TEL AVIV, February 5. /TASS/. Israel’s former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has shared his recollections about his personal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In his first interview in the past six months, Bennett said that Putin was courteous and hospitable and surprised him by inviting him to taste vodka at his Sochi residence.
Bennett took the office of Israeli prime minister in June 2021, succeeding Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been prime minister since 2009. In October 2021, Bennett paid his first visit to Russia and met with Putin at the latter’s Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi. The Israeli politician shared his recollections of this meeting during his five-hour interview, fragment of which were aired by Israel’s TV Channel 12. The full interview is available on YouTube.
"The meeting lasted for some five or six hours. We spoke a lot on various and simply interesting topics, for instance, about military history, about the former Soviet Union’s role in World War II," Bennett said. "In the end, he invited me to make a walk along the coast. We came out of his splendid palace in Sochi (the Bocharov Ruchei residence - TASS), a resort city. <…> He told me: ‘I never invite anyone to my private room but I would like to invite you.’ I cannot say if he had invited anyone or not".
Finally, according to Bennett, the Russian president showed him to his room. The Israeli politician admitted that this invitation had surprised him. "He had alcoholic drinks. I don’t like hard liquor like whisky. All I can have is some wine. But the wine wasn’t kosher," Bennett recalled smilingly, adding that he was accompanied by Zeev Elkin, the then construction minister, who was acting as an interpreter at the talks.
The former Israeli prime minister confessed that he was somewhat confused. "He [Putin] takes a bottle, I am looking at Elkin saying, ‘Tell him that I don’t … want any wine now.’ Then he asks: ‘What would you have? Vodka? There were only three of us there - he, myself and Elkin as an interpreter. I only understand that he is holding a bottle of vodka in his hands and agreed. I had to drink vodka," Bennett recalled.
According to the Israeli politician, the Russian leader was very polite and they managed to establish quite good relations after the Sochi meeting. "He was very courteous. And the relations, which were established back then, proved their worth soon," he said before recalling the development of March 2022, when he acted as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine.