MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has pardoned an Israeli woman who had been jailed on drug charges, the Kremlin said Wednesday.
A presidential decree ordering Naama Issachar’s release on “humanitarian principles” was effective immediately, the Kremlin said.
The 26-year-old backpacker was arrested in April at a Moscow airport, where she was transferring en route from India to Israel. Russian authorities said more than nine grams of hashish were found in her luggage. She was convicted and sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison.
Issachar has been serving her sentence in a prison colony just outside Moscow.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long-sought Issachar’s release, is to visit Moscow on Thursday to discuss U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan with the Russian president.
“I thank my friend President Putin for pardoning Naama Issachar,” Netanyahu said. “I look forward to our meeting tomorrow in which we will discuss the deal of the century and the latest developments in the region.”
On a visit to Israel last week, Putin met with Issachar’s mother and told her, “Everything will be alright.” Putin’s decree followed Issachar’s petition for a pardon.
Last week, Israeli media linked Issachar’s possible pardon with the reported decision by Israeli authorities to pass control of the Alexander courtyard in Jerusalem’s Old City to Russia. Russian officials denied any connection.
The Alexander courtyard, which was bought by Russia in 1859, is meters from Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is one of several Jerusalem properties that Moscow claims, and the dispute over it has been a source of friction between the usually friendly Israel and Russia.
Some in Israel also linked Issachar’s arrest to the fate of a Russian man, Alexei Burkov, who was arrested in Israel on a U.S. warrant on charges of involvement in a $20 million credit card fraud scheme. Israeli media reports alleged that Russia hoped to use Issachar as a bargaining chip to persuade Israeli authorities to send Burkov home even though Russian officials never linked the issues.
Russia submitted an extradition request for Burkov to Israel, but he was sent to the U.S. in November on an Israeli court order.
Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.