Moscow already has a different approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict and domestic anti-Semitism
On October 29, several thousand angry men stormed the airport in Makhachkala (the capital of Dagestan) in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus. They were looking for Jews who had arrived from Israel. The police appeared passive, as in the failed rebellion of Yevgeny Prigozhin in June. In a second Dagestani city, Khasavyurt, a crowd searched for Jewish refugees lodged in local hotels. In Karachay-Cherkessia, protesters demanded the emigration of all Jews from the republic. In Nalchik, also in the North Caucasus, a Jewish cultural center under construction was set on fire and its walls scrawled with anti-Semitic graffiti.
As happened after Prigozhin’s rebellion, Vladimir Putin seems to have temporarily lost control, This time in the Caucasus, where Putin’s rise (through relentless military campaigns) began. In both cases, the explanation is the same: enthusiasts are trying to help the government carry out, in their opinion, its policy more decisively, writes Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Center for Russia and Eurasia (Berlin), for the Financial Times.
As far as the Wagner group was concerned, it was about fighting against Ukraine in full force. Regarding the Dagestani crowd, it is a matter of open support for the Palestinians in opposition to the West and Israel, the analyst adds. The current war in the Middle East is not the first in Putin’s long reign, but the consequences are different. The reason lies in the radically changed foreign and domestic policy of Russia.
Since 9/11, Putin was the first foreign leader to telephone his American counterpart, George W. Bush, to express his condolences. Twenty-two years later, after the Hamas attack on Israel, Putin was careful, even ambiguous, in his words, even though Israel did not join Western sanctions against Russia and limited its aid to Ukraine. One reason is that the war against Ukraine has changed Russia so much that it now has a different approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict and domestic anti-Semitism.
By contesting Ukraine’s right to exist, Russia is acting as an extension of the Soviet and Tsarist empires. Their legacy includes friendships with Arab states directed against Israel and the West, as well as unofficial anti-Semitism within Soviet institutions that viewed domestic opponents along ethnic and cultural lines. “Not to mention the pogroms of the late tsarist period,” adds Baunov.
In foreign policy, this legacy manifests itself in the Kremlin’s attempts to unite countries against the world order under the banner of anti-Western and anti-imperialist sentiment. Inside Russia, it branded critics of the war, many of whom went abroad (including to Israel), as unpatriotic. The Kremlin believes that ordinary people inside and outside Russia have a natural hostility toward liberals, gays, intellectuals, and the political, cultural, and financial elites, and that they are imbued with a certain amount of anti-Semitism.
After the failure of the Russian blitzkrieg against Ukraine in early 2022, the Kremlin was consumed by the idea of opening a second front. He tried a gas front against Europe last winter and a grain one, stoking fears of global food shortages and migration crises. Moscow had hoped for a clash over Taiwan or domestic political problems in the US. Now that a second front has opened up through the Israel-Hamas war, Russia may want to offer the West a deal: “We’ll help you get out of the mess in Palestine, you’ll help us do the same in Ukraine.”
This probably explains the visit of Hamas delegation in Moscow on October 26.
However, Russia’s decision-making process is too degraded for its leaders to use such opportunities. They are in the grip of destructive emotions, obsessed with resentment and fixated on revenge. This reduces their ability to play a constructive role in the Middle East. While waging its aggressive geopolitical game, the Kremlin has ignored the consequences at home. His intense anti-Western sentiment has fueled violence in the North Caucasus, which contradicts the image of internal harmony that Putin aims to project, Baunov concludes.