Saved Web Pages

Gaza War: What Does Russia Want? | ISPI

The MED This Week newsletter provides informed insights on the most significant developments in the MENA region, bringing together unique opinions and reliable foresight on future scenarios. Today, we shed light on the intra-Palestinian meeting that Moscow will host from February 29th to March 1st-2nd.  

From February 29th to March 1st-2nd, Russia invited 14 organisations to an intra-Palestinian meeting in Moscow. Among the attendees will be representatives of Hamas, Fatah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), alongside various Palestinian political forces operating in different Middle Eastern countries of the region, primarily Syria and Lebanon. Moscow’s motivation for hosting such a meeting, as Russia’s envoy for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov explained, is to help Palestinian forces agree to unite politically. The rationale behind this effort is that such unity is essential for navigating the current crisis and exploring governance options for Palestine in the post-war phase. As a matter of fact, the Palestinian issue is at the core of Russia’s Middle East policy, and this is not the first time that the Kremlin’s authorities convene leading Palestinian forces for dialogue: similar meetings have been held in Moscow quite regularly starting from 2011 (2017, 2018 and 2019). However, Thursday’s meeting stands out in several ways. It does not simply come at a time when the Palestinian population is living the worst deflagration of the conflict in decades, and the Palestinian leaderships seems increasingly disoriented, it also occurs in a significantly different international context and domestic situation for Moscow. Internationally, Russia is utterly marginalised by the West and its allies (including Israel). In response, Moscow appears to be seeking a constructive role and build trust among Middle Eastern countries and those not aligned with Western views. Domestically, what Putin may be interest in staging is a positive narrative for his internal audience to ‘spice-up’ his upcoming re-election. All this considered, despite the meeting’s potential to stimulate an intra-Palestinian reflection, it seems unlikely that the key for Palestinian unity, let alone a solution to the war in Israel-Palestine, will be found in Moscow. 

Experts from the ISPI network discuss the intra-Palestinian meeting held in Moscow from February 29th to March 1st-2nd. 

“The Palestinian struggle for independence is one focal element of Russia’s Middle East policy, since the creation of the Jewish state. Back in those times, in Moscow’s political thinking, it was pretty much associated with the anti-colonial movements advocating for freedom and greater liberty from European powers. As such, it deserved the whole support of the Russians in their anti-imperialist struggle by the side of all the oppressed population on earth. Considering its historical relevance and the extent of engagement that the Russian leadership commits to even today, there is little doubt that Moscow still supports that struggle truly. However (as much as in the second half of the past century), there is no doubt that Moscow is also aware of its limited means. February 29th is not the first Russia-sponsored meeting among Palestinian factions to help them agree over much needed unity. All previous attempts have brought very little results (N.B.: neither this means that Russian authorities were discredited by this; on the contrary, Moscow’s efforts – although non-determinant – have been highly appreciated by the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian groups). Given the unprecedented context of war in Israel-Palestine, the upcoming meeting may be a good thing: but it is unlikely that a solution to Palestinian disunity will be found this week in Moscow. And this is well accepted by everyone, including the Russians.” 

Chiara Lovotti, Research Fellow and Rome MED-Mediterranean Dialogues Scientific Coordinator, ISPI 

“By holding the intra-Palestinian negotiations, Russia pursues several goals at a time. First, this meeting serves Moscow’s propaganda needs. The Kremlin shows that even during the war in Ukraine and the maximum concentration of Moscow’s attention and resources on the confrontation with the West, it can pursue an active foreign policy in different directions. For Russia’s domestic audience, this visit should also demonstrate that Moscow is far from being in international isolation and, at its call, representatives of various international forces (including those that Russia itself considers terrorists) are visiting it. This meeting is also a message to Middle Eastern partners that while the US and Europe have taken the path of supporting Israel, Russia stands with the Arab world by trying to unite the Palestinians and strengthening their position in the international arena. Finally, this meeting is also a signal to Israel and the West who obviously excluded Russia from the conflict settlement processes they launched: “if you don’t want to talk to us, then we will play our own games that can create problems for you”. However, Moscow’s chances of creating an effective unified Palestinian bloc are not high. Moreover, the question remains open whether Russia has the resource/leverage to help the Palestinians put the negotiated decisions into practice. At the same time, we must also recognize that the future of intra-Palestinian relations in the post-war period is already being actively discussed by various international and regional players. Russia clearly wants to propose and formulate its own structure of Palestinian relations, which will exist after the end of the Gaza conflict and ensure Moscow’s future stand in Palestine.” 

Nikolay Kozhanov, Research Associate Professor, Gulf Studies Center, Qatar University 

“The “Moscow route” delivered very little over the past decade as far as intra-Palestinian political reconciliation is concerned. The keys for a Palestinian unity are not in Moscow. However, as the current political moment differs, if the announced meeting succeeds in bringing together high-level influential representatives of Fatah and Hamas to engage in a serious conversation about the Palestinian political system, national program, PLO institutions, unified leadership, and come up with a Palestinian road map and vision for the “day after” in Gaza, that would be a critical breakthrough. Yet, the fact that both factions did not engage in any serious conversation since October (although a number of opportunities were present), does not bode well for a fruitful meeting in Moscow that tackles the root causes of the Palestinian schism.” 

Alaa Tartir, Director and Senior Researcher, Middle East and North Africa Programme, SIPRI 

“International mediation efforts related to the war in Gaza are mostly carried out by Western and Arab countries, while Russia is on the sidelines. As it already did in the past, Russia seeks to compensate for such a situation by convening different Palestinian factions on its soil. While Israel opposes this line of action, it will probably not react harshly to it, as intra-Palestinian agreements – should such be reached – are likely to be brokered by Arab countries, not by Russia. Israel is more concerned with Russia’s overall position towards the war in Gaza and its attitude towards Hamas and has recently made this clear via statements by its new ambassador to Russia, Simona Halperin, which are likely to continue.” 

Nimrod Goren, President, The Mitvim Institute; Senior Fellow, Middle East Institute; Co-Founder, Diplomeds 

“This and the past meetings with the Palestinians resonate perfectly with Moscow’s projected image of a country that can speak with all stakeholders in the Middle East. Contrary to the US, which is disproportionally on Israel’s side and is somewhat held responsible for the current situation in Gaza, and contrary to  Türkiye, – with Erdogan siding blatantly with Palestinians – Russia wants to be seen as a true mediator, even if the chances of success are rather slim and its relation with Tel Aviv is suffering since October 7th. But this meeting also responds to Russia’s objective to “keep Israel at bay”, using its relationship with the Palestinians as a political lever in its complex relationship with Israel. A similar strategy that Moscow used in the past with Türkiye, instrumentalising its ties with Armenia or the Kurds to gain more weight in the bilateral relation with Ankara.” 

Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti, Senior Research Fellow, Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia Centre, ISPI 

“Most experts would have argued 24 years ago that as a KGB operative, reliability (towards the West) is simply not a job requirement for Vladimir Putin. The early evidence was the ruthless handling of Chechen uprisings and the aftermath of the sinking of the Kursk either side of the millennium. But most Western leaders ignored expert advice and were desperate to maintain the illusion that a normal relationship with Russia was possible right up until the second invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The non-western world is a different story. This is fertile ground for Russia considering the West’s unreliability there. The war in Gaza provides a particular opportunity for Russia considering the pro-Israeli straitjacket that the US in particular is confined in. Simply put, in the Middle East, Russia acts shamelessly, but also more deftly.” 

James Nixey, Director, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House 

WP Radio
WP Radio