The relationship between Israel and Russia has been strengthened to unprecedented levels under Russia’s current president but recent actions by Moscow in the Middle East should have Israel on alert, an international Middle East policy expert asserted in a recent op-ed published by a prominent American think tank.
Anna Borshchevskaya, an Ira Weiner Fellow at The Washington Institute, wrote that since March 2000, when President Vladimir Putin assumed office, “the two countries have significantly improved ties on a number of fronts,” including tourism, communications, defense, trade, technology and innovation. The Russian community in Israel is made up of “over a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, which bolsters Russia’s ties to Israel,” Borshchevskaya wrote, adding, “Russian is the third most popular language in Israel after Hebrew and English.”
Despite all these improvements, Borshchevskaya believes “complexities remain” in the relationship between the two countries. Specifically, Russia’s support of Iran’s nuclear program and its arms trade with Syria — “arms that could fall into the possession of Hezbollah,” as Borshchevskaya notes — pose significant challenges to the relationship. Additionally, Putin has “denied that Gaza-based Hamas is a terrorist organization” and met with the terror group’s leaders in Moscow in March 2006 after extending a personal invitation.
“Putin wants to be seen as a key player throughout the Middle East, and Israel matters in the region. Putin’s regional policy, however, is primarily driven by zero-sum anti-Westernism to position Russia as a counterweight to the West in the region and, more broadly, to divide and weaken Western institutions,” Borshchevskaya wrote. “Israel, unlike Russia, is a pro-Western democracy. Moscow’s growing aggression in the former Soviet Union, especially in Ukraine, and increasing influence in the Middle East in the context of Western retreat from the region, complicates Russia-Israeli relations.”
Putin’s actions in the Middle East, which run counter to his support of Israel, should serve as a warning about the Russian leader’s true regional intentions, according to the analysis. “Ultimately, Putin cares more about politics than anything else — sticking a finger in the eye of the West and, more broadly, weakening the West.”
Borshchevskaya believes Israel and Russia will continue to cooperate with one another but Putin’s growing influence in the Middle East “raises questions for Israel and suggests it has to walk a fine line in an increasingly complicated and unstable region.”