From Soviet ideals to win-win ideals
The days of an ideologically based Soviet foreign policy are so long gone, that at this point in history, Russia makes greater efforts to win over erstwhile adversaries than it does to assure its traditional allies. This is not to say that Russia has abandoned its former allies. The fact that Russia continues to sacrifice its own servicemen to protect the Syrian Arab Republic from destruction is proof positive that Russia is not playing a zero-sum game, but instead has taken win-win diplomacy to such heights that many are confused by the process.
Russia’s courting of former adversaries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and “Israel” continues to confound both those stuck in a Soviet mentality as well as those who find it unbelievable that America’s close allies would consider the benefits of a relationship with a far less politically demanding superpower partner like Russia. Of course, it is not just in the Middle East where Russia is opening doors which used to be reserved for the US. Moscow’s increased positive diplomatic and trading activity with The Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, Qatar, Indonesia and to a degree even Japan, demonstrates the global reach of Russia’s new model of diplomacy.
Ending the American monopoly over Jewish good will
Nowhere could Russia’s ability to reap the benefits of becoming a more appealing partner to historically US aligned states and groups be more damaging to US prestige than in respect of “Israel” and the wider international Jewish lobby. In the 20th century, Jewish groups throughout the world looked to the United States as their de-facto superpower ally and at times even their spokesman on the international stage. The advent of “Israel” gave the US an opportunity to do three things that were strategically important for Washington’s neo-imperial strategy.
1. Replace Britain and France as the de-facto western colonial power in the Middle East through a pro-US colonial settler state in the heart of the rapidly left-leaning/anti-colonial Arab world of the post-1945 era.
2. Use the power of the US military to exploit long latent sectarian issues in the Arab world by adopting “Israeli” honed techniques for disrupting Arab unity.
3. Endearing the United States to the international Jewish lobby which through most of the 20th century was overwhelmingly pro-“Israel”, sceptical of Europe’s ability to become a tolerant society and in the west, filled with anti-Soviet sentiments due to the deceptive work of Russophobia Soviet expatriots.
Today, Russia has gone out of its way to demonstrate that Jews in Russia live a healthier existence than they do in many European countries, while also going from a Soviet antagonist of “Israel”, to being a state with incredibly healthy relations to “Israel” at a diplomatic level. Furthermore, Russia has embraced the large Russian speaking population of “Israel”, thus attempting to foster a dual Russo -“Israeli” identity that many Russian speakers in occupied Palestine have happily embraced. It is no wonder that where in previous decades many “Israelis” thought their state was a Jewish version of America in the Middle East, now many “Israelis” see the country as a kind of Russian -Jewish enclave in the Middle East where Soviet music, Russian magazines and Russian cuisine are more popular than the latest US pop-culture trends.
Garnering more good will towards Russia in the Arab and wider Muslim world than during the Cold War
At the same time, Russia’s star in the Arab world continues to rise as Moscow is seen as a country above the sectarian divisions which the US has so eagerly exploited. Where America is now seen as the great divider and invader in the wider Arab world, Russia is seen as the great balancer, mediator and in the case of Syria, something of a saviour. Russia has therefore been able to foster an image where the wider Shi’a resistance sees Russia as its defender while traditional US allies see Russia as a friend to all. When one removes the hyperbole surrounding Russia’s role in the Middle East, both narratives are actually true.
Few countries in the world can say that their relations with Iran and “Israel” have accelerated simultaneously, but Russia can say this objectively and this is frightening to the United States. Furthermore, Russia has gone out of its way to embrace Russian Muslims while also condemning the anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiments which are both increasing in post-modern Europe.
To be sure, international Jewish groups still see the United States as their number one superpower ally, but without much fanfare or histrionics, Russia is quietly working to win the trust and friendship of these same groups.
A tacit admission that the US is Russia’s enemy
Conventional wisdom of the Soviet era would still dictate that due to “Israel’s” close ties with the US, the best way that Russia could oppose US hegemony in the Middle East is by adopting the anti-Zionist language of Arab Nationalists, the Islamic Revolution and the wider ‘Arab street’. Instead, Russia has opted to develop meaningful and respectful relations with all factions of the Middle East, including America’s allies, Saudi Arabia and “Israel”, while also working to restore an old Soviet friendship with Egypt that in the 1980s became supplanted by an American alliance with Egypt.
Many well meaning Arab Nationalists and supporters of the Islamic Revolution are naturally confused by this. On the one hand they see Russia developing a friendship with Iran, risking the lives of Russian servicemen to save the last truly Arab nationalist country in the world, Syria, maintaining very good relations with Palestine, but also cozying up to “Israel”.
This is because Russia, as a non-Arab country and a country that has not had its own Islamic Revolution, does not view the geopolitics of the Middle East through the prism of an anti-colonial struggle. Russia, like any superpower, views the Middle East as an opportunity to enrich itself and its partners at the expense of the United States. Russia’s morality in the Middle East is not derived from ideological purity, but rather from a policy of ‘doing no harm’. This is why Russia appears to be the more morally superpower involved in the region. While Russia isn’t concerned with doing the ‘right thing’, Russia is careful to avoid doing any of the ‘wrong things’, that the US has become famous for doing.
This is not to say that Russia has adopted a zero-sum mentality, but because the US operates with the most pronounced zero-sum mentality in the world, it is only natural to give up on compromising with a country that has no word for compromise. Because of this, Russia is all too happy to sell its diplomatic wares to US allies in the Middle East, who themselves are aware not only of the long-term decline of the United States, but also of the fact that in many ways, Russia is easier to work with, more respectful in its approach and is more willing to share the profits of a healthy bilateral relationship.
While Russian diplomats still say that they are willing to work with the US if the US changes its attitude – this is become the equivalent of a dear saying that he’d be willing to work with the lions, so long as they remove their teeth.
The ultimate blow
Of all the groups seen as indelibly loyal to the United States, the Jewish lobby is seen as the paramount example of such a phenomenon. To put it bluntly, when “Israel” and pro-Zionist Jewish groups throughout the west come to see Russia as an equally favourable power to mainstream western Jewish political interests, this is the geo-political equivalent of Melania Trump engaging in an adulterous affair with Kim Jong-un while Ivanka expresses her desire to become an Iranian citizen that same afternoon.
Beyond being a psychological blow to the US, if the Jewish lobby turns increasingly towards Russia, it will mean that there is literally no ally the US is not capable of losing, all the while the US would never be able to pivot its position to being pro-Iran or pro-Arab nationalist due to its openly zero-sum attitude.
While all of this is happening slowly, it is nevertheless happening at a far faster pace than anyone could have imagined, even in the early 2000s. The fact that it is happening at all, demonstrates that while Russia is the diplomatic equivalent of Muhammad Ali, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, the US is like an old, lethargic prize fighter who can stomp its feet, but never land a knock out punch. Russia has been able to checkmate the US diplomatically while gaining new allies and hardly losing any old ones.
In the long term, this will mean that “Israel” will have to adjust to the fact that a Jewish friendly superpower is also seriously concerned with the plight of Palestine and the wider Arab world and it will also be a wake-up call to the Arab and wider Muslim world, that no superpower has ever fully fought its battles for it and no-one ever will. These are two much needed wake-up calls for the Middle East, irrespective of where one’s heart lies.