Cascading Conflicts to Unpack the Kremlin’s Aggressive Foreign Policy


In 2022, Putin’s aggressive actions in Europe, particularly the invasion of Ukraine, seemed to trigger a chain reaction of bloody conflicts in various regions. This sudden surge in confrontations raises questions about whether there is a deliberate Kremlin influence at play or if it’s merely coincidental.

Putin’s attack on a neighboring state, despite previously referring to them as “brotherly,” is rooted in a complex set of factors. It’s not just a matter of lacking a clear ideology or disregarding human life. It’s also about his flawed decision-making system and a calculated approach to exploit the institutional gaps in international law to avoid severe consequences. Back in 2014, when Putin initiated a hybrid war with Ukraine he referred to the right of peoples to self-determination, arguing that the residents of Donbas, like those in Crimea, didn’t want to remain part of Ukraine.

Public international law is inherently contradictory. It operates on a contractual basis, with obligations determined by adherence to various conventions and treaties. The United Nations Charter, a primary document of international law, enshrines the principle of territorial integrity of states in Article 2, paragraph 4, while Article 55 speaks of international economic and social cooperation and the right of nations to self-determination. This right is also recognized in a separate UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Originally, the right to self-determination was intended to assist former colonies in gaining sovereignty.

However, conflicts often arise when these principles clash, particularly in disputes involving historically adversarial ethnic groups. This contradiction stems from the UN’s architecture, which includes permanent Security Council members with lingering colonial interests, making them prone to manipulating norms for their own benefit.

During the Cold War, with the U.S. and USSR as dominant powers, this dual nature of international law provided a platform for compromise. It led to a system of checks and balances, both explicit and implicit. International institutions like the UN played a role in formalizing these compromises, and the UN Security Council served as a functioning mechanism for international security.

Today, this system has become less effective. Numerous regional conflicts, including long-standing issues like Palestine and new ones that emerged after the USSR’s dissolution, require balanced and long-term settlement policies. However, weakened and apathetic international institutions that once ensured global security can no longer provide effective solutions. Aggressive regimes take advantage of this situation to pursue their international political interests.

As Russia’s aggressive foreign policy intensifies, it appears that more regional conflicts are being resolved through military means. Putin’s motive seems to be not only to divert resources from Western support for Ukraine but also to sponsor and fuel armed conflicts in different regions as a means to further his international political goals.

The armed conflict between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan ended in the annexation by the latter. Azerbaijan’s strategic move had a definite backing of Turkey, following a pivotal meeting between Presidents Erdogan and Putin in September 2023. Their accord aimed to carve up influence in the volatile Caucasus region, favoring Turkish sway over Western interests. However, Russia’s expectations of a regional conflict, in which it and Turkey would act as armed peacekeepers, did not come to fruition as anticipated.

Putin, keen on diverting Western attention away from the ongoing Ukraine crisis, sought a substantial regional conflict. When one failed to materialize in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Kremlin turned its gaze to the Middle East. This shift aimed to redirect global political focus and potentially strengthen ties with China, which stood to gain from a weakened Iran amid regional hostilities. Notably, Putin’s reliance on China’s support had risen, as China played a key role in influencing North Korea’s potential ammunition supply needed for the Ukraine conflict.

There is no concrete evidence linking Russia to the preparation of the Hamas attack, though financial trails led through a Moscow-based cryptocurrency exchange. As reported by the the Wall Street Journal on the eve of the invasion, cryptocurrency wallets controlled by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group received transactions totaling more than $93 million. It remains unlikely that Putin, with his power base rooted in the FSB, possessed knowledge of this financial activity.

Additionally, speculation arises from classified intelligence shared by former U.S. President Trump with Russia, later relayed to Iran. This intel might have contributed to Hamas’s knowledge of Israel’s defense infrastructure. It’s crucial to note, however, that this theory remains speculative.

The tactics employed by Hamas in their attack and Russia’s actions in Ukraine during February 2022 share similarities, including both anticipating support from internal elements. While drawing parallels is tempting, it is a matter of interpretation and conjecture.

In contrast to many international leaders, Putin notably refrained from offering condolences to Israel following an attack that claimed the lives of over 1,300 Israelis. Moreover, Russian individuals who came to the Israeli embassy bearing flowers and Israeli flags were apprehended by the police. The most striking statement came from Hamas, expressing gratitude to President Putin, not for his efforts to broker peace or legitimize Palestine, but specifically for attempting to “halt Zionist aggression.” This message is unequivocal.

While the notion of Russian involvement in escalating the Middle East conflict may seem reasonable, the Kremlin’s expectations once again fell short. If Putin’s plan involved sowing internal unrest in Israel alongside the Hamas attacks, he must have been disappointed. When Iran observed that things were not going according to the plan, it chose to remain on the sidelines. With the active involvement of the U.S. in conflict resolution and Secretary Blinken’s efforts showing promise, Russia risks not only losing Palestine as an ally but also potentially losing Syria if a squadron of U.S. ships were to join Israel in an operation against terrorist entities in Syria.

Nonetheless, any attempt by Russia or any other country to undermine international security would be in vain if international institutions for political regulation were functioning effectively. If the UN focused on people rather than just states and if the UN Security Council did not convene solely for private, inconclusive discussions, it could make a significant difference.

The core issue underlying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the absence of an independent Palestinian state, which was originally envisioned alongside the creation of the State of Israel. The 1947 UN plan called for the establishment of two states, not one. However, Palestine never came into being; its territories fell under the control of different countries during various wars, including Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. In 1993, Palestinians were granted limited autonomy, with Israel agreeing to the potential establishment of a self-governing administration and security forces in exchange for renouncing terrorism. Despite this, Palestine has struggled to establish an effective administration.

Palestine is currently a partially recognized state, acknowledged by 138 members of the United Nations. It lacks its own currency, sovereignty, and remains fragmented. The Gaza Strip is controlled by the radical Hamas movement, which does not recognize Israel. This results in a partially recognized state within a state, where hopelessness becomes a fertile ground for radical movements.

The situation in Palestine, as in Nagorno-Karabakh, Kosovo, Transnistria, and other frozen conflict zones, should not be left to evolve from one acute phase to another. Armed factions are typically a minority, while the majority of the population desires a peaceful, normal life for themselves and their children. Unfortunately, they are the ones who suffer most from these conflicts, and the world often denies them the right to live in peace.

The world’s existing international institutions find themselves grappling with an outdated framework originally crafted for a bipolar world that has long ceased to exist. Urgent reform or the establishment of entirely new organizations more in tune with the contemporary global landscape is essential. Recent geopolitical crises have exposed the inadequacies of these institutions, often necessitating intervention by Western powers, with the United States at the forefront.

The domino effect of crises began with the Ukrainian conflict, a pivotal factor in the remilitarization of Western nations. The Kosovo crisis, which followed, had the potential to mark a turning point but was deftly managed, thanks to Belgrade’s pragmatic actions aimed at fostering cooperation with the European Union, China, and Russia. Subsequently, the Karabakh crisis led Armenia to shift its allegiance away from Russia.

Under the Kremlin’s reasoning, the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be seen through the lens of an expansive interpretation of the right to self-defense, particularly as it pertains to Iran. In his speech on February 24, 2022, Putin justified his invasion to Ukraine referring to the right of self-defence and Article 51 of the UN Charter claiming that Russia perceived an immediate threat to its existence. According to Putin Iran has the right to utilise the same logic with China threatening its regional interests.

Israel, in its current context, claims a similar right to self-defense. However, any existing state exercises not only legitimate physical violence but also a monopoly on legitimate symbolic violence. This grants the state’s judgment an “official” status, often making it seem “self-evident.”

In this light, fully recognized states wield significantly more symbolic influence than partially recognized or unrecognized states because their “official” status hinges on the endorsement of the “international community.” As a result, Israel enjoys far greater international support than partially recognized Palestine.

Israel’s status as a recognized state empowers it to label the actions of its adversaries as “terrorist,” while characterizing attacks on civilian infrastructure as “military necessity” and “collateral damage.” This approach exacerbates the conflict, as prospective negotiations are perceived not as discussions between equal parties but through the prism of power dynamics, fueling a cycle of violence as each side seeks to secure a larger share of the conflict’s outcome.

This “realpolitik” is at the core of the Kremlin’s policy, an approach Putin encourages other nations to adopt. It is precisely this “realpolitik” that not only breaches international law but also inflicts suffering on Ukrainians, Karabakhis, Israelis, and Palestinians. Consequently, it is crucial to rigorously curtail this approach to prevent other authoritarian leaders from emulating Putin’s example and justifying their aggressive ambitions with it.

A novel security model for addressing regional ethnic conflicts has emerged, one centered around providing security guarantees to be provided by NATO in exchange for disputed territories. This model holds promise in deterring further armed escalations. The current UN Charter already encompasses provisions for the International Trusteeship System, which, if applied to Palestine, could safeguard the rights and well-being of its people. The requisite legal frameworks are in place; the missing ingredient is the political will to institutionalize new approaches and actualize existing ones.

Vitaly Charushin
Vitaly Charushin
Vitaly Charushin is a Russian pro-democracy activist and member of Advisory Board of Creative Cluster, a French-tech ecosystem partner. He has previously worked at the National Democratic Institute in Moscow.


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