Assessing Moscow’s Recent Stance on the Palestine Problem

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Russia’s presence in the Middle East has evolved significantly over the decades, shaping regional dynamics and global geopolitics. Transitioning from once-friendly relations with Israel, Russia’s stance has notably shifted, now demonstrating unequivocal public support for Hamas. The move is part of a larger geostrategic plan to paint the US, Israel, and Western response as the main issue and portray Russia as a mediator of peace.

Russia has previously called for “collective action” to put an end to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Although it has always refused to label Hamas as a terrorist group, Russia maintains tight diplomatic connections with both Israel and the Palestinian organization. But when it comes to Israel’s atrocities in Gaza, Russia has cautiously responded to this crisis. Russia has been quick to denounce Israel’s attacks, but it is still hesitant to cut off all contact with the country. Russia may be expecting that the United States and its allies will drop their support for Ukraine as the Israel-Hamas conflict does not seem to be abating. Notably, Russia is yet to denounce the October 7 bombings by Hamas as terrorism. Rather, Russian officials have reiterated their support for a Palestinian state and demanded that both sides lay down their weapons. A Russian resolution in the UN Security Council demanding a cease-fire and the release of all captives failed to pass because it did not denounce Hamas.

Since the onset of the current conflict in Gaza, Russian leaders have frequently criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in speeches and public appearances, stating that Israel’s shelling of Gaza violates international law. Putin likened Nazi Germany’s siege of Leningrad during World War II, one of the most horrific episodes in Russian history that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Following these condemnations of Israel’s actions, it is imperative to delve into the interactions between the Palestinian side and Russia during the two visits to Moscow. This brief will first focus on what transpired between the Palestinian side and Russia during the two visits to Moscow. Then the brief will evaluate Russia’s position in the current Israel-Palestine war. Then it will shed light on Russia’s sphere of influence and balancing act in the Middle East.

There Have Been Two Meetings

The invitation extended by Moscow to Hamas and other Palestinian representatives marked a paradigm shift in this continuing confrontation. The two encounters between senior Hamas and Russian officials amply demonstrated Moscow’s influence over important actors in the brutal Middle East conflict.

At the first meeting, which took place on October 28, a delegation of senior Hamas officials traveled to Moscow to meet with a senior Russian official. Iran, a significant player in the conflict that is developing, sent a deputy foreign minister to Moscow to speak with his Russian counterpart. The release of foreign hostages from the Gaza Strip has been discussed by both parties. During the second meeting on February 28, Palestinian factions including Hamas and Fatah have made progress in establishing political unity. After the meeting, the Palestinian factions announced that they would be joining the PLO through an “upcoming dialogue.” Rivals Hamas and Fatah, among other Palestinian factions, declared that they would oppose Israel with “unity of action.” Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and other Palestinian organizations convened to discuss the Gaza War and the potential aftermath. Russia is demonstrating its support for the Palestinian cause by hosting and assisting the intra-Palestinian negotiations, a move that is part of its strategy to increase its influence among the Arab countries. Additionally, the nation is emphasizing its status as a force capable of uniting all of the Palestinian factions.

There has long been a history of Russian involvement with the Palestinian cause. The Soviet Union had adopted a strongly pro-Palestinian position. The Russian Foreign Ministry has historically taken quite a pro-Palestinian stance or a very even-handed approach to the conflict. So these relations go way back. Since the beginning of the ongoing war, Putin has reiterated the government’s view that the creation of a Palestinian state is necessary, attacking US policy while doing so. He called for a humanitarian ceasefire and described US tactics as an example of their failure in the Middle East. A resolution that “strongly condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism” was also previously facilitated by Russia and submitted to the UN Security Council.

Moscow holds Washington responsible for the conflict in the Middle East and also holds Brussels accountable for “turning a blind eye to the Israeli air force’s attacks on civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.” Since October 7, Russian authorities have also been in constant communication with their counterparts in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey regarding various aspects of this crisis, including the precarious situation of Palestinian refugees and the possibility of a spillover of the conflict into the neighboring countries. Some Russian-made weaponry, probably through Iran, have found their way into Gaza throughout the years. These include anti-tank and shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles. However, there is currently no solid proof that Russia helped Hamas organize or carry out its surprise attack on Israel.

Relations between Russia and Hamas are advantageous to both parties since they support one another’s political objectives and unite to oppose the US, which they believe is the true cause behind both the Israel and Ukraine conflicts. Russia gains from its expanding interests in the Global South through diplomatic ties with Hamas, while Hamas benefits from the political backing of a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Russia can also move to promote itself as a mediator in the Middle East by repairing relations between Hamas and Syria which have seen some highs in recent years. In order to subvert US global hegemony, Putin’s diplomatic goal is to deflect focus from the conflict in Ukraine and solidify Russia’s position as the leader of the “axis of resistance” and anti-Americanism.

Along with Saudi Arabia and Iran, Putin views Israel as a crucial pillar of Russian foreign policy in the Middle East. Up until recently, Russia made an effort to build positive relations with Tel Aviv by portraying it as a silent ally in the area and refusing to acknowledge Israeli attacks against Iran’s proxies in Syria. Putin is deliberately challenging US supremacy and establishing a multipolar world order in which the US and the EU are reduced through Russia’s evolving Israel-Hamas policy. It indicates Russia’s readiness to take the stage within this multipolar system. Putin’s aim has been strengthened by the Western forces’ two-front engagement along the Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine axis. Moscow may be affected by instrumentalizing Hamas and the upheaval that follows in the Middle East. Israel has notably abstained from penalizing Moscow or arming Kyiv during the international isolation that followed the invasion of Ukraine.

Putin frequently fuels concerns about a nuclear exchange over the conflict in Ukraine, as evidenced by its most recent suggestion that it may renounce the international Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Russia also complained about the fact that the deal was never ratified by the United States and a few other nations, including China, Iran, and Israel. Recently, Putin declared that his country is ready for a nuclear war if push comes to shove and its sovereignty is threatened. This threat to Washington was to signal to them that he was prepared to use all means to protect his interests in Ukraine. Amid the current conflict, Moscow’s role in the Hamas-Israel dispute has not only changed the nature of its political interactions but also made it easier for its commercial ties throughout the Middle East to grow and diversify.

Moscow’s strategy for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem is based on keeping a healthy balance and good relations with all parties concerned. The fight between the US and Western Europe, as the US plans to send weapons to Israel initially destined for Ukraine. There will be less scrutiny on Russian war crimes and how the Russian military fights, as a result of the carnage in Israel and Palestine. However, the Russian leadership is troubled by some aspects of the current Hamas-Israel dispute. Moscow is concerned that this crisis could spread to other Middle Eastern nations like Syria and Lebanon. If there is a spillover of the Israel- Palestine conflict into the neighboring nations, especially if a wider conflict destabilizes Syria, the Russians may not have the military capacity to handle the issue at hand. Therefore, the larger conflict may not be in Russia’s best interests.

Russia remains in contact with Israel regarding military actions in Syria, and Israel has received gratitude from Russia for not providing military assistance to Ukraine. But, Russia’s approach to the conflict has unsurprisingly drawn criticism from Israeli officials. Tensions between Russia and Israel also increased due to Russia receiving repeated delegations from Hamas in the wake of October 7, and also due to the growing disparities in strategic affiliations.

In the larger geopolitical scheme of things, Russia stands to gain if it can create crises and instability elsewhere and divert attention away from NATO’s eastern border, namely from the United States. Moscow would also appreciate it if the current developments have the unintended consequence of upsetting the ongoing negotiations for Israeli-Saudi normalization, as these relations are primarily an American affair. However, if the confrontation extends beyond Israel and Gaza, Russia will also be at risk. Russia is particularly interested in maintaining its military presence in Syria without adding more soldiers. Russia currently cannot afford to send any more troops anywhere as it may put more strain on the forces that are already under a lot of pressure. Relations with Israel are likely to deteriorate even more if Russia goes above and beyond in its assistance to Hamas. Nevertheless, Russia has a history of pulling off challenging balancing acts in the Middle East, and it might be able to do so again to win over the Arabs without severing its relations with Israel.

In conclusion, understanding Russia’s intentions and tactics in the Middle East will continue to be essential for comprehending the delicate politics of the region, even more so, as the dynamics of power and the ongoing wars are ever-evolving.

– Tahia Afra Jannati is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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