Putin's muted response to Hamas attack speaks volumes about Russia's deepening ties with Iran

user avatar Author: Editors Desk
October 12, 2023 at 14:40
After decades of friendly relations with Israel, Russia is aligning with its arch enemy
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke Wednesday at the 2023 Russian Energy Week international forum in Moscow. After his speech, Putin talked about the what is happening in Israel and Gaza. Kristina Kormilitsyna/via Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke Wednesday at the 2023 Russian Energy Week international forum in Moscow. After his speech, Putin talked about the what is happening in Israel and Gaza. Kristina Kormilitsyna/via Reuters

When Russian President Vladimir Putin described what was happening in Israel, he told an energy forum in Moscow that the level of violence was "very high on both sides" and failed to single out Hamas for the surprise attack that left hundreds of Israeli citizens dead.  

Instead, the Russian leader spoke Wednesday about the importance of creating a Palestinian state with its capital city located in occupied East Jerusalem. 

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Those comments, along with his lack of condemnation around the Hamas attack, show Russia's deteriorating relationship with Israel in favour of forging closer ties with Israel's arch enemy, Iran.

Experts say the eruption of violence in the Middle East could ultimately benefit Russia if the west's attention and resources are shifted away from Ukraine. They also say Russia's response to the crisis is proof of the country's growing dependency on Iran for support.

Iran: Ally of Hamas, 'primary partner' of Russia

"Iran has become one of Russia's primary partners," said Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in a message to CBC News. "Iran provides Russia with Shahed drones and will most likely provide Russia with other types of weapons including missiles."

Iran is the main backer of Hamas, the political and militant group behind early Saturday attack that prompted Israel's declare of war. The conflict has so far killed about 2,300 people on both sides.

On Wednesday, Russian officials said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to visit Moscow soon. A date was not announced.

Russia has met with delegations from Hamas before, including last March, and it has previously hosted other Palestinian groups, including the Palestinian Authority.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several times, including during a in Moscow, Russia on January 30, 2020.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several times, including during a visit to Moscow in January 2020. (Maxmin Shemetov/REUTERS)

Russia's relations with Israel

But during Putin's more than 20 years in power, he has also built friendly relations with Israel, including more than a dozen visits from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Russian media.

In 2020, both leaders stood side by side in a Jerusalem park as they opened a monument, jointly designed by architects in both countries, to honour the hundreds of thousands who died during the siege of Leningrad.

Russia's ties with Israel, which is a key U.S. ally, helped the Kremlin maintain influence in the Middle East.

But those ties were driven, in part, by strong personal connections between the two countries. 

Israel is home to hundreds of thousands of Russian speakers who started emigrating in the late 1980s and after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

That population swelled after Russia launched its war on Ukraine. According to Israeli government figures, 20,246 Russians moved to Israel in 2022 between January and July. 

Russia tried to make it harder for its citizens to leave, with a 2022 crackdown on a non-profit organization, the Jewish Agency, which helps Russian Jews emigrate to Israel.

The move to dissolve the group followed a comment by Israel's then-foreign minister, who accused Russia of carrying out war crimes in Ukraine. In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin.

But Israel has never joined western sanctions against Russia, nor has it supplied Ukraine with weapons. 

"Israel was very careful with this, even though domestic public opinion is very much pro-Ukraine," Abbas Gallyamov, a former speechwriter for Putin, told CBC News on Wednesday. 

During the video call from his home in Netanya, Israel, Gallyamov checked his phone as air alerts were issued for the northern part of the country.

Surprised by Putin's response

Gallyamov worked for Putin when he was Russia's prime minister between 2008-12. Later, Gallyamov became an outspoken — and sometimes critical — political consultant and analyst, who moved his family to Israel in 2018 but continued to work in Russia.

Last spring, he learned he was on Russia's wanted list and would be arrested if he returned. 

Abbas Gallyamov, a former speech writer for Putin, called the President's response to the Hamas attacks 'one-sided' and in indication of its reliance on its relationship with Iran.
Abbas Gallyamov, Putin's former speechewriter, said the president's response to the Hamas attacks indicated Russia's reliance on its relationship with Iran. (subitted )

Gallyamov said he was surprised by Putin's one-sided reaction toward the attacks in Israel. He said he believes it shows that Russia has become an "Iran proxy, like Hamas itself or Hezbollah.

"Previously if you wanted to get Russia's position, you needed to negotiate with Russia. Now you've got to go to Tehran," Gallyamov said.

Since Saturday's attack, there has been no reported contact between Putin and Netanyahu. However, Russian media did report that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had spoken with his Iranian counterpart.

Russia's artillery and missile stocks is depleted from almost 20 months of war and its military has relied on Iranian weapons to help carry out its attacks. 

U.S. officials say Iran has shipped hundreds of kamikaze drones to Russia that have been used to target civilian infrastructure across Ukraine. 

Distraction from Ukraine

While part of Russia's response to the Hamas attack included criticizing the U.S. for moving ships and an aircraft carrier to the region, hosts on Russian state-controlled media celebrated that the west will be focused on another conflict. 

On Wednesday, during the talk show 60 Minutes, host Olga Skabeyeva talked about how U.S. weapons would now be sent to Tel Aviv instead of Kyiv, and how Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would see that U.S .and Europe had another preoccupation.

Missiles continue to fall on both Israel and Gaza as more details of Hamas’s brutality come to light, and Palestinians struggle to find shelter and supplies.

Zelenskyy met Wednesday with NATO ministers in Brussels, where U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the country will support Ukraine for "as long as it takes." But there are still concerns that Russia could benefit from the Israel-Hamas war.

"Russia is gaining from this and Russia will gain additionally," said Artis Pabriks, Latvia's former minister of defence in an interview to CBC News. 

Pabriks says he doesn't believe Ukraine is currently getting enough support from NATO to fight Russia. Now, there has been a noticeable shift in public attention. 

"We see ourselves that in the last five days almost nobody speaks about Ukraine," he said. "So that's already a great success for Moscow and Kremlin."


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