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Commentary: Israel-Hamas conflict is an opportunity for Putin while the world is distracted

HULL, England: Time is an ally of Russia in the Ukrainian conflict. Russia needs to reduce its rate of battlefield deaths and remain militarily active in Ukraine for as long as possible.

A great aid to Russian President Vladimir Putin would be a disruption in the supply of weapons to Kyiv, and a diminishing commitment from European and United States governments to support the war or to provide military equipment. A rival crisis to distract Ukraine’s allies, in the form of war in the Middle East, could provide just this.

Hamas’ violent incursion into Israel from Gaza on Saturday (Oct 7) has already distracted the United States diplomatically.

The conflict could also divert military equipment to the Middle East rather than to Ukraine. How large the diversion of arms is depends upon whether Israel chooses to try to reoccupy Gaza or not.

A war might also serve to further loosen the will of Ukraine’s allies to sustain their spending in Ukraine. It might do so because the implications of a wider Middle Eastern conflict, or China opportunistically attacking Taiwan, would outweigh the consequences of continued hostilities in Ukraine.

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RUSSIA’S COMPETING FRIENDSHIPS

The diplomatic picture for Russia towards the Israel-Hamas conflict is not clear cut. Russia has historically been friendly towards Israel. Israel has mirrored this by toning down any criticism it has made of the Ukrainian invasion.

Russia has recently become friendlier towards Iran as it has sought to buy military equipment. But Iran is likely to be the source of the military equipment used by Hamas to overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system and to invade the country, including the electronic interference equipment used to deactivate the border sensors and remote sentries.

Iran is also the likely source of counterintelligence techniques that have enabled Hamas to avoid attention from the capable Israeli intelligence services. Russia has been active in selling intelligence techniques around the world and so Iranian counterintelligence is likely informed by Russian practices.

Russia has long operated multilevel diplomacy – managing to maintain positive relationships with competing and even warring nations – in the Middle East, and will continue to do so. It is unlikely to find disadvantage here.

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VLADIMIR PUTIN’S PLANS REVEALED?

Putin has a strong history of hiding in plain sight. He tells us what he intends to do, and we assume it is rhetorical bluster. But in reality, Putin is telling us his plans and seeing how many of them he can complete.

Missed by the majority of the world’s media was the annual Russian security conference (the Valdai International Discussion Club, known simply as the Valdai), at which Putin spoke on Oct 5. There he described his ambition to create a new world order founded upon a “civilisation-based approach”. This would recognise local differences and communities of common interest.

In this, Putin was softly echoing an Indian approach to society which emphasises the environment, meaning the physical environment, the people within it, and community as a supportive structure. It is also an echo of the ethos of Israeli kibbutz which emphasise equality, common identity, community loyalty and shared efforts.

This is an explicit rejection of Western individualism and a nod to those in the developing world that Russia is a kindred spirit.

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