Nikolay Kozhanov, a Gulf Studies professor at Qatar University, gave an analysis of Russia’s pragmatic diplomatic strategy in the Middle East on Aljazeera.
On January 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Israel for the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during World War 2. This is Putin’s third official trip to Israel since when he became president in 2001 (he visited twice in 2005 and 2012).
Putin and Russian officials were welcomed in Israel as VIPs and Israeli leaders made clear that they supported Russia’s position in a dispute with some Eastern European countries over the role of the Soviet Union. in liberating Europe from Nazi rule. This was an extremely important issue for the Russian president, who focused on the Soviet victory in World War 2 in rhetoric with the people of Russia.
Just one week later, on January 30, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow to meet with the Russian President. This is the fourth trip of Prime Minister Netanyahu to Russia in over a year. He visited Putin before the Israeli elections in April and September, hoping to increase his chances of winning the election. This time, Putin did not disappoint Netanyahu.
Putin had a gift when he decided to release Naama Issahar, an Israeli citizen arrested for alleged drug trafficking at Moscow airport in 2019. The detention of Issahar is considered a political move to put pressure on Israel had to release Alexey Burkov, a Russian hacker who faced extradition to the United States.
The Kremlin has allowed Issahar to leave prison despite the fact that Burkov was handed over to the US authorities in November. The release of Isshar was a major diplomatic victory for Netanyahu (after US President Donald Trump announced the plan). Middle East). Won the courtship of both the United States and Russia at this point, it is outstanding.
It is conceivable that the Kremlin calculates that it is better to help Netanyahu gain more terms because under his government, Russia-Israel relations have flourished – something that Moscow has been promoting since the 1990s.
At this time, close ties with Israel, which is a close ally of the United States, with the European Union, are important to Moscow for many reasons. First, they undermine Western efforts to isolate Russia after the Ukraine crisis and unilaterally annexed Crimea. Israel is also playing a certain bridging role in helping Moscow dialogue with the West to normalize.
Second, Russia needs close coordination with Israel, which plays an important role in defining political and security arrangements in the Levant (especially through its alliance with the United States), to ensure its position. of Russia in Syria. The stability of a Russian-backed regime in Damascus depends on Israeli cooperation.
Third, Russia and Israel also have strong economic and cultural ties, with a significant Jewish Jewish population in Russia since the Soviet era. In 2019, Russia-Israel trade reached $ 5 billion, making Israel a major trading partner of Russia in the region.
Significantly, the exchange of these visits came just weeks after US drones assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, causing another tense escalation in the region. For Tehran, which is Moscow’s strategic partner in the region, traveling back and forth between Russia and Israel certainly raises some concerns.
In the end, the public witnessed a rather silent reaction from the Kremlin before Soleimani’s death. Although Moscow has officially condemned the incident, it is inclined to offer mediation to ease tensions between the US and Iran, and it seems that Russia still wants to stay away from the situation by keeping silent. This may seem surprising given the close relationship between Russia and Iran and Soleimani’s key position in Iran’s power division system.
Russia’s silence after the assassination seems to indicate that Iran has personally provoked the United States in Iraq and the Gulf, fearing that the incident could lead to Iran’s aggressive action against Israel.
For this reason, while the Russian leadership is able to enjoy its cooperation with Israel and its associated international diplomatic interests, the Kremlin still has to strongly oppose any actions that threaten it. regime in Tehran.
In this context, Iran’s decision to downgrade in honor after Soleimani’s death by launching limited attacks on US positions in Iraq was a relief for Russia. However, the risk of US-Iran escalation remains high, which means that Moscow may have difficulty maintaining a balanced action between Tehran and Tel Aviv in the future. Rope swing is not an easy task, even for a country like Russia.
Russia is both helping and guarding Iran
Moscow and Tehran have teamed up in Syria to support President Bashir al-Assad’s government to drive or destroy the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) and anti-Syrian forces. The first Russian-Iran-China naval exercise in December 1919 in the Gulf of Oman and the North Indian Ocean reflected a growing cooperation with Iran.
Iran is a beneficiary of Russian arms sales. In late 2016, Russia completed the delivery of the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran, signing an agreement worth 800 million USD between the two countries in 2007. However, in May 2019, President Putin was supposed to rejected Iran’s request to buy advanced S-400 missile defense system from Russia. Putin refused because of mounting tensions in the Gulf region, where some Arab leaders were also concerned about Iran’s military capabilities.