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Russia uses Hamas attacks on Israel for domestic propaganda

Juri Rescheto
October 9, 2023

Moscow, which has enjoyed good ties with Israelis and Palestinians, has condemned the escalation of violence after the Hamas terror attacks. Kremlin advocates are blaming the conflict on the West, particularly the US.

The Israeli flag draped on a flag pole in front of a white building with six windows
The Israeli flag is at half mast in front Israel's embassy in MoscowImage: Sergei Savostyanov/Tass/dpa/picture alliance

The flag at the Israeli embassy in Moscow is at half-mast. In front of it is a small bouquet of blue and white carnations, reflecting Israel's national colors, and other flowers. People have been coming to express their condolences for the victims of the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. There is calm as their documents are checked. There is similar calm in front of the Palestinian mission in the Russian capital.

Ruslan Suleymanov told DW that Russia had traditionally maintained good relations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. "These relations are still based on trust despite Russia's attack on Ukraine and the fact that the relationship with Israel has deteriorated," said the Russian Middle East expert, who lives in Azerbaijan.

He recalled Russia's attempt to justify its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 by saying it wanted to "denazify" the country. In May of the same year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took the propaganda even further by saying that he believed "Hitler had Jewish blood" and some "of the worst antisemites are Jews," referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish.

His Israeli counterpart at the time, Jair Lapid, condemned the statement, saying that it was both "unforgivable and outrageous, as well as a terrible historical error."

Suleymanov said that nothing "irreparable" had happened since with Israel.

Regarding the relationship between the Kremlin and Palestinian officials, he said there had been more contact recently, and Hamas representatives were coming more often to Moscow: "The last time was in March of this year."

However, he doubted that the Russian government had been informed of the plan by the terrorist Islamist organization to launch a major attack on Israel.

"Even Israeli military intelligence was taken by surprise," he said. Nonetheless, there had probably been some expectation of such a scenario, if not on this scale. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
Sergei Lavrov was condemned after saying that he believed that Hitler might have had Jewish blood in May 2022Image: AP Photo/picture alliance

Russia condemns escalation

Yelena Suponina, a Moscow-based political scientist for the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, which is close to the Kremlin, also said that the Russian government probably knew nothing. She added that Russia could probably not have done much to prevent it since it had other priorities, namely on its western border with Ukraine.

But she pointed out that Moscow was probably "making efforts" to play a coordinating role with its Arab partners, in particular Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, as well as with Iran, though the Kremlin would not take sides or do anything against "terrorist activities."

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson condemned the "sharp escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," saying that it was "extremely concerned" by the "spiral of violence."

"We call on the Palestinian and Israeli sides to implement an immediate ceasefire, renounce violence [and] exercise restraint," spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.

Pro-Kremlin media blame West

In Russian pro-Kremlin media, three main theses are being shared: That it is mistakes by the West that have led to the escalation, that wars have become the norm, and Russians who went to Israel because of the war against Ukraine will now return.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who is currently the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, has pounced on the theory that the West, particularly the United States, is responsible for Hamas' attack on Israel.

He said in his Telegram channel that the US was a "decisive player," making a geographic connection to Russia's war against Ukraine.

He pointed out that the Middle East conflict was what "Washington and its allies should have been dealing with." Instead, the "wackos" had "interfered with us by helping the neo-Nazis divide two peoples [Russians and Ukrainians] who are close to each other."

Former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev
Former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev blames the West for the escalation in the Middle EastImage: Yekaterina Shtukina/dpa/picture alliance

Suleymanov dismissed Medvedev's comments: "He is so far removed from reality. He hasn't had any influence for a long time." However, he said that the remarks did reflect the Kremlin's view that the West tends to provoke such conflicts, even though this, Suleymanov added, was sheer conspiracy theory and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had utterly different roots. 

He explained that the Kremlin would benefit from the escalation in the Middle East. "The attack is a distraction from what the Russian army is doing in Ukraine," he said, adding that it would be used as propaganda for domestic purposes even if most Russians were probably not very interested, given it was too far away and too complicated. 

But not all, as otherwise there would be no flowers in front of the Israeli embassy in Moscow and a woman would not have been arrested after standing there with a placard saying, "No to terror!"

This article was translated from German.

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Juri Rescheto DW Riga Bureau Chief