On the evening of October 29th, an angry mob provoked and organised through a Telegram channel (asserted to be operated by Ukraine) ran amok at Makhachkala Airport after receiving information about a plane carrying Israeli passengers landing there.
Protesters, who wanted first to protest Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza, became violent, rioting and climbing onto parked planes, attempting to break through the windows.
Makhachkala, situated on the Caspian Sea coast in the Caucasus region of Russia, serves as the capital of the Republic of Dagestan, where over 80 per cent of the people are considered Muslim.
In response to these riots, Russian President Vladimir Putin interpreted the events as a provocation with far more geopolitical repercussions than a mere outburst of anger. To support this stance, Dagestan President Sergey Melikov shared intelligence indicating that the administrators of the Telegram channel reside in Ukraine.
The following day, Putin delivered an extensive speech during the Security Council meeting, addressing three main points. First, Putin discussed the allegations that the subversive action had been orchestrated by Ukraine and the United States, openly sharing his suspicions with the public.
Then, he emphasised the importance of unity among the Russian people. In particular, the questions raised within the Russian public about the validity of the allegations regarding the War in Ukraine and the significant criticism received by the Russian army. The denunciation of the exactions allegedly committed by the Russian forces has reached alarming levels for the country, putting Russia in a challenging position within the international community.
Finally, Putin seized this opportunity to clarify Russia’s stance in the Middle East. He presented a pragmatic outlook, stating that “The key to resolving the conflict for lasting peace in the holy lands lies in the creation of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state—a fully realised Palestinian state.”
This statement was an elaborate move to Distinguish himself from the West’s standpoint and emphasise the sovereignty of the Palestinian people. Moreover, he characterised the events in Gaza as “horrific occurrences” and asserts that “the indiscriminate destruction of hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent people, who have nowhere to seek shelter from the bombardments, cannot be justified in any manner.”
The shift of the world opinion from the war in Ukraine to the war in Gaza played greatly in Putin’s favour. The flare-up of violence in Gaza allowed him to regain the confidence of the national public opinion, relieving some of the pressure on him and giving him space to unify Russian society. Considering Russia’s diverse, multi-ethnic, and multi-faith society, any spread of religious conflict, whether inside Russia or on the world stage, raised alarm bells in the Kremlin as a key destabilising factor.
The war in Gaza also provided a priceless opportunity for Putin to assert Russia’s position as a world power. Russia’s influence, which has considerably waned after the War in Ukraine, is not sought by different Western powers to rein in Iran and its proxies and to act as a bridge with the forces disillusioned with Western colonial policies. Putin insisted that boosting Russia’s capabilities makes it stronger and present globally.
From a rhetorical perspective, the Russian President continued his charm offensive towards the Middle East and the Global South. In this context, he stated it is possible to challenge the United States, which he alleges has previously fuelled the war in Ukraine and gave a blank cheque to Israel, which he depicts as its satellite. Interestingly, he observed that “Russia’s destiny lies in the determination of the Palestinian people’s future.”
In his speech, Putin raised his voice, reflecting a more assertive body language. He declared, ‘ Russia is fighting on the battlefield for our future, for the principles of a just world order, for the freedom of countries and peoples.’
The master of the Kremlin’s speech has raised many eyebrows in the West. Those words come from the same person who rejected Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty in 2022 and annexed Ukrainian lands through a fait accompli. Even Russia’s war strategy is considered among the bloodiest in the world and less considerate of civilian life. Russia continues to engage in a series of military actions, resulting in the loss of thousands of innocent civilians. They even bombed an opera house where the word ‘ДЕТИ’ (meaning ‘children’ in Russian) was visible in the garden, causing the death of hundreds.
Importantly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has taken the back seat in the eyes of the international community. Thus, Putin seeks to maximise Russia’s gains from this situation. Putin’s recent gestures of goodwill towards Islam can be viewed as friendly. His response to a speaker’s greeting at a meeting, where he said ‘wa alaikum as-salam,’ and his subsequent statement that there are over 8,000 mosques in Russia with plans to build more, serve as indicators of the ongoing policy. Furthermore, Russia has dispatched 27 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
While Russia is not the sole beneficiary of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, Moscow is emerging as potential ‘geopolitical winner,’ according to an op-ed jointly published in Le Monde by senior French officials. The authors asserted: “The Kremlin is betting on [the West’s] lassitude to win its war against Ukraine,” as all focus in on the unfolding conflict in the Middle East. Russian actions in Ukraine are indeed getting farther from the gaze of international public opinion. On the other hand, the Kremlin’s nominal support for Palestine, contrarywise to Western positions, will give more soft power dividends to Moscow.
Ultimately, the sincerity of the Kremlin’s words and actions will be assessed alongside Russia’s respect for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. Unfortunately, since international relations continue to be plagued by duplicity, double standards, and double-speak, mistrust and low expectations are rather the norm, not the exception.
This article originally appeared in the opinion section of the website Middle East Monitor.