The ongoing conflict in the Middle East has posed a question of foreign political strategy in the region for Russian diplomacy again. Russian top politicians had to answer the question almost immediately. The G8 summit which took place in St.Petersburg did not give President Putin any time to see the reaction of feuding sides to official statements released by Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. Putin’s remarks about the current conflict in the Middle East have clearly outlined Russia’s point of view regarding the problem.
It is easy to see that Putin’s stance on the new war in the Middle East is closer to the one expressed by European leaders, particularly French President Jacques Chirac. On the other hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported US President George W. Bush when the latter said that Israel had a full right to defend itself.
Putin does not have any doubts about Israel’s right for self-defense. It is a matter of internal politics for both US and Russian administrations. If either Putin or Bush said that the massive military operation conducted by Israel in return to terrorist raids was not necessary, it would mean that the US-led operation in Iraq or Russia’s actions in Chechnya are illegal too. On the other hand, Russia’s military operation in Chechnya and in the Northern Caucasus is taking place inside Russia. However, Russian officials have repeatedly emphasized the need to conduct an anti-terrorist operation in Pankisi Gorge, which is a part of Georgia’s territory. Furthermore, President Putin has recently ordered to terminate those terrorists who murdered Russian diplomats in Baghdad. Putin also initiated several law changes that would give him a right to issue orders about special operations in other countries.
The next thesis about the current conflict is connected with the disproportionate use of military force by Israel. Russian politicians, including the president, prefer to avoid this thesis in their remarks about the Israel-Lebanon standoff. Russia has already had to face this claim before regarding its actions in Chechnya. Both European and US officials reproached Russia for the disproportionate use of military power in Chechnya and tried to convince Moscow of the need to use political methods only. Western politicians did not change their minds even when terrorist attacks against Russian citizens and federal forces were successful. Therefore, Russia has to be extremely careful when it comes to the disproportionate use of military power against Lebanon. However, Putin pointed out another very important idea: the president stated that Israel was pursuing other goals that go far beyond the liberation of the captured Israeli servicemen.
As a matter of fact, it is an obvious statement to make, which cannot be used as a reproach to the government of Israel. Russia also had broader goals to pursue during its military operations in the Northern Caucasus: to destroy the infrastructure of terrorism. One has to acknowledge that it gave a start to Vladimir Putin’s popularity in Russia.
It is extremely important for the Russian administration to show restraint when Israel tries to solve its vital problems using Russia’s anti-terrorist experience. In this case Moscow will not lose its supporters in the Arab world.
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov
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