reflections

Jan 6, 2011 | 02:42 GMT

4 mins read

Russia and its Foreign Policy Dance

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
The Kremlin announced Wednesday that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is going to visit the Palestinian territories in a few weeks, just as Medvedev’s trip to Israel has been canceled. Medvedev had planned to go to Israel on Jan. 17-19, but his trip was postponed due to a strike at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. While this may just seem like a logistical and technical issue, there is a shifting Russian foreign policy strategy, giving Moscow freer capability to act against the Israelis and increase support for the Palestinians. Russia and Israel have had ongoing tense and complex relations. After a post-World War II alliance in the late 1940s, Soviet-era Moscow was a patron of Israel’s enemies — Egypt and Syria. At the time, this was not really about Russia siding against Israel as much as it was about pressuring the United States’ interests in the Middle East. After the Cold War, Israeli and Russian relations were tolerable. Moscow had to pull its support from the Middle East as its empire crumbled and it fought to keep the Russian state together. All this changed in the past decade when Russia began to consolidate, and announced that Russia was on its way back and would soon return as a major player on the international stage. During this time, Moscow accused Israel of meddling in Russia’s interests by financially and politically backing the anti-Kremlin oligarchs, and militarily supporting Georgia and Russian Muslim republics of Dagestan and Chechnya. Since then, it has been a tit-for-tat between Russia and Israel with Moscow countering those Israeli moves by supporting Iran and Syria in recent years. …Russia is working with all players in the region — keeping everyone dizzy and guessing what it will do next. This was part of Russia’s overall foreign policy at the time to unilaterally retaliate for moves made against its interests. One of the larger examples of this was the West’s recognition of an independent Kosovo, followed by Russia’s recognition of independent Abkhazia and South Ossetia — after its war with Georgia. But Russia’s resurgence has now entered a new stage, in which Moscow feels comfortable in its sphere of influence. Naturally, Moscow is still mindful of foreign moves in its surrounding regions, but is confident such moves do not threaten its overall control in the region. Moscow is not only secure enough in its power over Georgia that the issue isn’t a red line in Russian-Israeli relations; Moscow retains options for escalation in Israel's neighborhood that can deter Israeli actions in Georgia. This new shift has allowed Russia to be able to play more ambiguously than unilaterally in all its foreign policy issues. With Russia in a comfortable status, it feels it can make bolder moves outside of Eurasia. Such alterations have been seen in Russia’s policies in the Middle East, where Moscow has been striking military deals with anyone it can — Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel. This time, increased Russian activity around the world could go beyond theatrics and translate into further support for the Palestinians. There are rumors that Russia is considering actually recognizing an independent Palestinian state. There has already been a change in some weightier countries, like Brazil, supporting Palestine. The Russians could be the next in line. The difference is the Russians have a history of not just diplomatically supporting the Palestinians, but through military, financial and intelligence support. Moscow’s motivations behind supporting the Palestinians at this time are not clear, since it has been making so many deals with so many countries in the region. Russia could be attempting to make a show against one of Washington's closest allies — Israel — and the timing of the cancellation of Medvedev’s trip to Israel is suspicious. Russia could be choosing to make this move because of increased discussion of Palestinian support in the European Union — and Russia is looking for agenda issues in which to align. Russia could be in coordination with Brazil, as both countries are strangely side-by-side on myriad foreign policy issues. Additionally, it could be Russia simply wanting to make a global statement that it isn’t worried about repercussions for taking sides on such a controversial issue. Even if Moscow’s reasoning or endgame is unknown at this time, it's plain that Russia is working with all players in the region — keeping everyone dizzy and guessing what it will do next.

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