Russian President Vladimir Putin deliberated for three days before addressing Hamas’ assault on Israelis, a timing coinciding with his 71st birthday. When he finally spoke, his blame was deflected towards the United States, not Hamas.
Putin emphasized, “Many will likely agree with me that this signifies the failed policy of the United States in the Middle East, attempting to monopolize the settlement process,” during a discussion with Iraq’s prime minister.
Following this, it took an additional six days for Putin to extend condolences to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the loss of around 1,200 lives. Subsequently, Russia declared talks with a Hamas delegation in Moscow ten days later.
Empathy, suffering, and the Gaza crisis climax
Experts from both Russia and the West suggest that Putin is leveraging the Israel-Hamas conflict to heighten what he frames as an existential battle with the West for a new world order. He envisions a departure from U.S. dominance toward a multilateral system he believes is already taking shape.
Former Kremlin adviser Sergei Markov clarified Putin’s standpoint, stating, “Russia will not be in the same camp with the U.S. and the EU. Israel’s primary ally is the United States, Russia’s foremost adversary at present. And Hamas’ ally is Iran, a partner of Russia.”
The growing rapport between Moscow and Tehran, accused by Washington of supplying drones to Russia for the Ukraine conflict, adds complexity to the geopolitical landscape.
Hanna Notte, a Russian foreign policy expert based in Berlin, believes Moscow has abandoned its earlier balanced Middle East position, adopting a more overtly pro-Palestinian stance. She notes that by doing so, Russia aligns itself with various constituencies, particularly in the Global South, on the Palestinian issue.
Putin’s strategy seems geared towards gaining support from these constituencies in his pursuit of a new world order that diminishes U.S. influence. As Hanna Notte observes, “The most important way in which Russia stands to benefit from this crisis in Gaza is by scoring points in the court of global public opinion.”
Putin’s empathetic statement about the suffering in Gaza, saying, “when you look at the suffering and bloodied children, you clench your fists and tears come to your eyes,” adds a poignant climax to his narrative.
West’s double standards damaging global perception
Russian politicians are underscoring a marked contrast between the seemingly unchecked actions of Israel in bombing Gaza, with what they perceive as Washington’s punitive response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Despite Moscow’s claim of avoiding intentional targeting of civilians in Ukraine, Israel’s U.N. ambassador dismissed Russia’s position, arguing that Moscow lacks the moral standing to advise others given its own actions in Ukraine.
Senator Alexei Pushkov contends that the West has fallen into a self-made trap, exposing double standards shaped by self-interest. In a Telegram post, Pushkov points out that the unwavering support of the United States and the West for Israel has significantly damaged Western foreign policy in the eyes of the Arab world and the entire Global South.
Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, views the crisis as a strategic moment for Moscow to enhance its influence in the Middle East. The approach involves positioning Russia as a potential peacemaker with connections to all parties involved, aiming to broaden its impact in the region. President Putin has affirmed Russia’s preparedness to host a regional meeting of foreign ministers, underscoring the nation’s potential role in the peace process.
In an October interview with an Arab TV channel, Putin stated, “We have longstanding, pragmatic relations with Israel, and we’ve maintained friendly ties with Palestine for decades; our friends are aware of this. I believe Russia could contribute significantly to the settlement process.”
Beyond diplomatic considerations, there are perceived economic advantages for Russia in this situation. Markov suggests that the conflict might lead to an upswing in oil prices, offering a potential economic boost for Russia. Additionally, there’s a strategic advantage in redirecting Western financial and military resources away from Ukraine—an approach perceived as aligning with Moscow’s interests.
This narrative unveils a multifaceted approach by Russia, blending diplomatic finesse, regional influence-building, and strategic economic considerations in navigating the complexities of the Israel-Gaza conflict and its broader geopolitical implications.
Reciprocal summons and harsh words in Russia-Israel relations
Alex Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, suggests that Moscow’s shift in Middle East policy is influenced by the central role the war in Ukraine has assumed in Russian foreign policy. He points to ties with Iran, a military ally, and emphasizes that the Russian war effort takes precedence over other international relationships, such as that with Israel.
The historically close and pragmatic ties between Russia and Israel have experienced strain. Israel expressed displeasure when Moscow hosted a Hamas delegation less than two weeks after the October 7 massacre, leading to the summoning of Russia’s ambassador, Anatoly Viktorov, by Israel. The move was seen as sending “a message legitimizing terrorism.”
The discontent is reciprocal, with Israel’s ambassador, Alexander Ben Zvi, summoned for talks with the Russian foreign ministry on multiple occasions. Harsh words were exchanged between the two countries’ U.N. envoys after Moscow questioned the extent of Israel’s right to defend itself.
Mikhail Bogdanov, a Russian deputy foreign minister, noted that Israel has ceased routinely informing Moscow in advance of airstrikes against Russia’s ally, Syria. Additionally, Russia raised concerns when a suspended Israeli junior minister hinted at the possibility of a nuclear strike on Gaza, prompting Russia to question whether this constituted an official admission of Israel possessing nuclear weapons.
Amir Weitmann, chairman of the libertarian caucus in Netanyahu’s Likud party, warned of repercussions, stating, “We’re going to finish this war (with Hamas)… After this, Russia will pay the price.” He accused Russia of supporting Israel’s enemies and vowed that Israel would ensure Ukraine’s victory, indicating tensions and a potential impact on the diplomatic relationship.