Russia & Global South
Russia’s Stance on Gaza in the Shadow of the Ukraine War
March 28, 2024
  • Dr Janko Šćepanović

    Shanghai Academy of Global Governance and Area Studies
International affairs expert Janko Šćepanović argues that since the October 7 attacks, Russia has stepped away from its balanced policy in the Middle East, siding more clearly with the Palestinians and criticizing Israel, in a bid to boost its image in the Global South.
The renewed Israel-Hamas confrontation opened the door for Russia to further throw in its lot with the Middle Eastern powers. Some early reactions to the October 7 events included assessments that Russia was an immediate beneficiary given that they distracted the West from the conflict in Ukraine.

Since the October 7 attack on Israel, it has tabled initiatives or joined others (viz. the non-West) on Gaza ceasefire proposals at the UNSC. Moscow was primarily interested in being seen by its non-Western partners as an alleged “fair broker” leading “principled” diplomacy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its proposals were unlikely to generate results – some diplomats at the UNSC thought the Russians were “clearly not serious or aligned with most council members” – but what mattered to Russia is that these initiatives helped raise its profile and score points with Global South partners.
Moreover, since the onset of the conflict, Moscow has become much more supportive of the Palestinians, siding with the wider Arab and Middle Eastern position on the conflict and lashing out at the Israelis and especially the US.

Israeli media reported that their prime minister complained to Putin about Russia’s growing ties with Israel’s archnemesis Iran and its stance on the war. Notably and to Israeli annoyance and official protestation, a Hamas delegation was received by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Moscow (nominally to discuss the release of hostages) in October 2023 and again in January 2024.

The other and probably most visible manifestation of Russia’s decision to take sides was the harsh accusations and criticism directed at Israel.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, this author argued that Israel and Russia – who have well-developed relations despite considerable differences on certain regional issues – would not seek to unravel the relationship over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
Nevertheless, Israel’s restrained response was not met with appreciation by the Kremlin. Russia has done the opposite: not only harshly criticizing Israelis over Gaza in public forums but also expanding its ties with Israel’s biggest regional enemy – Iran – and even seeking to sell it some of its most advanced weaponry.

In this drive to make an impression and gain friends in the non-West, Russia’s extreme tactics will not work and might also backfire. Besides Iran, Syria and Yemen’s Houthis, few others are willing to engage in open hostilities against the West or have an appetite for the overthrow of the world order, notwithstanding their dissatisfaction with some of Washington’s policies.
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