12th October 2023 – (Moscow) The sudden eruption of violence between Israel and Hamas has created a potential inflection point in the Ukraine war, handing Russia an opportunity to regain momentum amid its ongoing military struggles. With global attention diverted and pressure on Ukraine’s Western backers mounting, the Gaza crisis significantly alters the strategic landscape to Russia’s advantage.
The timing of the clashes between Israeli forces and Hamas could hardly be better from Russia’s perspective. Coming just months into the Ukraine invasion, the Gaza conflict deals a major distraction that Russia can exploit on multiple fronts.
First, the crisis diverts America’s diplomatic bandwidth away from the Ukrainian conflict. This not only hampers U.S. support for Kyiv in the near-term, but also risks eroding Washington’s focus over time if the Israel-Hamas tensions become protracted.
Second, the fighting in Gaza threatens to redirect vital military equipment to the Middle East, starving Ukraine’s forces of much-needed arms and materiel. Israel will likely demand more American weapons to replenish its Iron Dome defences and conduct potential ground operations against Hamas. This risks depriving Ukraine of key munitions and hardware.
Moreover, an expanded Middle East war also risks weakening Western resolve to continue funding Ukraine’s military. With implications of a wider regional conflagration, pressures will grow on European governments and Washington to reduce commitments to the Ukrainian cause.
In essence, the eruption of clashes between Israel and Hamas is a strategic godsend for Russia as it seeks to regain momentum and leverage in the grinding Ukraine campaign. It effectively hits the “pause button” on global attention while forcing the West into tougher resource allocation choices.
Navigating Complex Regional Dynamics
To fully capitalise on this opportunity, Russia will need to calibrate its regional diplomacy carefully. Moscow has cultivated ties with both Israel and major Palestinian factions over the years. It must now balance these competing relationships amid the crisis.
On one hand, Russia cannot jeopardise its relatively cordial ties with Israel. Despite providing sanctuary for some Jewish oligarchs, Moscow has avoided directly antagonising Israel over Ukraine. Meanwhile, Israel has maintained neutrality over Russia’s invasion, declining to send military aid to Kyiv.
At the same time, Russia has strengthened relations with Israel’s nemesis, Iran, which is the likely source of Hamas’ sophisticated new rockets and drones. As Tehran’s new partner, Moscow will be reluctant to openly back Israel’s military operations in Gaza.
Hence, in both private and public messaging, Russia is likely to adopt a nominally balanced posture emphasizing de-escalation, while subtly favouring prolonging the tensions to distract from Ukraine. Despite rhetorical appeals for peace, a protracted Gaza crisis aligns with Russia’s strategic interests.
Putin’s Long-Term Vision
Beyond just the urgency of Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas clashes could advance Vladimir Putin’s broader long-term vision for a new global order. In a recent speech, Putin lambasted the West’s “rules-based order” as mere cover for its ideological and economic domination.
Instead, he advocated a “civilisational” model recognising diverse cultures and local traditions. This aligns with Russia’s historical role as protector of Orthodox Christianity and Middle East Christians.
Presenting itself as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict allows Russia to portray its diplomatic ethos as superior to Western hypocrisy and double standards. Resolving this intractable dispute would cement Russia’s status as a major power bridging divides between civilisations.
Simultaneously, prolonged unrest prevents any solidifying of an American-led security architecture in the Middle East. Keeping the region in flux suits Russia’s aim of eventually displacing U.S. hegemony. Even absent direct instigation, the Gaza crisis furthers Moscow’s long-term multipolar objectives.
Managing Global Risks
While the timing of the clashes favours Russia for now, extreme escalation threatens dangerous spillover effects. A major regional war risks energising Islamic extremist networks and unleashing refugee outflows into Europe.
To safeguard its interests, Russia will likely press both Israel and Palestinian factions towards eventual ceasefire talks, while avoiding overt condemnation of Hamas rocket attacks. The optimal outcome for Moscow is sustained controlled tensions that bog down the West without unleashing unmanageable instability.
For Putin, the crisis represents a pivotal moment to regain momentum amid the strategic challenges of Ukraine. While Moscow will not publicly cheer turmoil that leaves civilians suffering, it offers undeniable geopolitical opportunities.
Russia has proven adept at capitalising on global disturbances to advance its interests — as seen after the 2008 Georgia war and 2014 Syrian intervention. The Gaza conflict offers the latest such opening at a crucial juncture. The true costs of Moscow’s machinations, as always, will be borne by ordinary people far from the Kremlin’s halls.