Perplexing Russia in the Middle East

Manila Bulletin, March 8, 2006 | Go to article overview

Perplexing Russia in the Middle East


Byline: Francis N. Tolentino

FOLLOWING the article we wrote last February 22, 2006 entitled "Peace, Hamas, and the Middle East,aa we again focus our attention on the role that Russia is trying to project in the Middle East peace process. With the invitation extended by Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Hamas group to visit Moscow and discuss the possible options available for the group and Israel to co-exist (and probably become partners in mutual economic and social growth for Palestine and Israel), we draw attention to the probable motives behind this bold diplomatic move and try to put to light the potential consequences this so called "discussionaa may inflict upon the Road Map to Peace (forged by the US-led coalition called the "Quartetaa composed of the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations) in the region.

Last March 3, 2006, the controversial visit of Hamas to Moscow took place. Meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the group claimed this visit as an "important breakthroughaa following their victory in the Palestinian elections last January. It has been reported that since then, members of the Quartet had refused to negotiate with the leaders of the Hamas group and continued to demand abandonment of violence and respect for Israelas right to exist as pre-conditions for the international community to continue supporting Palestine. It was indeed a shock, especially for Israel and the United States, that Russia, outside the Quartet, took upon itself a decision and a task it was supposed to share with the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations as its co-mediators. Such initiative has drawn critical eyes towards Russia and in the days to come, world attention will be focused on how the Russian government will be able to prove to the international community that its intentions are purely for the achievement of peace and mutual respect in the Middle East.

Many believe that Russiaas increased interest in the Middle East is backed by its desire to resurrect as a significant world player and re-assert old Soviet international position. "The increase in Russian activity in the Middle East is caused primarily by geopolitics (the relationships that exist between a countryas politics and its geography and population distribution, or the influences that geography and population distribution have on political relations between countries). . . Activization in the Middle East is considered by Moscow as an integral part of its global rivalry with the West. Thus, Russia widely uses the growing anti-Western moods of the countries of this region. Against this background, Moscow makes efforts to create a new strategic alliance in the region, including Russia, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.aa (Russians Are Coming Back by Hakam Aql a" June 1, 2005). It may be recalled that Russia had made significant participation in the construction of Iranas 1,000-megawatt Bushehr nuclear reactor, not to mention the statement Russia made through its Foreign Minister (February, 2006) that Iranas nuclear problem should be settled based on international law a" a point of view perceived as indirectly favoring Iranas uranium enrichment activities. …

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