Russia/Hamas Relations

Presently, there is no direct evidence of Russian involvement in the recent Hamas offensive against Israel – the most significant in over a decade. Nevertheless, Russia’s ties with Hamas have strengthened since the militant organisation was elected to power in Gaza in 2006, following the Israeli withdrawal from the territory. Since then, there have been a number of high-level meetings between the two. Most recently, a Hamas delegation visited Moscow and met with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister in March 2023. In which they highlighted to the Kremlin, that patience was beginning to wear thin with Israel. Previously, Hamas had also sent high-level delegations to Russia in May and September 2022.

The conflict that has erupted in Israel has provided significant opportunity for the Russian propagandist machine, with a number of openly anti-Israeli posts being published. Russian ultra-nationalist Sergey Mardan, stated on Russian TV, “This mess is beneficial for Russia because the globalist toad will be distracted from Ukraine and will get busy trying to put out the eternal Middle Eastern fire. Iran is our real military ally. Choosing a side is easy!” Mardan also has bizarrely compared the current Palestinian/Israeli conflict with the Russian situation. He has claimed that Russia has been occupied since 1991 and that the country is only now just breaking the shackles of occupation.

Further to this, Putin has used this as an opportunity to seize the initiative and attempt to steer the narrative surrounding this week's events towards anti-American sentiment. On 10 October 2023, in a meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, labelled the week’s events as a clear failure of American foreign policy in the Middle East. As well as these inflammatory statements from Putin, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev has labelled this as an “expected consequence” of US policy in Israel.

Another conundrum that is facing Russia in the latest iteration of conflict between Israel and Hamas is that Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin have been slowly growing closer with Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When Netanyahu returned as PM in 2022, Putin was one of the first world leaders to congratulate him, thanking him for his continued effort to grow relations between both countries. It is because of this relationship that Israel has not imposed Western-style sanctions on Russia since its invasion of Ukraine. It was this relationship that has allowed Israel to secure its northern border with Syria, another ally of Moscow’s in the Middle East. Russia has further signed agreements with Israel over producing films, something that Kyiv has labelled as enabling Russian propaganda. This relationship will however be tested in the coming days with Russia’s decision, along with China, not to condemn the actions of Hamas, instead seeking a broader scope to the UN Security Council response.

Senior members of Hamas and Hezbollah have reportedly claimed that Iranian security officials helped plan Hamas’s attack on Israel. Source: @Flash_news_ua

Russia/Iran Relations

The conflict in Ukraine has resulted in an unprecedented level of collaboration between Russia and Iran across military, economic, and political domains. This enhanced partnership is expected to persist and intensify due to the resurgence of anti-Western hardliners in Moscow and Tehran. The improved rapport between Russia and Iran poses a direct threat to the European Union (EU) and European nations. This collaboration could potentially prolong the Ukrainian conflict, bolster Iran's nuclear capabilities, destabilise the Middle East, and diminish Western influence in global governance institutions.

The dynamics of the Russia/Iran relationship have been fundamentally altered by the Ukraine conflict. The collaboration effort between these two nations has reached new highs, exemplified by Russia's use of Iranian drones in Ukraine and intensified joint efforts to resist Western sanctions and political isolation. Notably, Iran has reportedly been expanding its nuclear program without opposition from Moscow, posing a significant concern.

These developments present direct security challenges for Western governments. The strengthened partnership between Russia and Iran may enable Russia to prolong the Ukrainian war and escalate the destruction in the region. Additionally, Iran has allegiances with a variety of violent groups across the Middle East, notably Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthi Group, which have grown out of regional instabilities and weak states. Through these alliances, Iran has a strong influence throughout the Middle East and is able to destabilise the geopolitical landscape quickly and without directly attributable links or actions.

While the deepening ties between Iran and Russia have been gradually evolving over the past decade, Moscow previously sought to maintain a delicate balance with the West and Israel in its relations with Tehran. However, following the Ukraine war and the resulting deterioration in relations between Russia and the West, Iran has emerged as one of Moscow's most steadfast allies allowing for increased strategic cooperation. Prior to the outbreak of the war, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Vladimir Putin discussed finalising a long-anticipated 20-year cooperation agreement aimed at expanding relations across all fronts.

The most concerning element of the recent partnership between Russia and Iran is the deployment of Iranian Shahed 131/136 One-Way Attack Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (OWA-UAV) by Russia to target critical national infrastructure. Ukrainian authorities have recently stated that Russian forces launched 1,000 OWA-UAVs during the 2022-23 Winter season but used a record 500 of them in September 2023 alone. Iranian supplied drones have allowed Russia to sustain its ongoing long-range strike operations against Ukraine in the face of major challenges in manufacturing sufficient numbers of cruise missiles, which are expensive, complex, and challenging to produce, and predominantly intended for deployment against high-value or high-priority military objectives. In addition to the transfer of OWA-UAVs to Russia, Iran has sent vast amounts of artillery shells and ammunitions to Russia. Iran’s increased production of OWA-UAVs could present a worrying scenario for Israel if Iran were to supply these munitions to Hamas, or other regional non-state actors who oppose Israel’s existence or activity within the region. This comes as a result of Israel’s “Iron Dome” air defence system showing noticeable vulnerabilities, as well as unpreparedness, to a large-scale munitions bombardment.

Footage of kamikaze drones used by Hamas in their assault of Israel. Source: @officejjsmart

So far, Iran has stopped short of providing its own missiles or manpower to Russia however (with the exception of reports describing Iranian OWA-UAV trainers/instructors in Russia and Crimea), western governments are concerned that Iran could increase its assistance to Russia in exchange for military expertise and technology. The same governments are troubled by Russia's inclination to supply Iran with advanced weaponry, as this could bolster Tehran's military capabilities, potentially aiding its pursuit of regional goals, especially with regard to Israel and Saudi Arabia, or supporting the Houthis in Yemen. Western Intelligence agencies are actively searching for information that supports theories indicating that Iran has played a vital role in Hamas launching its third Intifada against Israel but as of yet, no direct links have been publicly demonstrated.

Since the onset of the Russia/Ukraine war, Russia has sustained considerable sanctions against it, impacting its ability to access European and US markets, and severely hindering its economy. Whilst the Iranian economy will be unable to mitigate against the substantial losses of Russia being ousted from these powerful markets, Iran will be able to secure access to trade networks in the Persian Gulf and Africa for Russian businesses. Officials within the Iranian government have also given in-depth details to their Russian counterparts on how to evade western sanctions, possibly allowing Russia to gain entry to illegal financial and commercial trade networks, significantly mitigating sanctions against the country. Russia has already begun to adopt evasion strategies inspired by Iran to circumvent restrictions on its oil market. Moreover, Russia can benefit from understanding how Iran has managed to sustain and even expand its production of defence capabilities despite international sanctions limiting access to necessary components and technologies.

Consequences of Israel/Gaza War on Russia/Ukraine War

Consequently, although there is no direct evidence linking Russia to the attacks conducted by Hamas on 7 October 2023, the events that are likely to unfold in the coming days and weeks could in a number of ways benefit Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. It is likely that this will give a louder voice to the groups of politicians in the US that are actively seeking the reduction of US aid to Ukraine. One Kremlin spokesperson has argued that the conflict in Israel will see a “downward” trend in US aid for Ukraine. Given the US’s history of support for Israel, this is a likely consequence of the attacks carried out by Hamas that have rocked the fragile stability of the Middle East.

The current situation is a complex interplay of multiple factors, including but not limited to:

  1. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict has flared into a full-scale war, with full mobilisation in Israel. The US supports Israel against terrorist activity but has not directly entered the conflict on their side. The deployment of a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is likely to function as a deterrent to escalation by other regional powers (e.g., Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah).
  2. Ukraine is poised to breach a key front near Robotyne/Verbove, located in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast, urgently requiring increased US funding and materiel to ensure adequate reserves for exploitation.
  3. Russia is actively spreading disinformation among the West and US officials, sowing doubt, and undermining support for Ukraine's war funding; public interest in Ukraine's ongoing war is at its lowest point.
  4. The recent removal of the Speaker of the House in the US by a faction of Republicans who advocate for ending military aid to Ukraine. *
  5. Russia’s enduring relationships with Israel, Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah.

* Ukrainian authorities have published a report card scoring the individual candidates on their support for Ukraine. Source: https://gopforukraine.com/ukraine-report-card/

The Israeli/Hamas conflict has intersected with the Russia/Ukraine conflict, creating a potential turning point where decisions may have widespread consequences. This convergence of factors is likely to result in louder calls for aid to be redirected to Israel, particularly from the influential Israeli lobby in Washington, potentially further diverting resources from Ukraine. With the US presidential elections on the horizon, the situation is poised at a critical juncture, where decisions will significantly impact Ukraine's war effort and could potentially end up benefiting Russia. However, the EU has stated that the Israeli/Hamas conflict will not decrease its support for Ukraine, which will likely remain consistent. But, with the US likely to be at a political crossroads EU support may not be enough.

The US announce a further $200 million aid package for Ukraine. Source: @NOELreports

So What?

The strengthening of ties between Russia and Hamas since 2006 undeniably carries geopolitical implications that will influence their approach to the ongoing crisis. Additionally, it serves as a significant litmus test for the relationship between Israel and Moscow. Depending on Russia's stance, it may prompt Israel to enact Western-style sanctions against Russia, or to subsequently provide lethal (or military) aid to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The continued cooperation between Iran and Russia, poses a significant threat to global security, with both hoping to create a new world order. In light of Russia and Iran’s mutual geopolitical, military, and economic interests, as well as a shared objective to counteract US influence, both nations have strong incentives to create instability in the Middle East by supporting Palestinian aggression against Israel at this specific period. Iran's primary objective is likely to disrupt Israel's burgeoning relationships with Arab nations, especially the diplomatic normalisation process between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which was progressing prior to the outbreak of this conflict. Meanwhile, President Putin, as part of a pivotal role in Russia’s Ukraine strategy, aims to undermine the vital Western support that has been instrumental in sustaining Ukraine's resilience, while simultaneously sowing discord among donor nations. Moscow perceives violence in the Middle East as an effective means to divert the United States' political focus away from the Ukraine conflict and deplete its military and intelligence-collection resources. Immediately following the outbreak of violence against Israel, the Kremlin wasted no time in articulating its position, attributing blame for the conflict to the West. Dmitry Medvedev, Chairman of the Russian Security Council suggested that the US and its allies should have prioritised efforts to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict instead of intervening in the Russo-Ukrainian war and supplying military aid to Ukraine. The Russo-Iranian relationship is likely to prolong the Russian invasion of Ukraine and significantly enhance Iran’s nuclear capability, further destabilising the Middle East. The increased Russian reliance on Iranian drones in the Ukraine theatre is evidence of the continued closeness of the two countries, both politically and militarily. The Israel/Gaza conflict is intersecting with the Russia/Ukraine war at a critical juncture. The events will likely influence US aid (both financially and in the intelligence realm) to Ukraine, potentially diverting resources away from Ukraine’s war effort. It is highly likely that Russia will exploit the ongoing conflict to spread disinformation and undermine US Middle East policy as it seeks to turn the world's attention away from Ukraine. The upcoming US elections will play a crucial role in the months ahead and will affect the dynamics of both conflicts, such is America’s role in both Ukraine and the Middle East.