Is Russia taking a pro-Islamic side in one of the most explosive regions in the world? A former Israeli ambassador to Russia explains that Moscow is seeking to increase its involvement, and hold, in the region. Terror organizations? It's doesn't really matter to them.
"Russia doesn't view it as taking sides. That's too harsh. It's taking the middle. It wants to assume the role of the Middle East mediator," says former Ambassador Zvi Magen.
"It believes it already has us. We are ready to talk, and now the question is who will bring the others. The Russians seek to do it before the Americans, and for this Russia needs the Syrians and both parts of the Palestinians – including Hamas."
Magen says the Russians are looking for Palestinian unity, in order to bring all sides to the negotiating table, "which they want to place in Russia as part of a Middle East conference attended by all parties – all the Palestinians, the Syrians and even Hezbollah."
Why is Russia engaging in these intensive efforts? "It seeks to upgrade its status. It wants to turn into a more important power. For this purpose it must activate worldwide moves, in the Middle East as well."
According to Magen, "This is the Russian mind – that they will emerge from such a peace process as a great nation without investing much. It faces the American attempt to remove Syria from the axis of evil."
The former ambassador cannot understand the Israeli surprise. "They have been talking about it for months, and this visit is basically a continuation of the move, in addition to an effort together with Turkey and Iran.
"Mashaal was in Moscow in March. Bibi (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) was there at the same time, as was Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) and other Arab leaders. The Russians brought all the sides, one by one, and now they want to bring them all together."
'They believe we have no reason to be angry'
Dr. Yuri Petrushevsky, an expert on Russian foreign policy from Bar-Ilan University's Department of General History, says Russia was the first of the major world powers to recognize Hamas.
"This line was continued during this visit, and will be continued in the future. Russia is not interested in real war in the region, but it is interested in strengthening its status through strengthening its ties with Hamas, and, subsequently, with the Muslim world," explains Dr. Petrushevsky.
Dr. Petrushevsky says that during his visit in Damascus, Medvedev also bolstered ties with Syria "alongside strengthening tie with Iran, Hamas, and, through less openly, with Hezbollah."
Like Magen, Petrushevsky believes that Russia wants to become a major regional actor, but emphasizes above all else the country's courtship of the Islamic world: "For three reasons: to neutralize the Muslim world from supporting radical Islam within Russia; internal reconciliation within radical Islam while displaying pro-Islamic foreign policy, and strengthening its status in the world in this method."
And what about Russia's relations with Israel? In other words, have the Russians given up on us? Despite everything, including Israel's recent scathing response, Magen agrees that Russia's move is a complex one.
"There is a certain risk to the relations between the countries," claims Magen. However, he mentioned that the Russians are very calculated and deliberate.
"They are trying to come across as a mediating factor. They didn't take a side against Israel, and, according to them, only want to solve the conflict and bring peace. According to their approach, Abbas alone is incapable. Without Syria, Lebanon, and Hamas, it won't work, especially when America doesn't succeed in mediating. As such, they believe, Israel has no reason to be angry with them," Magen explained.
Dr. Petrushevsky agrees. "Russia does not think its ties with Israel, and with the West in general, will be damaged by contact with the Islamic world. From its perspective, Israel is not a strong enough reason to cut ties with Hamas. However, Russia is calculated, and the formula also works in reverse from its perspective. Russia will be balanced and flexible. Everything is dedicated to making it into a world power and returning it to the front of the world stage."