By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed hope that new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett would continue in the footsteps of his predecessor in maintaining close and “trusting” relations with his country. Welcoming Bennett at the start of their first meeting in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin hailed Russian-Israeli ties as “unique,” noting that Israel is home to the largest Russian-speaking community. Bennett emphasized “the deep connection” between the two countries. Following the talks, Bennett described bilateral ties as “strategic” and emphasized the need to maintain an “intimate” dialogue with Moscow. Russia and Israel have developed a close relationship helping them tackle divisive issues, such as the situation in Syria.