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Is a shift happening in Moscow’s policies in West Asia?

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TEHRAN – While Russia sought to appear even-handed during previous Israel-Gaza conflicts, the country seems to be looking at the latest wave of onslaughts against the besieged territory through a slightly different prism.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned both warring sides, while also holding Israel accountable for the eruption of the latest round of violence.

“I think that many people will agree with me that this is a vivid example of the failure of United States policy in the Middle East,” Putin said a few days after the October 7 Operation by Hamas, adding that Israel and the U.S. have not been taking the needs of the Palestinians into account. That need, he said, is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, which has been sidelined by Israeli politicians since the very first day of occupation.

Russia then proceeded to host a high-ranking Hamas delegation, during the group’s first international trip after October 7. Hamas members told the Russian President that they “highly valued Putin’s position and the efforts of Russian diplomacy”, with Moscow assuring the dignitaries that it’s ready to “help solve practical issues” any moment.

Putin’s subsequent conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, did not seem to be as heartwarming for the Israelis.

“A 50-minute conversation between the two leaders on Sunday [December 10] won’t yield any change — because as Russia has long demonstrated, it has picked a side,” wrote a former Knesset member in The Times of Israel, warning that Netanyahu could no longer rely on Putin’s “warm feelings”.

Drivers of Russia’s tilt

Russia’s slight tilt toward the Palestinians came as a shock to many around the world, especially due to the supposedly close ties between Putin and the longest-serving and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has traveled to Russia a total of 12 times. Putin has visited the occupied territories 3 times and was received by Netanyahu twice.

During Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow in 2016, the budding “bromance” between the Israeli official and Putin became the talk of the town. Netanyahu was feted by the Russian leader before being treated to a performance of Russia’s famed Bolshoi ballet. As Netanyahu marked 25 years of ties between Israel and Moscow that year, he expressed he would be looking forward to “the next 25 years” of relations with Russians. He left the European capital that evening saying he would remember the visit as a “milestone between Russia and Israel.”

The Soviet Union was one of the first countries to recognize Israel as a “state”. A large population of Russians living in the occupied territories and Russia’s Jewish community of 83,000 people, prodded relatively close and steady ties between Moscow and Israel after the fall of the Soviet Union. To re-emerge as a major player in the region, Russia also sought to play the role of the arbiter in West Asia. Close ties with Israel could certainly help with such an objective.

But the recent Israeli atrocities in Gaza were too abysmal to ignore, even if it meant relations between Russia and Israel would fray further than they had during the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Putin understands that if he seeks to maintain Russia as a powerful external power in West Asia, he cannot turn a blind eye to the immense suffering of millions of people in Palestine.

Russia’s alleged role in Hamas operation

After the successful operation by Hamas, many in the Western world began to point the finger of blame at Russia, accusing Moscow of involvement in the historic offensive, which is seen as a massive security and military blow to the regime.

“Russia is interested in igniting a war in the Middle East so that a new source of pain and suffering will weaken world unity,” said Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on October 9.

Such claims, however, have largely been rejected due to a lack of sustainable evidence. “Netanyahu recently had a productive phone call with President Putin. That wouldn’t have happened if the first sincerely thought that the second played a role in orchestrating the events of 7 October. This conspiracy theory should therefore be seen as a joint American-Ukrainian information provocation to smear Russia,” explained Dr. Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based American political analyst.

Nonetheless, it seems that though it wasn’t involved in the October 7 Operation, Russia has been able to benefit from the Israel-Gaza war. Not because of the nature of the conflict, but because of the West’s response to it. The West has been receiving scathing criticism from human rights activists in the world, for its double standards in regards to civilian casualties in Ukraine and Gaza.

“Western governments treat the much lower number of civilian casualties allegedly attributed to Russia over the past 22 months more seriously than the much higher number that’s indisputably attributable to Israel over the past 2 months,” said Korybko, adding that Russia, as a rival, is sure to get censured for every human and material damage caused in Ukraine, While the West’s ally, Israel, is given the carte blanche to do whatever it wants in Gaza.

“This explains why the ‘International Criminal Court’ is seeking President Putin’s arrest and some Russian troops were just charged by the U.S. with war crimes, while nothing of the sort is even being remotely considered by those two against Netanyahu or Israeli troops”.

The harrowing images coming out of Gaza and the large number of civilian casualties also show that Russia was somewhat protective of civilian lives during its “special military operation”, contrary to what’s been portrayed in Western media. About 9.6 thousand civilians have died during two years of war in Ukraine, while the number of civilian casualties in Gaza has reached nearly 19,000, after only two months of violence. The women and children getting brutally killed during Israel’s killing campaign in Gaza are, of course, not as nearly talked about as Ukrainian civilians.

By Mona Hojat Ansari

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