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Russia seeks power broker role with Hamas

Benjamin Netanyahu has been reluctant to negotiate with Hamas. Credit: Getty

October 29, 2023 - 11:00am

High-ranking Hamas officials arrived in Moscow at the end of this week to meet with Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian deputy foreign minister. The invitation — aimed, in part, at releasing Russian hostages  — was extended by a state seeking to regain some geopolitical prestige. 

The meetings follow on from Benjamin Netanhayu’s disastrous handling of the hostage situation that emerged following Hamas’s attacks on Israel on 7th October. Relatives of the 220 Israelis confirmed to have been taken captive in Gaza have been near-united in anger towards the Israeli Prime Minister and his government. Netanyahu’s decision to wait a week before meeting with them was the action of a man operating with suboptimal political instincts.

One day prior, Israel’s National Security Council chief Tzachi Hanegbi had insisted that Israel would not “hold negotiations with an enemy that we have vowed to wipe from the face of the earth”. Netanyahu sought to assure these families — a heady political force — that this was not his own view. Desperate relatives have previously demanded that the Israeli government explore all possible avenues for the release of hostages, including through leaders of Arab states, other countries, and even Hamas themselves. 

Israel clearly does not wish to negotiate with Hamas, and does not want foreign states to pressure it into doing so, either. Long-term short-termism from Netanyahu has, however, led to political dysfunction that has strengthened foreign powers critical of Israel. A vacuum has been created for other countries seeking to involve themselves in the hostage negotiation. One of these is now Russia. 

While leaders such as Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak have led Western states in a show of support for Israel, Russia has involved itself relatively late. Only in the second week of the conflict did Vladimir Putin call major leaders in the region. Bogdanov met with Hamas leadership in Qatar this week, leading to the invitation extended to the Hamas delegation currently in Moscow.  

In involving itself thus, Russia is seeking to present itself as a power broker in the region after a series of embarrassments regarding Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and China — three states it ordinarily likes to think of respectively as weaker, more loyal, or friendlier than they have recently proven.

According to Russian news agencies this weekend, Hamas has said it will locate and free eight Russian-Israeli hostages. There are clear reasons why Moscow would seek to use diplomatic channels to ensure the release of its citizens, but otherwise Russia has few methods for influencing the outcome of the war. Its intention, above all, is to demonstrate that it is not the isolated, beleaguered nation that the West has attempted to portray. 

Russia has never designated Hamas a terrorist group, and has played host to previous leaders. Russia, Putin argued at a recent meeting with religious representatives, “knows first hand” the effects of international terrorism. Nevertheless, he insisted, “the fight against terrorism cannot be conducted on the notorious principle of collective responsibility resulting in the deaths of the elderly, women, children, and entire families.” 

Russia has been attempting to lay the groundwork for greater military and diplomatic influence in the Middle East in recent years. It was no accident that Valery Gergiev conducted the Mariinsky Orchestra in the ruins of Palmyra after its liberation from Isis in 2016. As Netanyahu leaves room for other powers to take control of the hostage negotiations, Putin is hoping that such foundations may bear fruit in regaining some international influence.


Katherine Bayford is a doctoral researcher in politics and international relations at the University of Nottingham.

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Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago

This article misses two points- Putin has to play a pro Hamas game on account of overdependence on the Chechen militias of Ramzan Kadyrov. Who is the mainstay of the Russian army in its Ukraine war.
Also Israel had under Naftaly Bennet played it safe and even tried to broker a peace deal between Ukraine and Russia. Netanyahu at one point was quite close to Russia too( pre War of course).
I see a spate of analysis here on Iran and Russia vis a vis Hamas, but much less on the two most troublesome elements who are Sunni orthodox and Islamist – Erdogan in Turkey and Quatar. The new Axis of Evil is certainly these two plus Pakistan and CCP.
Is this selective cherry picked analysis as they are US allies? In that case it’s even more dangerous if Western diplomacy( or what remains of it) ignores the direct financial backers of Sunni Hamas.
Xi is finally having the last laugh- as even his internal challenges from Li Quechiang( just dead) and his ex Defence minister are gone.

Last edited 8 months ago by Sayantani Gupta
Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
8 months ago

Can you please explain why both Sunni Turkey/Qatar and Shia Iran are supporting Hamas? Is this part of the China-negotiated ‘detente’ between Iran and Saudi Arabia, or are Sunni/Shia (usually at each others’ throats) conveniently uniting against a common enemy – Israel?

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

It’s puzzling. Qatar has long been funding Hamas and a lot of Qatari armed forces have Pakistani retired army as well as intelligence corps. Iran imho is aligned with CCP increasingly due to economic sanctions from the US.
Qatar is also a rival of Saudi Arabia. So it teams up with Iran and gives refuge to all sorts of terrorists from Hamas to Muslim Brotherhood.
The danger is big also from Turkey which is a close ally of Qatar. Sunni Islamist in extreme measure compared to Saudi Arabia and UAE.
.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

I did give a reply which UH is moderating and thus not showing.
Alliances are shifting sands in the Middle East in particular. I will wait to see how long it takes UH to approve what I had written in reply to your query.

Last edited 8 months ago by Sayantani Gupta
Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
8 months ago

Thanks for the reply which I can now see. Shifting sands indeed, it’s quite hard to keep up for those not familiar with the nuances of Middle East politics.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

It’s actually gone global now as a sub- arena for US versus Xi

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
8 months ago

Or is it coalescing around NATO+ versus BRICS+?

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

BRICS still has India to counter Xi.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
8 months ago

Hamas should be squished like a pimple.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
8 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

How, exactly? Care to elaborate?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

The incursion by Hamas into Israel was attributed primarily to a failure of Israeli “intelligence”. Reading between the lines, the term could be used in a wider context: a failure of intelligence, a failure of statecraft.
Looking from afar, this always seemed to be Israel’s strong point but Netanhyahu, i’d suggest, has seriously undermined the collective spirit which has bound Israelis together, and before recent events they seemed increasingly divided. This, no doubt, along with many other factors, may have encouraged Hamas and its sponsors to act.
This article is centred around Putin, an opportunist having already taken strides in the Syrian conflict to establish a foothold in the region at the expense of the US. It’s another Great Game, with human lives and suffering the currency.
Neither Biden in the White House, Sunak in Downing Street or the EU in their cossetted citadels have the bandwidth to deal with this, and thus the West falters before our very eyes, and more importantly, before the eyes of Xi. I suspect he sees Putin as a useful idiot.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Murray
T Bone
T Bone
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Israel faced the same Right/Left divide that exists in America and Britain regarding the role of the State. Israel does not have a Constitution. For years, Israel’s Supreme Court has been able to nullify legislation passed by elected officials on the grounds that they are “unreasonable.” Netanyahu sought to prevent that from happening and he was branded as “Anti-Democracy.”

So half the population was either supporting or taking to the streets to contest the new “Anti-Democratic” rules that simply allowed elected officials to pass laws.

The same thing is happening throughout the developed world because the Social Justice Left that controls the overwhelming majority of the media has propagated the notion that everything they want is inclusive and democratic and everything their opponents want is “Autocratic, extremist and anti-democratic.”

How does any Conservative that believes in the traditional notion of Separation of Powers operate in that environment? How do people not see this absurd gaslighting?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

It’s a fair point. The same was happening when BJ sought to prorogue parliament in order to prevent the Establishment from derailing the Brexit vote. This was overturned by the UK Supreme Court. In the end, the country decided the issue at the December 2019 General Election. Of course, the media reporting of all this was very much pro-Establishment. Israel needs to make a similarly decisive move one way or the other.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago

Got to add Israel been supporting Azerbaijan re: Armenia, at a time when Russia unable to back-up Armenia as it would have done in the past. That’s Israel noting Azerbaijan’s land border and tension with it’s biggest foe – Iran and hence further securing that alliance. So just another reason Putin going to meddle where he can to help keep Israel, and thus it’s primary Allies too, off balance in return.
Putin is desperate and clearly sees an opportunity to get the West distracted and tied up in Middle East to rescue his Ukrainian disaster and his own regime. He won’t care about anything other than what might help him stay in power – the same for all Autocrats.

Last edited 8 months ago by j watson