After the serious escalation of the crisis in the Middle East, which began on October 7th with the Hamas attack in Israel, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the conflict illustrates the failure of United States policy in the region. According to him, Washington “has always ignored the fundamental interests of the Palestinian people.”
Moscow’s position puts into perspective the impacts of the conflict on international politics in a scenario in which the West’s broad support for Israel silences the war that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promoting against the Palestinian people.
The unprecedented attack by the Hamas group, which caused the death of over 1,300 people in Israel in the first four days of the conflict alone, resulted in harsh retaliation by the country governed by Netanyahu, which ordered a “total siege” in Gaza, causing a serious humanitarian crisis in the region.
According to UN data, released last Thursday (12), more than 1,400 people died in Gaza due to Israeli attacks. At the international level, the crisis in the Middle East receives asymmetrical treatment and selective solidarity.
Last Tuesday, the 10th, President Joe Biden stated that the USA is on Israel’s side and guaranteed military assistance to the country. According to the North American president, Washington’s support for Israel “is solid and unshakable”: “We will do everything so that Israel can defend itself.” When condemning the attacks by the Hamas group, Biden omitted the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza.
On the other hand, Russia adopts a neutral and more ambiguous policy. Firstly, unlike the USA and the European Union (EU), Russia – like Brazil – does not classify the Hamas group as a terrorist organization. At the same time, Moscow has historically had good relations with Israel and claims to maintain contacts with both sides of the conflict. This was illustrated by the speech of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. According to him, Russia has historical ties with Palestine and Israel, maintains relations with both countries and “participates in all formats of contacts with the Palestinians, during which it seeks to find common ground for resolving the conflict.”
:: Putin: conflict between Israel and Palestine is ‘a clear example of the failure of US policy in the Middle East’ ::
At the same time, the historically good relations with Israel, which has a large Russian diaspora on its territory, do not exempt Moscow from defending the creation of a State of Palestine as a premise for resolving the conflict in the Middle East. When speaking about the crisis in the Middle East, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia’s position was not adopted today “in connection with these tragic events, it has developed over decades.” According to him, the decision to create the State of Israel was accompanied by the idea of creating a State for Palestine, but this agreement never materialized.
“Well, Israel was created, as we know, but Palestine as an independent, sovereign state was never created, it did not occur. […] Furthermore, some of the lands that Palestinians have always considered primarily Palestinian are occupied by Israel – at different times and in different ways, but mainly, of course, with the help of military force,” the Russian president said.
In this context, Russian foreign policy antagonizes the West’s treatment of events in the Middle East, denouncing the fact that the USA, in the name of the alliance with Israel, ignores Palestinian sovereignty claims.
“[Os EUA] pressured both sides. Precisely about both, sometimes about one, sometimes about the other, but always without taking into account the fundamental interests of the Palestinian people. I refer, first of all, to the need to implement the decisions of the UN Security Council on the creation of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state,” Putin said during a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, in Moscow.
In an interview with Brazil in factRussian Council on International Affairs (RIAC) Middle East analyst Kirill Semenov highlighted that Moscow maintains a “subtle balance” in its approach to the Middle East conflict.
According to him, “Russia has always maintained good relations with Israel, despite the fact that Israel is increasingly oriented towards the West and supporting Ukraine.” Semenov highlights, at the same time, that Israel did not adopt sanctions against Russia and does not supply lethal weapons to Ukraine. “This has a reason, there is concern that Russia’s response will be to militarily support Iran or Hezbollah in Lebanon,” he adds.
On the other hand, Hamas is a group that has always positioned itself as a supporter of Russia, adopting a pro-Russian position in the conflicts in the Caucasus and Chechnya, for example. Likewise, Hamas supported Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
“For Russia it is important to maintain this balance with the Palestinians and Israel and, at the same time, promote peace initiatives. And there needs to be a State of Palestine. In this sense, we can see that Russia’s position diverges from that of the West,” she states.
The analyst points out that the Kremlin’s policy currently sounds more favorable to Palestine, but that this approach is anchored by UN resolutions. “Russia insists on the formation of a Palestinian state. This can be seen with a pro-Palestinian position, but this is provided for in all UN Security Council resolutions”, adds Kirill Semenov.
Impact on the Ukraine war
The worsening crisis in the Middle East also clearly illustrated the geopolitical alignments that shape the international scenario today. The escalation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine generated discomfort in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said that “international attention risks shifting away from Ukraine, and this will have consequences.”
The Ukrainian president also made an unrestricted defense of Israel and did not express solidarity with the victims on the Palestinian side. At the same time, without presenting any evidence, Zelensky accused Russia of supporting attacks carried out by Hamas against Israel. The White House said aid to Israel should not come at the expense of financial support for Ukraine. However, White House spokesman John Kirby signaled last Thursday that aid to Kiev is not indefinite and, in his words, is “reaching the end of the line”.
According to journalist specializing in the Middle East, Ruslan Suleimanov, officially, Russia occupies an equidistant position in the conflict, assumed a long time ago. In an interview with Brazil in fact, he points out that “Moscow clearly does not occupy any side in the conflict between Palestine and Israel, nor in the conflict between the different factions of Palestine.” “As we know, the Palestinian movement is divided into two parts: the moderate Fatah and the radical Hamas. Moscow sought to play a mediating role, but without success,” he notes.
However, nuances linked to the crisis in Ukraine have altered the balance of relations between Russia and the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Russian rhetoric that the war in Ukraine aims to combat “neo-Nazism” allegedly present in the Ukrainian government led Foreign Minister Serguei Lavrov to make a statement that damaged relations with Israel. The Russian minister even stated that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler “had Jewish blood”. The speech was in the context of justifying the accusation of the Nazi presence in Ukraine, despite the fact that President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish.
“The fact does not deny the Nazi elements in Ukraine. I believe Hitler also had Jewish blood,” adding that “some of the worst anti-Semites are Jews,” Lavrov said in May 2022.
The statement shocked Israeli diplomats, who summoned the Russian ambassador for “clarification” and demanded an apology. The friction in the relationship with Israel was accompanied by a defense of Russian intervention in Ukraine by the Hamas group.
For journalist Ruslan Suleimanov, the escalation of the crisis in the Middle East is politically advantageous for Russia but, according to him, this scenario has a limited time frame.
“For Russia it is a very advantageous situation, because it distracts the international community from what is happening in Ukraine, what the Russian army is doing there, especially with the deaths of civilians. All of this comes in handy for the Kremlin. But I think this has a validity in time, because I think that sooner or later the escalation between Israel and Palestine will end. The last major climb was in May 2021 and lasted 11 days. I believe it will now be more or less the same period of time. That’s why Ukraine will not leave the agenda”, he adds.
Editing: Patrícia de Matos