Although an official visit to the Kremlin by Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s senior leader, has been postponed, the Russian foreign ministry has made clear that it will host him another time. And Haniyeh’s intended visit should come as no surprise, since his predecessor, Khaled Meshal, was a regular guest in Moscow. Micky Aharonson explains how staying on cordial terms with the terrorist group fits into Russia’s broader Middle East strategy.
Unlike the United States and the European Union, Russia doesn’t regard Hamas as a terrorist organization. Russia’s stance is that Hamas’s rule in Gaza is legitimate since the organization was democratically elected. . . . Just several weeks ago, Russia voted against a U.S. proposal in the UN to condemn Hamas terrorist activities. Moscow then went a step farther by actively seeking to broker talks between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Russia’s stance regarding Hamas is based on a general strategy of bolstering anti-Western movements, especially those that are anti-American. This approach dates back decades, to when the USSR supported [America’s adversaries] in Vietnam and Afghanistan. This policy reflects Russia’s “zero-sum-game” [rationale that], wherever the U.S. is present, Russia is by default excluded. Wherever Russia can increase its influence, U.S. influence must therefore be reduced. Indeed, Russia is making headway in regions and countries where the U.S. is in the process of shrinking its involvement, [such as] Libya and Syria. . . .
Another reason for Russia’s support of Hamas is Moscow’s longstanding desire to take a leading role in resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. As an interim measure, Russia is working to promote intra-Palestinian reconciliation among the various factions. . . . Moscow views its roles in intra-Palestinian and Israel-Palestinian affairs as important to strengthening its position in the Arab and Muslim worlds. . . .
After meeting in June 2018 with Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy chairman of the Hamas politburo, the Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov announced that Moscow would not [accept] the anticipated Trump administration peace plan, . . . but instead advance plans of its own. [This decision] serves the interests of both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Russia is [likewise] trying to focus the international community’s attention on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, arguing that a solution to the conflict is crucial to the stability of the entire Middle East.