Sharon found understanding in Moscow

Russia will try to maintain the balance of its Middle Eastern policy. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit comes ahead of a series of Arab leaders' visits to Moscow. On Wednesday, Sharon's visit to Moscow will be followed by a visit of Executive Secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Abu Mazen; in mid-October Moscow will expect Moroccan King Muhammad VI and then a Saudi governmental delegation.

Each of these visits will pursue different goals, but will inevitably highlight the Mideastern settlement and the Iraqi issue.

Russia is a member state of the UN Security Council and is one of the four mediators in the Middle East settlement. Naturally, the Israeli and Arab politicians expect Russia to hold a clear and unambiguous position, and each of them hopes to win Russia over.

On Tuesday the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported with reference to sources in the Israeli delegation which has arrived in Moscow: "The talks with the Russian president made Sharon realise that due to the situation in Chechnya, Vladimir Putin understood the fight that Israel is waging against terror better than any other politician of the world." The fact that their meeting lasted for over three hours (double of the planned time) indicates that the two politicians had reached mutual understanding.

The Kremlin talks also made it clear to Sharon that Russia's position on the Arab-Israeli settlement was "far more balanced than that of other mediators in the Mideastern quartet, i.e. the US, the EU and the UN." This opinion of Sharon inspired a hope in Russian diplomats who had long tried to convince the Israelis of Russia's balanced position, but usually encountered discontent of the Israeli side. Russia either abstained during the UN voting for the resolution condemning Israel's activities, instead of voting against it, or it agreed that not only the Palestinians but also the Israelis should "break the vicious circle of violence." Let alone Israel's discontent with Russia-Arab co-operation in the military-technical area. Moreover, Israel in concert with the US keeps criticising Moscow for selling its nuclear technologies to Iran.

However, this criticism has already become a traditional topic of the Israeli delegations' visits to Russia. Moscow, in turn, has stated that it acts within the international legislation in its own interests. So, Putin assured Sharon during their Kremlin talks that Russo-Syrian co-operation in the military sphere posed no threat to Israel's security. The Israelis, however, still have doubts but cannot influence Russia.

Nonetheless, they can influence the Russian public opinion by further comparing the Palestinian Authority with Chechnya and bringing terrorism victims to Russia.

Sharon brought with him three young men who had fallen victims to one of the most brutal terrorist acts in the past two years of the Palestinian intifada Al-Aqsa. In June 2001, 21 people were killed by a terrorist act at a disco in Tel Aviv, with most of the wounded and murdered being young Israelis who hailed from Russia and the CIS states.

Alex Malinov, 16, lost two sisters, Faik Khuliyev, 20, and Emma Skolidevsk, 19, sustained wounds. They have arrived in Moscow together with Sharon and are helping him to demonstrate the real nature of terrorism to Russians. Before leaving for Russia, Alex Malinov said to journalists: "I want to say to Russians that their former compatriots in Israel are suffering from the same terror as they are suffering from in Chechnya." In this case, the arguments that Russian Jews who had left for Israel and thus chosen their own fate, and that Chechnya cannot be compared with Palestine for political and historical reasons do not hold water.

It is impossible to look at injured children, to talk to people who had lost their relatives in terrorist acts and all the while to remain indifferent and objective, and try to balance one's position. No lively speech of a professional politician can be as convincing as an evident demonstration of human sufferings. The Israelis are shooting films about terror and demonstrating terrorist victims. Well, the Palestinians are pursuing the same policy, though they haven't brought any victims in Moscow yet.

Right before Sharon's visit to Russia, the legal organisation International Amnesty published a report that during the two years of intifada 550 people were killed, including 72 children. The Palestinians lost more - 1,700 people, including 250 children.

We can only guess what arguments emissary Abu Mazen will forward to the Russian leadership Wednesday and what his impressions will be of the meeting with the Russian top officials. Will he be equally happy with Moscow's balanced stance as Sharon is?

Indeed, Moscow would rather have the Israelis and Palestinians leave Russia in content, but it is more important that they do not get disappointed later, during another voting in the UN or a session of the Middle East quartet. At best, of course, Russian diplomats would prefer both conflicting sides to not only be happy with their reception in Moscow, but also to follow Russia's and international recommendations. However, this has very rarely been the case so far.

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