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How the Hamas-Israel war turned out to be a strategic advantage for Russia

Vikas Datta

New Delhi, Jan 15 :This conflict has left the world and societies divided, raised questions over the extent of “self-defence” and the definition of genocide, and brought into sharp focus the differing approach to conflicts around the globe.

The Israel-Hamas war, which has entered its 100th day, has upended geopolitics in other ways too.

One unforeseen — and unintended — beneficiary is Russia.

While the diversion of attention – and of crucial funding and military aid – of the US and most European powers to Israel, leaving Ukraine and its grandstanding President Volodymyr Zelensky literally and figuratively in the cold, confer a marked strategic advantage to Russia, there are a host of other ramifications that portend favourably for it too.

Long pilloried by the Western powers and its allies over its military action in Ukraine, Moscow has now a sense of satisfaction of seeing the same Western powers attempting to justify their unqualified support to Israel in its extremely ruthless and indiscriminate response against the hapless Palestinians of Gaza.

The higher magnitude of civilian deaths and damage in Gaza, than in the entire Ukrainian conflict, has led to blowback from several countries of the Global South, across Africa and South America, as well as the Arab street – though not the Arab governments.

Then, significant sections of citizens in Europe as well as the US are also on the streets to demand a ceasefire even as polite requests from the West for “restraint” evoke trenchant Israeli responses.

The protests in Europe and the US over the plight of the Palestinians and the socio-political tensions they are evoking — given the gulf between the protesters and their government — could turn out to be a potent destabilising factor – whether Russia chooses to utilise it or not.

While in the US, the Palestinian situation spells trouble for President Joe Biden and his Democrats ahead of the crucial 2024 Presidential and Congressional elections as key support demographics revolt against them, the consequences for Europe could be more dire.

On the continent, their equal blind support to Ukraine has not only left armouries and arsenals bare in several European countries, but is also leading to economic distress — due to the sanctions, particularly of fuel, and the consequent political turmoil as populist elements — notoriously Eurosceptic too — gain at the expense of the centrist parties.

And then as the UN, and its agencies are not spared too by Israel while proponents of the “rules-based” global order stay silent — this too works to to the gain of Russia which has been calling for a multi-polar and equitable global arrangement over the current hegemony of the Western powers and global agencies.

Then, the ICC issued warrants against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova over alleged shifting of children from war-torn Ukraine, it was called over for its silence in the case of detention, denial of rights, and much worse for Palestinian children in Gaza and West Bank — despite the same Prosecutor visiting the region – though he did not go to Gaza.

Compare that to the shrill cries and condemnation over South Africa moving the International Court of Justice against Israel on charges of genocide.

The differential treatment has again raised claims, evoked earlier in African circles, whether the ICC and other global institutions is only meant to be used against leaders from the continent, or a malefactor or two from the Balkans, while those from the rest of the world are immune from its remit.

All this will not help the Western powers in their relations with the rest of the world, especially the Global South, and Russia is moving fast to supplant them.

France is fast losing influence in several of its erstwhile northwest and west African colonies, including Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, and Russia, first through the Wagner PMC, and now the government itself, with Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov as its pointsman, is stiching up security deals.

Moscow is not neglecting the rest of the continent either, be it the south, east, or the key northern region, where even the UN is not much in favour – as demand for withdrawal of its forces from Congo shows.

Russia is also cementing its return to the Middle East, where it has struck up working relations with most Gulf monarchies too, especially Saudi Arabia in the matter of oil supplies, apart from its old Soviet-era client states like Syria, Iraq and restive Libya as well as significant regional power Iran. While maintaining cordial relations with Israel, It maintains ties with Hamas too — despite Israel’s fury.

Coincidence in global affairs is as rare as morality, but the Israel-Hamas conflict came as a windfall for Russia after its Ukraine gamble. It remains to be seen how it plays out.

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