this week.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed his government's recognition of Abbas as the legitimate leader of the PA, despite the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June, during which Abbas's Fatah faction was ousted from the region. Attempting to freeze out Hamas, Abbas subsequently established an alternate governing body headed by Salam Fayyad and headquartered in Ramallah.
"We strongly support you as the legitimate leader of Palestine and praise your efforts aimed at restoring law, achieving unity among the Palestinian people and continuing the peace process," Foreign Minister Lavrov said at the start of a meeting with Abbas on Monday. Lavrov also stated that the PA and Russia would "map out concrete steps in Russia's assistance to the Palestinian National Authority."
Regarding his talks with Russian leaders, Abbas said, "An urgent situation in Palestine, the unity of the Palestinian people, the peace process in the Middle East and an international peace conference - all these issues are worth discussing." He also confirmed that he is seeking Russian support for the PA, noting that the PA leadership and Russia have a long history of positive relations.
The PA leadership and Russia have a long history of positive relations.
On Tuesday, Abbas will be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian Jets to Iran?
Unconfirmed reports in defense analyst circles indicate that Russia will soon be supplying Iran with 250 Sukhoi-30 fighter jets and compatible aerial fuel tankers. The suspected deal is worth around one billion dollars to Russia. For Iran, it will mean equipping its air force with advanced and long-range aircraft, as well as the in-flight refueling capabilities that can extend the Sukhoi-30's range by thousands of kilometers.
Russia also recently supplied Iran with advanced anti-aircraft systems. In reaction to Western objections to the sale, Russian officials pointed out that the systems were strictly defensive.
Meanwhile, last week, the United States government announced its intention to conclude a billion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, as well as an increase in aid to Israel over the next ten years. The Russian agreement with Iran is seen by some analysts as a counterweight to the American deals with those nations perceived as rivals of the Shi'ite Islamic Republic.
In related news, President Shimon Peres called Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "an unbelievable joke" this week, saying he "worships the bomb more than he worships Allah."