Peres Inaugurates Jewish Museum Funded by Putin, Vekselberg

Israeli President Shimon Peres inaugurated a $50 million Jewish museum and tolerance center in Moscow partly financed by President Vladimir Putin and billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.

“We were very moved by the support of President Putin, his personal contribution to this museum,” Peres said today at a ceremony attended by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the museum, located in a Constructivist landmark, a former bus garage built in the 1920s. “The heroism of the Russian people and their allies delivered a decisive blow to the fascists and saved the world, humankind and the Jewish people.”

The center is “our common contribution in the fight against xenophobia and nationalism,” Putin said at the start of talks with Peres. Putin donated one month’s salary to help finance the construction of the museum. He declared income of 3.7 million rubles ($117,000) last year and 5 million rubles in 2010, according to the government.

The Jewish community in Russia, which shrank after the collapse of the Soviet Union because of emigration, now numbers 153,000, according to the latest official census, and as many as 1 million, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. The center would serve as a “memorial” to Jews who died in the Soviet Union during World War II as well as other nationalities targeted by German invaders, Putin said yesterday at a meeting with two leaders of the country’s Jewish community.

Israel and Russia have forged close ties since the end of the Cold War. More than 1 million Russian speakers live in Israel, or close to 15 percent of the population, after a wave of Jewish emigration from the former Soviet Union.

Putin’s Opinion

“More important than Putin’s salary is Putin’s position,” said Vekselberg, who is the richest Russian with a fortune of $17.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. “Putin is the real leader of this country and his opinion is very influential. He strongly supports this idea. He strongly supports the multicultural approach.”

Ninety percent of the funds to build the museum were private, said the businessman.