Hamas in Moscow: is Russia back to big time politics?
Russian diplomacy has recently taken a number of
extraordinary steps with difficult-to-predict consequences, such as an attempt
to take the issue of Iran’s nuclear program out of the blind alley and to
invite to Moscow a delegation of Hamas, an organization which is blacklisted as
terrorist in the United States and Western Europe, and which is responsible for
hundreds of Israeli deaths.
The invitation to Hamas, made public by Putin during
his official visit to Madrid, took everyone aback, including Russia’s partners
in the Middle East settlement. Having
heard additional explanations from Moscow, the Quartet admitted that the Russian
president’s idea had a reason behind it. The results of the Palestinian
elections will have to be eventually accepted, and hence it is necessary for
someone to meet Hamas face to face in order to bring home to the new Palestinian
government the Quartet’s position on the Middle East.
This is exactly what was done during Hamas’ visit to
Moscow. Judging by the outcome of the negotiations, which were generally
welcomed even by the U.S. Administration, Moscow did not promise anything
“extra” at the talks with Hamas, and indeed pursued the Quartet’s common
line. Nobody expected the meeting to produce any specific results, and the talks
went without a snag. The Quartet received an opportunity to explain its position
and Hamas to express its views. As distinct from the Iranian problem with its
time-trouble, the Palestinian settlement is truly a perennial issue, and
participants in it may choose a different pace and hope for success in the
Naturally enough, having acted as a Western-Muslim
bridge, Moscow also pursued its own interests. They are easy to see, whereas the
benefits of implementing the chosen line appear to be highly dubious. Obviously,
Moscow is trying to restore its once solid positions in the Middle East, which
collapsed after the Soviet Union’s disintegration. Russia is not pushing
anyone in the process but simply occupies a niche which has become vacant after
a series of crude U.S. and West European mistakes.
Judging by numerous responses, the Islamic world
welcomes Russia’s return to big time politics in the Middle East, and with
good reason – Moscow carries a palm branch. It wants to find a compromise and
is ready to listen to the negotiating partner with respect. “We will not let
anyone to put us at odds with the Islamic world,” said Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov. This attitude is in sharp contrast with the Western
approach, which rests on pressure, or even the use of crude force, as was and is
the case in Iraq.
But for all these obvious pluses for Russia, its
diplomacy steps on the shaky Mid-Eastern ground with its numerous surprises,
never-ending intrigue and double-dealing, where words, either expressed verbally
or in writing, are not always matched by deeds. It remains a big question
whether Russia, which has not yet gained enough power and authority, will be
able to play its part in such an intricate game without losses detrimental to
its image, economy, or policy.
Moreover, Russia has already sustained the first
losses. If it has gained something in its contacts with Palestinians, it has
lost as much in relations with Israel. But in order to resolve the Mid-Eastern
problem, one has to somehow find the way between Scylla and Charybdis without
losing anything, and by developing success in both directions.
The second loss is a failure at the talks with Iran. If
a go-between did not cope with his task, he has lost some of its political
Finally, Russia has suffered one more major loss.
Before it could justifiably reproach the West for double standards in dividing
terrorists into “good” and “bad.” After the Hamas visit to Moscow, no
matter what noble or pragmatic intentions it had in mind, Moscow will hardly be
able to convince the public that its moral position is different from that of
the U.S., Britain or other Western nations.
One leader of the Israeli opposition has already hurled
a spiteful question at Moscow: What would it do if Israel invited the Chechen
terrorists? The founder of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin, has declared that every Jew
must be murdered, and that the aim of his organization is to free the whole of
Palestine from the sea and up to Jordan. Shaking hands with representative of
such an organization should not be done in public.
In a word, Moscow has loudly declared its gradual
return to big time global policy. This is not bad in principle, but as in big
time sports it should be ready for everything – both for glory and rotten
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the
author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. -0-