Jan 15, 2021
As speak intensifies concerning the prospect of reconciliation between Damascus and the Hamas motion, which has been a supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s opposition, the query arises: What is Russia’s place on the difficulty?
Generally Moscow’s opinion is unnoticed of those discussions on a possible rapprochement. And unusually so, particularly given many analysts’ and commentators’ knack for exaggerating Russia’s position within the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Within Russia, such exaggerations are a mirrored image of a want to shore up the nation’s picture on the world stage, whereas the skin observers typically lack full details about the true scenario.
Representatives of Hamas have been visiting Moscow for over a decade. The first official go to occurred in 2006 upon the invitation of President Vladimir Putin. Western observers interpreted the go to as an indication of Moscow’s return to the worldwide area. But the move provoked condemnation from Chechen rebels, who denounced the choice of “Palestinian mujahedeen, the brothers of Chechens, to accept Putin’s handshake.” In actuality, although, the Kremlin was not mulling any difficult plans. Putin’s design was the identical because it has at all times been: utilizing contradictions between political gamers to his personal benefit and showcasing Russia’s independence from different companions of the Middle East Quartet: the European Union, the United Nations and, most significantly, the United States. So the representatives of Hamas had been invited to Moscow 9 days after Putin labeled their victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections a “strong blow” to the peace course of.
Since then, Russian diplomats have needed to toe a fragile line in explaining why Hamas, a motion which sprang up from the Muslim Brotherhood group (banned in Russia in 2003), got here to the Russian capital. And why, not like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas just isn’t labeled a terrorist group (the official purpose given is that Hamas doesn’t pose a menace to the Russians). Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood has since 2003 been thought-about a terrorist group based mostly on the definition that’s solely related to the group’s exercise in the course of the 1970s.
The signing of the Abraham Accords left Russian diplomacy on the sidelines. Moscow has been making constructive statements concerning the prospect of normalization of ties between the Arab states and Israel, as this fits Moscow’s idea of safety within the Persian Gulf. Yet Moscow is struggling to come back out of the Soviet imperial shadow and is irritated that the peace course of is advancing with out Russia’s involvement.
Hence the try and devalue the outcomes of the diplomatic course of and let it’s recognized that, whereas others are doing publicity stunts to point out off their largely superficial achievements, Russia is concerned in actual, substantive points. For instance, Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh declared final yr that Hamas is able to assist discover a resolution to the battle in northern Syria. The assertion got here out shortly after Haniyeh’s assembly with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. This led some analysts near Hamas to recommend that Moscow could also be appearing as a mediator within the talks to normalize relations between the motion and Damascus. In 2016, the Syrian regime referred to Hamas as “a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate” that “will always be a terrorist and a hypocrite.” Yet only one yr later Assad toned down his rhetoric as talks on reconciliation started.
Expectations that Russia might play the position of mediator in Palestine-Syria talks are nonetheless saved alive. One purpose for it is because this month, Palestine grew to become the primary political entity within the Middle East to obtain the Russian-produced vaccine Sputnik V. Moreover, Russia options within the listing of nations that — together with Egypt, Qatar and Turkey — have turn into guarantors for the presidential and legislative elections within the Palestinian territories. Yet this settlement on behalf of Hamas is nothing however a bluff and an try and sign to the incoming Joe Biden administration its readiness to reach compromises towards the background of declining pan-Arab solidarity and of the readiness of Arab nations and even Turkey to enhance ties with Israel. It is difficult to think about what ensures may be given to make sure the registration of voters, say, in Jordan, given the very massive variety of Palestinians within the nation.
In Russia, nevertheless, conversations concerning the prospects of reconciliation between Damascus and Hamas have been just about nonexistent. Only one Russian information web site appears remotely involved. FAN, a information company linked to the Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin (who has been tied to the Wagner Group), not too long ago printed a small article citing Hamas chief Atef Adwan, the top of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s Economic Committee, mentioning the likelihood that the relations between Damascus and the motion would possibly return to extra what they had been earlier than the struggle. The article mentioned solely a fraction of Syrian elites maintain an emphatically unfavorable view about such a reconciliation, whereas Iran and Hezbollah try to place stress on Israel at an inopportune second, one wherein “Damascus is trying to improve the situation in the south of the country.”
According to FAN sources near the Russian Foreign Ministry, there may be hardly a consensus amongst Russian diplomats and the navy about Hamas’ position within the Syrian battle. Some blame Hamas for chasing Arab Gulf cash and offering terrorist teams with the plans of underground communications within the Yarmouk refugee camp. Those skeptics additionally suspect the motion of taking part in its personal recreation, citing exercise within the Palestinian camps in Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon that’s saved secret from Hezbollah. Yet others say that Hamas has maintained a largely impartial place in the course of the Syrian struggle and that the motion’s associates in Syria — Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis — have been appearing in an autonomous style. Yet one other strand of opinion holds that — even after the motion left Syria — there have been individuals similar to Kamal Ranaja (Kamal Hussein Ghannaje), killed in Damascus in 2012, who stayed within the nation and equipped weapons from Iran to Gaza through Syria (and Sudan earlier than that).
Putting these judgments to at least one aspect, it’s price mentioning that Hamas’ connections with the Syrian regime have been cultivated in an oblique, considerably obscure method. Thus, the Arab Nationalist Guard models, who took Assad’s aspect within the Syrian struggle, declare to be preventing all of the extremists within the space. Yet when Al-Monitor visited the Guard’s camp in Al-Malihah in Damascus, certainly one of its commanders mentioned the unit is leaning on the assist from Hezbollah instructors and had intensive connections with Hamas. He specified the ties had been “with the Hamas wing that does not have associations with the Muslim Brotherhood,” with out divulging when precisely such a division within the Hamas ranks appeared.
“Despite speculation, Moscow is trying to keep its distance from the talks between Hamas and the Syrian government so as to avoid being associated with any one side of the regional rivalry,” a supply near the Russian Foreign Ministry advised Al-Monitor.
Leonid Issaev, a political scientist at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, advised Al-Monitor that Russia’s noninterference is a rational stance, offered that Moscow will nonetheless have to barter with Israel on such subjects because the scenario in Syria’s southern provinces and on the Israel Defense Forces air pressure operations. “For Russia to take part in the Damascus-Hamas negotiations, it needs serious reasons. As things stand, those incentives are absent. Israel has in the last few years established itself as a firm partner of Russia, while Moscow views in Hamas nothing more than an additional source of leverage,” he added.
That mentioned, Russia has a number of causes to take a constructive view on the Hamas-Damascus negotiations, even when they’re being overseen by Iran, Issaev mentioned. “First, the fact that negotiations are taking place inserts the Syrian regime back into the regional agenda. This is in line with Moscow’s desire to legitimize Assad’s regime,” Issaev mentioned. Moreover, negotiations would possibly present Russia with extra leverage over the Palestinians and the Israelis, an space the place Russian affect has considerably pale in the previous few years. The strengthening of Hamas through the Syrian regime undermines the negotiations on reconciliation and opens a chance for Russia to insist on discussing the problems throughout the Middle East Quartet and different codecs the place Russia acts as a guarantor, Issaev added.
A 3rd issue includes Russia’s view of Damascus and Cairo as pure allies of Hamas. This would imply that ultimately, the motion should right course. “Hamas’ struggle for survival pushes it into finding new supporters. Damascus views Hamas as a potential point of leverage on Israel in the post-Trump era, and formalization of this reconciliation is not a huge problem. While Syria’s demands for public apologies from Hamas … make little sense, there may yet be a more subtle reconciliation along the lines of the Putin-Erdogan rapprochement in 2016 after the downing of a Russian jet,” Issaev mentioned.