The Israel-Hamas conflict has left the world and societies divided, raised questions over the extent of “self-defence” and the definition of genocide, and brought into sharp focus the differing approach to conflicts around the globe. Polite requests from the West for “restraint” evoke trenchant Israeli responses. But in this war, one unforeseen and unintended beneficiary is Russia. While the diversion of attention – and of crucial funding and military aid – of the US and most European powers to Israel, leaving Ukraine literally and figuratively in the cold, confer a marked strategic advantage to Russia, there are a host of other ramifications that portend favourably for it too.
Long pilloried by the Western powers and its allies over its military action in Ukraine, Moscow has now a sense of satisfaction of seeing the same Western powers attempting to justify their unqualified support to Israel in its extremely ruthless and indiscriminate response against the hapless Palestinians of Gaza. The higher magnitude of civilian deaths and damage in Gaza, than in the entire Ukrainian conflict, has led to blowback from several countries of the Global South, across Africa and South America, as well as the Arab street – though not the Arab governments.
In the US, the Palestinian situation spells trouble for President Joe Biden and his Democrats ahead of the crucial 2024 Presidential and Congressional elections as key support demographics revolt against them, the consequences for Europe could be more dire. On the continent, their support to Ukraine has not only left armouries and arsenals bare in several European countries, but is also leading to economic distress — due to the sanctions, particularly of fuel, and the consequent political turmoil as populist elements gain at the expense of the centrist parties.
While proponents of the “rules-based” global order stay silent — this too works to the gain of Russia which has been calling for a multi-polar and equitable global arrangement over the current hegemony of the Western powers and global agencies. All this will not help the Western powers in their relations with the rest of the world, especially the Global South, and Russia is moving fast to supplant them. France is fast losing influence in several of its erstwhile northwest and west African colonies.
Russia is not neglecting the rest of Africa. It is also cementing its return to the Middle East, where it has struck up working relations with most Gulf monarchies too, especially Saudi Arabia in the matter of oil supplies, as well as significant regional power Iran. While maintaining cordial relations with Israel, Russia maintains ties with Hamas too — despite Israel’s fury. Coincidence in global affairs is as rare as morality, but the Israel-Hamas conflict came as a windfall for Russia after its Ukraine gamble. It remains to be seen how it plays out.