Israel-Hamas war: Is Russia benefiting from the conflict?
Russia blames the West for the war and says it's doing all it can to end it. However, some experts believe it's in Moscow's geopolitical interests for the conflict to continue
According to Russia's official stance on the war between Hamas and Israel, the US is to blame for the terrorist attack by militant Islamist organisation Hamas. Moscow also assigns responsibility for tensions across the wider Middle East to the US. Conversely, Russia says it wants peace and is doing everything to end the war.
In reality, however, Russia's interests diverge from its official position, Russian Middle East expert Ruslan Suleymanov told DW. It is clear Russia benefits from the Israel-Hamas conflict and is interested in seeing it drag on, Suleymanov said. He added that it may welcome the conflict spilling over as this would harm its adversary, the US.
"Russia and China are rubbing their hands, watching with glee as the [Middle East] situation unfolds," Suleymanov said. Russia will be pleased that "the US and other Western countries are now paying attention to the Middle East and no longer to Ukraine", he added.
Konstantin Pachalyuk, a Russian political scientist who recently emigrated to Israel, agrees. He also believes Russia will be pleased when global attention shifts from Ukraine to Israel.
There are two reasons why Pachalyuk thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin could benefit from the Israel-Hamas conflict.
On the one hand, Russian propaganda could capitalize on the conflict to frighten the Russian population, the analyst told DW. Propaganda messaging, he said, will suggest that everyone is accusing Russia of starting the war in Ukraine, when Israel is behaving even worse and America can't do anything about it, with a major Middle East conflict looming.
Russian propaganda will imply there is a threat of an even bigger war, for which the West is to blame. Pachalyuk told DW that the propaganda will seek to make the following argument: "What do you have to blame Russia for anyway? In a moral sense, no one can blame us."
On the other hand, Russia may now demonstrate its close ties to the Islamic world, Pachalyuk said. In reality, however, Russia no longer has any tangible influence in the region, neither in Syria, Egypt nor Iran. As such, Russia will want to show the Arab world that many Muslims live in Russia who all support the Palestinians, Pachalyuk said.
Russian political scientist and economist Mikhail Krutikhin, who lives in Norway, disagrees entirely. The war in the Middle East will harm Russia politically, he told DW.
Recent antisemitic attacks in several Muslim majority Russian regions, he said, pose a problem for Russia. He referred in particular to the Dagestan incident, where thousands of angry men stormed Makhachkala airport after a plane from Tel Aviv touched down there. This incident and others are clear signals that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Kremlin to ensure security across Russia's regions, Krutichin said.
"I think this will have a very negative impact on political stability within Russia," he added. Moscow will have to be much more cautious after these incidents and scale back its antisemitic rhetoric, he said, if it wants to avoid destabilizing its regions.
Russia will benefit neither politically nor economically from the war in the Middle East, Krutichin said. A significant rise in oil prices would have translated into greater earnings for Russia. But this is not the case. On the contrary, Krutichin said. Prices are temporarily falling because none of the oil-producing countries are prepared to go to war in support of the Palestinians, the expert told DW.
A controversial visit by a Hamas delegation to Moscow a few days ago, which drew fierce criticism from Israel, will have no significant impact on bringing peace to the region, Pachalyuk said. The primary goal of the meeting was to free Russian hostages, he added.
Whether Russia can actually do anything to help free the hostages, however, is questionable, according to Suleymanov. Doing so would necessitate negotiating with other actors, he said.
Russia's contacts with Hamas actually serve quite different goals, Suleymanov said. "The most important thing, I think, is that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin feels personally offended by [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu was considered Putin's friend, he often visited Moscow," the analyst told DW.
Putin had hoped Netanyahu would support him in the war against Ukraine, Suleymanov said. But Israel did not side with Russia, and Putin has not forgiven Netanyahu for this, Suleymanov said. Russian state propaganda, he added, reflects this, with television talk practically gloating about the Middle East war. "Putin apparently wants to send a message that if you [Israel] behave like this, we will make a point of deepening our relations with your arch-enemy Iran, and with Iran's Middle East proxy, Hamas."
This attitude, however, could hurt Russia's standing in Israel, said Pachalyuk. "Undoubtedly, this [behavior] irritates Israelis," the Israel-based analyst told DW. "I want to reiterate that almost a third of the population here in Israel speaks Russian, and more or less immigrated from Russia, or had ties to Russia." Quite a few Russian-speaking Israelis were supportive of Russia even after the Ukraine war began, he said, but are now "growing seriously concerned."