December 2, 2023

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has lengthy solid himself as a good friend of Israel and the Jewish individuals.

He helped set up visa-free journey between Russia and Israel in 2008, presided over the development of a sprawling Moscow Jewish Museum in 2012 and, side by side with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2020, unveiled a memorial to the victims of Nazi Germany’s siege of Leningrad.

However amid the worst attack on Israel in 50 years, the excessive regard that Mr. Putin has proven for Israel previously seems remarkably absent. Greater than three days after the beginning of the incursion by Hamas, there was no message of condolence from the Kremlin, although Mr. Putin beforehand revealed such notes of sympathy within the wake of terrorist assaults in Israel.

And he has not but referred to as Mr. Netanyahu, although he spoke with Israeli leaders no less than 11 instances in 2022 and developed a detailed relationship with Mr. Netanyahu over greater than a decade of conferences and telephone calls.

As a substitute, in his first transient feedback on the assault, Mr. Putin took a swipe at the US, with out expressing any sympathy for Israeli struggling.

“It is a clear instance of the failure of United States coverage within the Center East,” Mr. Putin mentioned on Tuesday in a televised assembly on the Kremlin with Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, the Iraqi prime minister.

Quite than discover a compromise amenable to each side, Mr. Putin went on, Washington acted “every time with out making an allowance for the elemental pursuits of the Palestinian individuals.”

On Russian state tv and within the pro-Kremlin blogosphere, commentators have reacted to the assault on Israel with thinly veiled glee, casting it as a revelation of Western weak point and because the begin of a battle that would sap Western help for Ukraine.

The stark shift sheds mild on one consequence of Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine: the sharp decline within the relationship between Moscow and Israel over the previous yr and a half, one which some Jewish leaders concern additionally presages an increase in antisemitism inside Russia.

It’s also the most recent battle in a area the place Moscow has performed a significant function however the place it’s now unwilling or unable to wield a lot affect. That performed out dramatically final month within the Caucasus area, the place Russia didn’t even appear to attempt to cease Azerbaijan from seizing management of the Armenian-populated breakaway enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh — a stinging defeat for Armenia, Russia’s army ally.

Whereas Moscow’s help for the Palestinian trigger dates to Soviet instances, Mr. Putin balanced that by forging sturdy ties to Israel. So the Kremlin’s arms-length stance towards Israel in latest days “is certainly a manifestation of a deteriorating relationship,” mentioned Pinchas Goldschmidt, who served because the chief rabbi of Moscow for almost 30 years till being pressured to flee the nation final yr as a result of, he mentioned, he refused to support the war in Ukraine.

Rabbi Goldschmidt spoke by telephone from Israel, the place he had simply attended the funeral of an Israeli soldier slain within the preventing on Saturday; he mentioned the deceased, Yuval Ben Yaakov, was the son of one other former Moscow rabbi. He added that many Jewish leaders had as soon as seen Mr. Putin as an ally in conserving the reminiscence of World Battle II alive, however when the Russian president began falsely equating Ukraine’s present authorities to Nazi Germany to justify an invasion, “that’s when the Jews mentioned: ‘We’re not a part of it.’”

There are clear geopolitical causes for Mr. Putin’s shift on Israel. Within the Center East, the place Russia has lengthy tried to play a kingmaker function and construct relations with all main powers, Moscow now finds itself beholden to Iran — Israel’s bitter enemy — as one among its main arms suppliers for the battle in Ukraine.

And in contrast to in years previous, when Mr. Putin sought methods to cooperate with Western international locations, he now seems to see little incentive to attempt to work with them to dealer an finish to the preventing in Israel as Russian forces are being pummeled by Western weaponry in Ukraine.

However there are additionally, maybe, extra private causes. Mr. Putin seems stung that Israel and Jewish leaders all over the world will not be backing his false narrative about Ukraine’s being run by “Nazis.” In latest months, he has repeatedly lashed out at President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine for heading a Nazi authorities regardless of being Jewish. In June, Mr. Putin claimed that his “many Jewish associates” had advised him that Mr. Zelensky was “a shame to the Jewish individuals.”

There have been indicators since final yr that the connection was fraying. Russia cracked down on the Jewish Agency, an Israeli nonprofit that was a mainstay of Jewish life in Russia and helped Russian Jews transfer to Israel. In June, Russia’s Overseas Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to say that Israel’s envoy to Ukraine was complicit in “whitewashing” Nazi crimes. (Some Ukrainian independence fighters fought alongside Nazi Germany towards the Soviet Union in World Battle II, the inspiration of Mr. Putin’s spurious claims that Ukraine’s present leaders are Nazis.)

“Nobody within the Kremlin is dashing to indicate sympathy to the victims” of Hamas’s incursion into Israel, mentioned Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Middle. “This additionally exhibits you the emotional angle — ‘grievance’ is the precise phrase.”

He added that the Russian propagandists casting the incursion as a boon for Russia might have some extent. The Kremlin “passively is a beneficiary for now, no less than,” of the preventing, Mr. Gabuev mentioned — if solely as a result of senior officers in Washington might have much less time to deal with how greatest to help Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s grievance — even Schadenfreude — has performed out on Russian state tv in latest days. Many commentators taunted the tens of 1000’s of Russian Jews who had fled to Israel after Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — in some instances to keep away from being drafted into the Russian Military — and who now discovered themselves in the course of one other battle.

“Let’s watch him go into Gaza now with a weapon in hand,” one discuss present visitor mentioned of a Russian tech tycoon, Arkady Volozh, who had relocated to Israel and spoken out against the invasion of Ukraine.

Others on tv crowed concerning the weekend’s army and intelligence failures by Israel and its Western allies, whereas predicting that the developments might play into Russia’s palms by distracting the West from supporting Ukraine.

“The picture of the invincible Israeli fortress has simply collapsed,” mentioned Olga Skabeyeva, a talk-show host on the Rossiya-1 channel. Referring to the warships that the US is now shifting nearer to Israel, she added, “Are U.S. plane carriers subsequent?”

For all of Mr. Putin’s obvious frustration that Israel has not endorsed his rationale for invasion, Mr. Netanyahu’s authorities has been cautious in its help for Ukraine, drawing the ire of Kyiv, as nicely. Specialists say that Israel has been eager to not overly antagonize Russia given Moscow’s shut ties to Iran, to restrict the blowback towards Jews nonetheless in Russia and to preserve the communications between the Israeli and Russian militaries working in Syria that permit their forces to keep away from coming into battle there.

Israel has not participated in Western sanctions towards Russia, and has refused to offer weapons to Ukraine as a result of, Mr. Netanyahu has mentioned, they might find yourself in Iranian palms. In June, Ukraine’s Overseas Ministry claimed that the Israeli authorities was ignoring the struggling of Ukrainian Jews whereas choosing “a path of shut cooperation with the Russian Federation.”

However in latest days, Mr. Zelensky has solid these criticisms apart and embraced Israel’s trigger. In a speech to NATO on Monday, he mentioned that Russia and Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, represented “the identical evil.”

“The one distinction is that there’s a terrorist group that attacked Israel, and here’s a terrorist state that attacked Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky mentioned.

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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