Russia’s Recent Approach to Hamas Creates Unjustified Anger

President Putin’s statement Russia intends to invite Hamas leaders for talks in Moscow angered Israel and others who regard Hamas as a terrorist group. From a strategic point of view the Russian president acted with Russian interests in mind and in light of his own problems with Muslim insurgency in the Caucasus.

It is a known fact Hamas and other militant Muslim groups in the Middle East cooperate with various mujahedeen organizations operating in Russia’s northern Caucasus region and in the Far East. Groups such as the Yarmuk Brigade under Chechen leader Shamil Basayev are Sunni Muslims strongly related to the Wahabi ideology also fueling rebellion in Saudi Arabia and motivating Islamists in Egypt and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

From a Russian position talking to Hamas holds the potential to further isolate Caucasus mujahedeen and to deprive them from one of their major sources of clandestine international support. More supporters of Hamas and the Palestinian cause reside in the west, in Africa and in Latin America than ex-Caucasus militants.

Fund raising activities, the lifeline of Russian style mujahedeen, are linked to Hamas activities and to their fundraising network, includes ties to supporters even in the U.S. and Canada. Russia has been struggling against the jihadi menace for much longer than the U.S.

The problem intensified as a number of Asian republics gained independence and opted to secede from the USSR when Russia under Boris Yeltzin redesigned her geographical borders.

Current events in the former Soviet republics are causing concern in Moscow, especially as they are strongly influenced by the global jihad. Russia will go to any length to suppress jihadi rebellions and to crush the existence of Islamic militancy within her borders. Hamas might be able to offer Moscow constructive avenues to deal with this issue.

It would be wrong to assess there were no ties or contacts between the Russian administration and Hamas prior to the recent Palestinian elections, especially as clandestine diplomatic contacts are by nature away from the public eye. Israel held talks with the Hezbollah over security arrangements in south Lebanon and the U.S. is undoubtedly holding some sort of talks with insurgents in Iraq in a practice as old as diplomacy itself.

Anger at Russia is premature. It is even possible Moscow will help mainstream Hamas leaders, who for better of for worse were elected through a democratic process, and are therefore the legitimate governing power of the Palestinians. President Putin may have reacted too soon but there is very little doubt that should Hamas consolidate its power others will follow Putin and will eventually also talk to the Palestinian government no matter who is at the top.

Very few remember that less than 20 years ago it was almost heresy to suggest Israel would talk to the Palestinians under Arafat and yet ties between Jerusalem and Ramallah became an irreversible fact. Some in Israel and the Jewish world were further astonished when the Russian chief of staff said weapon sales to a Hamas government is not out of the question. Here too emotions overtook logic with an outpour of angry Israeli reactions.

After all, Israel agreed to the creation of a democratic Palestinian entity and did not protest when the U.S. and the European Union supplied small arms and military equipment to the Palestinian law enforcement force under Arafat, without doubt himself a notorious terrorist who never really recanted his ultimate goal to destroy Israel. Israel itself supplied weapons, vehicles and ammunition to the Palestinian police.

Therefore, to express anger at the Russians agreeing to do for Hamas what the Americans and Israelis did for Arafat’s PLO is unconstructive and hypocritical.

Yoram East
Yoram East is a retired Israeli colonel born in Jerusalem, who writes about foreign policy and goings-on in the Middle East. Sadly, Yoram passed away in October 2010.