After 600 days of war in Ukraine which may last, the crisis in the Middle East
Trapped in the conflict with Ukraine, to which he does not see an outcome, Vladimir Putin finds, in the confrontation between Hamas and Israel, an unexpected lever — but a dangerous one — to move the geopolitical lines of the region.
An overview of the five big issues at stake for the Russian head of state, some of which were no doubt discussed in today’s talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the New Silk Roads conference in Beijing.
– Forget Ukraine –
After 600 days of war in Ukraine which may last, the crisis in the Middle East allows the eyes of the international community to turn elsewhere.
“Hamas’s raid and its aftermath contribute substantially to the decline of the West’s general interest in Ukraine,” notes Igor Delanoe, deputy director of the Franco-Russian Observatory.
“This conflict is a godsend for Russia because it is a huge distraction for the US and the West,” says Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Center, noting that the US administration promises to spend a lot of time on it, at least until the presidential elections. elections in November 2024.
This prospect complicates Vladimir Putin’s game: a Republican victory would serve his interests, as part of them want to call into question US aid to Kiev. And the Israeli file is extremely sensitive among the American right.
– Preventing Chaos –
The Middle East is an area of such importance to Russia that some voices in the West suspect that the Kremlin played a role in the October 7 Hamas attack.
No tangible evidence supports this assumption. “I saw no evidence of direct Russian support for Hamas in this attack — planning, weaponry, execution. And let’s be clear: Russian assistance was not mandatory,” said Hannah Note, an analyst at CSIS, a Washington think tank.
Tatyana Stanovaya, founder of the specialized website RPolitik, believes for her part that a “serious escalation, which could even lead to a potentially open conflict between Iran and Israel, could undermine the long-standing Russian presence in the Middle East and its current campaign in Syria”.
Russian military bases in Syria allow “the projection of Moscow’s influence in Africa and the Middle East”, he underlines.
– Attention to Iran –
The rapprochement between Tehran and Moscow has become one of the keys to Russian diplomacy, notably with the massive use of Iranian drones in Ukraine. The Islamic Republic is an undisputed supporter of Hamas, as well as Hezbollah.
Here too, the rope is thin for Moscow in the region.
“Russia’s war in Ukraine has tightened military ties with Iran. Hamas officials have traveled to Moscow at least three times since Russia invaded Ukraine,” said Nigel Gould-Davies of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). .
“The issue has always been how far this cooperation could go without prompting (Israel) to reconsider its relations with Moscow,” he said. “Moscow must also fear that serious retaliation against Iran could weaken one of its few close allies.”
– Caution for Israel –
Moscow must also take care to protect Israel, especially when personal relations are good between Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the Israeli military industry has not delivered any weapons to the forces of Kiev.
“The Kremlin has so far managed to keep (Israel) out of the war in Ukraine, and it would like that Western country not to become an additional supporter of Ukraine,” said Dimitri Minich of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). .
However, the Russian president refrained from calling the October 7 Hamas attacks “terrorist,” as Western countries have done.
A stance “indicative of the change in its political priorities” and the fact that it is now appealing to pro-Palestinian public opinion in the Middle East and the southern hemisphere, underlines CSIS’s Hannah Note.
– The weakening of the West –
The fundamental goal of Russian diplomacy is to weaken the Western world order, a plan shared by its allies in China, Iran and North Korea in particular.
The head of the Kremlin also directly blamed Washington for the crisis in the Middle East.
From this point of view, the situation in the region “contributes to the spread of anti-Western narratives by attributing global instability and the resumption of historical confrontations to the West”, Tatiana Stanovaya estimates.
“The Israeli retaliation in Gaza is characterized by a barrage of fire, which will not fail to highlight what could be seen as two standards in the Western response to the use of force,” notes Igor Delanoe.
“What unites a part of the countries of the south and Russia is not so much that they share positive values but resentment, even hatred and very often an irrational perception of the West”, analyzes IFRI’s Dmitry Minich.
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