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Is Israel Taking Advantage of a Longtime Strategic Partner for Russia?

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In February, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu met with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin. In what can only be described as a bravado attempt to flaunt the strength of the ties between the two countries, Netanyahu pointed out that, “tourism is at an all-time high, with 400,000 Russians visiting Israel every year and about 200,000 Israelis visiting Moscow every year,” adding that, “(he has) the honor to contribute somewhat to this statistic.” The first part of that statement is accurate; yet, the latter part is far from the truth. Russo-Israeli relations had been improving for decades before Netanyahu entered the Israeli political scene.

Primakov’s Mission: Laying the Foundations for Russo-Israeli Relations

The “founder” of improving Russo-Israeli relations, Yevgeny Primakov, made a point (almost a mission) of maintaining some type of relationship between the two countries. Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War all the way up to the latter years of Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership, Moscow officially considered Israel a “pariah state.” However, in the 1970s, during the “Brezhnev Years,” Primakov, a Jewish-born Soviet, was a key member of Soviet delegations that held several rounds of secret talks with the Israelis (usually in hotel rooms from Vienna to Tel Aviv) despite Moscow breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel.

Following Brezhnev’s death, Primakov continued his “mission” by maintaining correspondence with his Israeli counterparts while serving in various capacities within the Soviet establishment in order to preserve communications between the two countries. When Gorbachev began his perestroika and glasnost policy, relations between the Soviet Union and Israel slowly began to improve. Gorbachev’s policies allowed Soviet Jewish “refuseniks” to immigrate to Israel, which eventually led to the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israel in October of 1991—two months before the breakup of the Soviet Union. In December of that same year, Gorbachev announced the breakup of the Soviet Union but relations between the newly formed Russian Federation and Israel continued.

The 1990s were a tough decade for the newly formed Russia. The breakup of the Soviet Union saw the end of a social, cultural, economic, and political lineage that lasted for roughly seventy years dissolve overnight, thereby sending the citizens into dearth and poverty at unimaginable levels. As a result, Russia was a very weak state and did not have much leverage in the international arena. It did not help that the Yeltsin government implemented an American-backed “shock therapy” economic policy that de-modernized the country several decades and left the vast majority of the state in calamitous conditions.

Under the Yeltsin presidency, Russia was destabilized to a high degree (some would argue that it was worse than the years of the Great Depression in the 1930s), crushing their economy. Russians often term the “Yeltsin years” or the decade following the breakup of the Soviet Union as smutnoe vremya (time of troubles), or smutnoe for short, in reference to political crises caused by tumultuous transition periods. The term was most notably used following the demise of the Rurik dynasty, which eventually saw the establishment of the Romanov dynasty. It was also used, to a lesser extent, during the years of the Russian Revolution—the transition from the Russian Empire to Soviet Russia.

Similar to the “Brezhnev years” of stagnation in the 1970s, Israel proved to be a sanctuary for many Russian Jews during this chaotic period. Russian Jews (and other Jewish citizens from former Soviet satellite states) were no exception to this smutnoe of the 1990s, and as a result, Soviet and Russian Jews chose to immigrate to Israel in large numbers.

Despite the tough economic times in Russia, the Russian political elite, which included the then-Russian Foreign Minister (and eventual Prime Minister) Yevgeny Primakov, did its best to preserve its relations with Israel, while maintaining its longstanding foreign policy principle of a two-state solution regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was consistent with its overall foreign policy of stability in the region. In the 1990s, Russia (similar to the Gorbachev era of the Soviet Union) maintained a balanced approach when it came to the Middle East, ensuring its national interests were preserved.

The Putin Era: Advancing Interactions, Strategic Engagement, and Navigating the Palestinian Question

Relations between Israel and Russia significantly improved under Russia’s current leader, Vladimir Putin. Throughout his nineteen years in office, since being elected in 2000, President (and Prime Minister) Putin has often received many Israeli Prime Ministers along with other Israeli officials. Putin and others have also visited Israel on many occasions. Both Israeli and Russian officials often cite the size of the Jewish community in Russia and the Russian diaspora in Israel as proof of warming relations. In fact, today the Russian Jewry often claim that the community has it better under the current leader than at any other point in Russian history. And, there is a reason for that. The extent of anti-Semitism in Russia is minimal in comparison to the past. This increased acceptance is reinforced by President Putin. The Kremlin often speaks kindly of the Jewish community in Russia, and Putin has even taken it a step further by stating that Israel and Russia have common histories – namely that the two despise fascism and Nazism of any kind. In addition, the Russian Jewry now has the freedom to practice its religion with no fear of retribution today and can travel to Israel freely—a right greatly curtailed in the Soviet Union.

Despite being political rivals, President Putin, like others, sought Primakov’s advice when it came to the Middle East. Being an Arabist and an expert on the Middle East, Primakov felt (and wrote extensively) that Russia’s main challenge in the 21st century was to fight international terrorism—something that the new President agreed with (and still agrees with to this day). The President has long sought better relations with the Zionist entity as a result of his belief that one of Russia’s main national interests in the region is reducing international terrorism. President Putin believes, for better or worse, that Israel can be a strategic partner in fighting international terrorism. However, President Putin and the entire policy class also believe in a two-state solution along the 1967 borders (in reference to the land Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War) to allow for a future Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel. Furthermore, the Russian policy class believes that state sovereignty must be respected. On the former, Israel has made little to no effort and, on the latter, Israel has consistently overstepped its bounds with regards to state sovereignty, often pushing hard enough to destabilize the region.

A policy reversal by the Israelis on the Palestinian question – that is to disengage from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as fully withdrawing from Gaza – seems highly unlikely. Moreover, it also seems unlikely that Israel will cease its illegal excursions in other countries, such as what it is doing in the Syrian arena. This begs some fundamental questions: is Israel’s belligerence putting its citizens in harm’s way and, more importantly, is it risking losing Russia as a national security partner, with its fifty years of unofficial relations and twenty-plus years of official relations? If this is the case, then Israel will be putting itself in a very dangerous conundrum.

The United States, Russia, & Israel: Is it a Triangle?

It is true that Israel, for decades, has relied on the United States for military aid and moral support in the international community in times of war. However, since the fallout of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the United States has been slowly (but surely) leaving the scene. American citizens do not want their country to be extensively engaged in the Middle East or elsewhere. They would rather the exorbitant amount of money spent on these commitments abroad be invested in improving lives of American citizens through domestic programs, like healthcare, education, and increased job security. The direct lineage between the elections of candidates Barack Obama and Donald Trump (not John McCain, Mitt Romney, or Hillary Clinton) proves this to be the case. We are seeing further evidence of this as politicians vie for control of the Democratic Party. Voices within the party are justifiably asking questions out loud that have been asked behind closed doors for years. Questions like: why is it that a foreign country receives so much financial support from the United States when many of its own citizens still struggle to survive? As a result, support for Israel in the American political scene is waning, despite the Israeli lobby’s claim. Today, only a certain portion of the Republican Party blindly supports Israel wholeheartedly. At some point, those voices will grow quieter and quieter or, at the very least, become less influential.

When America leaves the scene and becomes less influential on the international stage, Israel will be left alone. Yet, Israel can move eastward in pursuit of securing its national interests, creating a new alliance with Russia, a country that is more invested in the region today. This can be beneficial to Israel’s national security but, for that to happen, Israel will need to change its course on both the Palestinian question and its excursions in the region. The decision is a “no-brainer” given that the current course is creating an outcome where Israeli citizens are endangered from rockets as well as stabbings, shootings, and car-ramming attacks.

Russia, who seems to be invested in the region for the long haul, has been a willing partner thus far. Most recently this was evident when Russia –– in coordination with its military and the Syrians –– cooperated with Israel to help return the body of the fallen Israeli soldier, Zachary Baumel, who was killed in the 1982 “Lebanon War.” However, the Israeli establishment cannot take its Russian counterparts for granted forever. While the vast majority of the Russian policy class and President Putin still seem to want better relations with Israel and are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, this is not guaranteed going forward. The policy class is not homogenous and some within it can override the Russian President when they deem Russia’s national interests are being jeopardized, as we saw when Russia finally decided to deliver its S300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria. Thus, if Israel continues its confrontational activity in the region and prolongs its actions towards the Palestinians, Russia has cards at its disposal that will be unfavorable to Israel—leaving Israel isolated and weaker.

The ball is in Israel’s court. It must decide if it wants better relations with Russia or not. For the moment, the Russian policy class desires this; there is no doubt. However, at some point, Russian patience might run out. With the United States slowly leaving the scene, Israel would be wise to move closer to Russia. However, for that to happen, it needs to seriously consider changing its policy towards the Palestinians and cease its military excursions in the region. Israel should not test Russia’s resolve like it has done in the past, because the consequences for the Zionist entity could prove to be existentially dire.

First published in our partner RIAC

Junior Editor for Global Brief Magazine and a PhD Candidate in Middle Eastern & African History at the Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies at Tel Aviv Uni-versity

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Modest results of the meeting in Geneva

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Presidents Joseph Biden and Vladimir Putin met in Geneva on Wednesday, June 16. Both separately noted that the talks went well. “There’s been no hostility,” Putin said. “On the contrary, our meeting took place in a constructive spirit.” Biden meanwhile declared “the tone of the entire meeting… was good. Positive.”

The spirit may have been constructive and the tone positive, but no major step forward was made to reset the chronically strained relations between Moscow and Washington. Although the meeting went as well as could be expected, major differences remain on a range of issues, including cyberattacks and human rights.

Putin rejected accusations Russia was involved in cyberattacks against U.S. institutions and declared that the U.S. government was the main offender in this area. On human rights he said that the U.S. supports opposition groups in Russia in order to weaken it, since Washington openly sees Russia as an adversary. Putin reiterated that Moscow did not see domestic politics as up for negotiation or discussion. He also said that pro-Trump demonstrators who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were merely expressing reasonable political demands, for which they now faced punitive jail terms.

For his part Biden ensured the summit would be seen as the opposite of Donald Trump’s notably cordial meeting with Putin in Helsinki three years ago. He said that he had pressed the Russian leader on a range of issues, such as human rights, and that he would continue doing so. “No President of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view,” Biden said he told Putin. “That’s just part of the DNA of our country… It’s about who we are.”

On the modest plus side the two leaders agreed that their ambassadors, who were recalled amid the rising tensions, should return to their posts in the near future. In addition, the U.S. and Russia would start “consultations” on cyber-related issues. As for the overall tone of the meeting, the Russian president paraphrased Leo Tolstoy by saying “there is no happiness in life only glimmers of it. Cherish them.”

“I think that in this situation, there can’t be any kind of family trust,” Putin concluded. “But I think we’ve seen some glimmers.”

Media commentary around the world reflected one common theme: at least it is reassuring that there is a dialogue. “The US-Russian summit in Geneva confirmed the low expectations for the meeting,” commented the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Switzerland’s leading daily:

There were hardly any concrete agreements, but at least the American president is no longer inviting attack from his Russian counterpart. The chorus of commentators was pretty unanimous in the run-up to the summit from Moscow to Washington: There was no significant room for concessions or a change of strategy, either on the American or on the Russian side. The expectations therefore had to be set extremely low.

These low expectations were noted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as well, which found it encouraging that the meeting lasted considerably longer than expected. The paper also thought it a hopeful sign that “the Russian President, who had already made the Pope and the British [sic!] Queen wait, arrived on time.”

“The summit flowed along conventional diplomatic lines:” wrote The Guardian; “a handshake, several hours of intensive talks and separate press conferences afterwards. The ghost of Helsinki was exorcised.” According to the British daily, the obvious and easy “deliverables” were achieved:

“One was to normalise the situation of Russia and America’s ambassadors…

“There will also be consultations between the US state department and the Russian foreign ministry on a range of issues including the Start III nuclear treaty, due to expire in 2024, and cybersecurity.”

The Russian media, unlike their Western counterparts, emphasize that one area of agreement in Geneva concerned the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta noted Putin’s statement that Biden agreed with him that the Minsk agreements should be at the heart of the settlement in Ukraine. Quoting Peter Kuznick, professor of history at American University, the paper notes the summit was an important step in the right direction for both sides. No one expected a breakthrough, he said, but the two leaders respectfully and clearly indicated their interest in finding possible areas of common interest:

Both presidents understood each other’s ‘red lines’ and marked them more clearly. Their summaries after the meeting did not contradict, but rather emphasized and complemented each other. It seems to me that Putin was speaking to the whole world, while Biden spoke more to an audience within America, with an emphasis on human rights.

Considering the current state of bilateral relations, the Geneva summit is the maximum that could be expected. All that was deemed possible, but not obligatory, did happen, Professor Fyodor Lukyanov of Moscow’s School of Economics noted.

The conversation was businesslike and informative. This means that from the insane phase we’ve had in recent years, with normal relationship replaced by sheer hysteria, we are moving into a phase of more structured rivalry… The summit only outlined a way out of the impasse. Now we have to do all the work that is normally done before the summit. Since it was not done this time, solid steps will be prepared for some future milestone.

Prior to this meeting, Washington strengthened Russophobic sentiments in countries that follow American foreign policy. The peak of Russophobia was represented by the events in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, but also by a number of other states which adjust it`s foreign policy to Washington’s foreign policy. Bearing in mind that at the moment relations between Washington and Moscow are not friendly, under American command, that kind of states accuse Russia constantly, including for events that happened years ago.

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Biden-Putin Geneva Summit: Even A Little More Than Nothing Means A Lot

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Was the, with little expectations, but a lot of combinations and nervousness, awaited summit of the Presidents of America and Russia, a failure? It was not. And can it be described as a success, as a breakthrough from the winter of a renewed Cold War? Again – no! So what was this summit then, what – if anything – did the Geneva meeting bring?

It was an attempt that could not be written off as a complete failure, it was an indication that – as President Biden said – there is no alternative to face-to-face talks. And it was a hint of hope that the two great powers, one a superpower and the other much more than a regional power, as President Obama mockingly called it, might be able to set out to identify common interests and work together in those areas, as well as find ways and methods. to resolve what is in dispute in their relationship. Where we should not forget the saying  by Lev Tolstoj, quoted during his press conference by President Putin: “In life there is no hope, there is only a promise of hope.”

And it is that promise of hope, what we can call the only tangible result of the summit which lasted about three and a half hours, instead of the announced five to six. Of course, this will fuel new speculations and different interpretations from those that Biden was tired and lost the concentration, to the one that the participants reached a deadlock but – not wanting to make things even worse, than they already are – simply stopped.

Of the concrete results, the world has learned only one, just one: two states are returning their ambassadors to their places: the Russian ambassador is returning to Washington, and the American to Moscow. Everything else remained in the domain of what Biden defined, correcting one journalist who aggressively asked him: “And how can you be confident, that . . .?”. He said, namely: “I did not say  I’m confident, but we ‘ll see.” And what we should see is the continuation of talks on the control and hopefully arms reduction (nuclear in the first place), the formation of a working group between the two countries that would deal with the cyber attacks, so-called hacking. Then (and again the announcement!) the possibility of talks on the exchange of arrested American citizens in Russia, ie Russians in America, as well as the approach to the problem in Ukraine based on the agreement from Minsk (confirmed by both presidents!). And what is particularly important: a joint effort to achieve strategic stability.

About this and only about this, not about the whole meeting, a joint statement by the two Presidents was published: “The extension of the New START agreement demonstrates our commitment to the control of nuclear weapons. Today, we reaffirm the principle that nuclear war cannot be won and that it must never be fought . “It may not seem like much, but it is. Today, it is!    

Both sides agreed, and the two presidents held separate press conferences, that the talks took place in a constructive atmosphere and that there were no threats from either side. Putin described Biden as a sensible and experienced politician, and Biden skillfully avoided journalistic insistence on how he explained to Putin why he called him a killer : “My explanation was good enough for him and that’s enough for me.” On the other hand, the pragmatic Putin indirectly referred to Biden’s statement, quoted so many times, that, looking Putin in the eye at a previous meeting, he concluded that he had no soul. “We do not have to look each other into eyes, searching for the soul, nor do we have to make eternal friendship”, said Putin.

A confirmation that it was a summit convened with no great expectations is the fact that neither Putin invited Biden to Moscow, nor was Putin invited by Biden to Washington. But, and again, even a little more than nothing, is much, especially when we take into account the circumstances in which the Geneva summit was held and all that happened in previous years.

Of course, the US side “recited” their compulsory program of complaints regarding Russia’s violations of human rights, including the statement that the deaths in jail of opposition leader Navalny would be “a disaster” for relations of the two countries. In doing so, Biden went a little too far, arguing that the struggle for human rights is something that is part of the American being, “it’s us,” consciously forgetting that the United States from their beginnings until the sixtieth of the last century denied basic human rights, initially even freedom, to all its colored citizens, that the first unit composed of colored Americans enlisted in the U.S. Army only in World War II (but separately from whites) , and that cases of racial discrimination even today happen practically on daily basis. Putin, as it could have been expected, used this at his press conference to counter every question related to the human rights in Russia (what was by CNN, not denying anything of what Putin said, proclaimed as a return to the methods of Soviet propaganda). Too bad no one remembered to ask what the consequences would be and for whom if Julian Assange would die in jail.

Almost “under the radar” passed a significant concession made by the United States, ie the deviation from their previous position. The intention (however, this is just the announcement) to form a working group of the two countries to deal with the cyber attacks means that in silence the accusations that such attacks were staged by Russia, the Russian secret services, and even Putin himself, were abandoned.

The atmosphere, not only the one in which the Geneva summit was held, but the one in the Western world, could be deduced the most from the behavior of journalists who were questioning the two presidents. It is neither uninteresting nor unimportant to mention that American journalists could have been present at Putin’s press conference, while Russian journalists were banned from Biden’s. press conference. But it was these American journalists who behaved at both press conferences like barking dogs (which is not to say anything bad about dogs). In their questions they insisted on confrontation, on the continuation of confrontation ( “Have you threatened to use military force ? “, was one of the questions to Biden). One of the most evident examples of pre-prepared questions, no matter what, and certainly regardless of the facts, was the one about Russians demanding that journalists of Radio Liberty (the Russian version of Radio Free Europe) register as “foreign agents “. Putin, namely, previously explained, and it is a matter of common knowledge to anyone who is familiar in the media scene, that it were the Americans who first demanded that Russian journalists in the United States register as foreign agents. Then, and only then did Russia introduce the same for the American journalists working there.

But obviously it is true that what one can do, another cannot do. Along with the sad statement that a large part of the journalists in the West, consciously or not, accepted to be turned into a propaganda weapon of the ruling.

So it is not at all impossible that Biden, although “secured” by the presence of his experts, from the Secretary of State to the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as with a separate press conference, will experience in America something similar , albeit in a milder form, to what befell Trump after his talks with Putin in Helsinki. Obviously, there are strong forces in the United States (which then influence the behavior in the first place of the Atlantic Pact, but then the European Union too), which are not interested in peace and understanding, which base its existence on confrontation, on the existence of enemies. Real, or imaginary – it doesn’t matter. And obviously there is a propaganda apparatus that serves them. They simply cannot like Biden’s statement that his agenda is not against Russia, but for American people.

But if that statement becomes what will make the summit memorable (in the city of peace, as the Swiss president said while welcoming Biden and Putin), then it is entirely justified to say that the meeting, which was by no means spectacular, which lasted shorter. than it was expected, which did not result in any key breakthroughs in any area, was not in vain. Because, if there is a President in the White House whose program is not to “work against Russia” and if Putin knows that now, then there is a chance that the world will move away from the edge of general chaos into which it is inevitably pushed by the worsening American-Russian relations. Then there is, as Tolstoy would say, a promise of hope.

*The first superpowers summit that, Mr. Jakic personally covered was a Carter – Brezhnev meeting in Vienna 1979.

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Biden pushed China and Russia to rebel against one other

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

Biden’s anti-China measures have been increasingly regular in recent years. He not only continued to encircle China with his Asian and European friends, but he also began with Russia’s ideals. Biden used the occasion of the US-Russia meeting to instigate Sino-Russian ties, encouraging China and Russia to be “anti-objective” in order to cause difficulty for China. However, Biden’s wishful thinking is clearly incorrect, because Putin has already demonstrated through actual acts that he will not be duped by Biden.

According to a transcript of the press conference posted on the White House website, Biden stated after meeting with Putin that he felt the last thing Putin wanted to see was a cold war with the US. When discussing this problem, Biden brought up China, portraying it as a “danger” to Russia. Biden stated that China is currently expanding, whether economically or militarily, and that China has “big objectives.” Russia’s economy is suffering and needs to grow. As a result, he does not believe Putin desires a cold war with the United States.

In reality, Biden has already provoked Russia on a number of topics. At this point, he abruptly shifted his advantage to Russia. There must be something odd going on. Prior to the arrival of the US-Russia summit, Biden is said to have stressed his desire to build a “solid and predictable” relationship with Russia. Some experts say Biden wants to soften his ties with “established competitors,” such as Russia, before focusing on the “new strategic competitor,” China.

At the time, Biden wanted to focus not just on fixing China’s difficulties, but also on enlisting Russia’s assistance in dealing with China. However, Biden obviously misjudged the extent of China-Russia relations while overestimating the US’s own affinity to Russia.

Prior to the meeting, Putin stated in an exclusive interview with US NBC that Russia does not consider China to be a danger. China is a friendly country that has not declared Russia an adversary, as the US has. Putin also stated that due to the nature and quality of Sino-Russian ties, Russia will not be concerned about China’s development.

In reality, not just Putin, but many officials from both countries have jointly confirmed China and Russia’s deep relationship. Previously, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that Sino-Russian ties are at their highest in history. Wang Yi, China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister, also stated that the “China-Russia combination” is as strong as a mountain. The more volatile the globe, the closer China-Russia collaboration. Take a strong step forward. In contrast to Russia and the United States, Putin has stated unequivocally that Russia-US ties have reached a low point in recent years.

Under these conditions, it is nearly difficult for Biden to effectively instigate ties between China and Russia. Furthermore, China and Russia have demonstrated through actual actions that the two countries’ relationship is extremely excellent, and the two sides aim to expand friendly cooperation in other areas.

Rogozin, President of the Russian National Aerospace Corporation, stated that China and Russia are considering collaboration with a variety of parties to create an international lunar research station, and he also stated that Russia may send astronauts to China’s space station. Whether Putin provided the reassurance in person or by other means, it is sufficient to demonstrate that Sino-Russian ties are quite cordial, and there is no place for Biden to succeed. So Biden believed he could persuade Russia to negotiate with China with only a few words.

He was very naïve back then. Rather of wasting time worrying about some pointless and highly dull things to deal with China, Biden should focus on his own health, particularly cognitive problems. After all, he “cannot tell the difference between Trump and Putin.” Based on the existing circumstances, Biden should not be expecting any brilliant proposals for the future growth of the United States.

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