Analysis of the Russian Involvement in the Lebanon Crisis door Pavel SIMONOV en Sami ROSEN op Axis, 17 augustus 2006.
A whole set of Russia's strategic interests was reflected in the Lebanon crisis: starting from the geopolitical rivalry with America, and ending with the struggle against radical Islam in the North Caucasus. However, the participants of the conflict have ignored Moscow's peacemaking efforts. Thereon, Iran, Syria, HAMAS, and Hezbollah benefit from this ignorance...
The Lebanese-Israeli crisis lasted from July 12 till August 14, 2006. An attack of Hezbollah on the frontier areas in the western part of Northern Israel had served as its pretext. Local settlements were stricken by missiles and mortars, eight servicemen were killed and two were abducted. Israel replied with a large-scale operation against Lebanon, with an aim of causing of utmost damage to all infrastructure of Hezbollah, and first of all, the expulsion of its armed formations from the south of the country. However, the basic losses have incurred the Lebanese state institutions ($9 billion damage) and civilians (90% of 1,109 victims are civilians). It entailed daily rocket bombardments by Hezbollah of northern areas of Israel (3,970 rockets in total). As a result of diplomatic efforts of key players of the world politics, on August 11 the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on the solution of the Israeli-Lebanese crisis. According to this document, on August 14 Israel and Hezbollah stopped active military operations. Already now it is obvious that this crisis will have appreciable consequences for the domestic political situation in Lebanon and Israel. It will for certain be reflected on the general atmosphere in the region. Most likely it will concern the further course of the Arab-Israeli conflict and foreign policy position of Syria, and possibly, also Iran’s influence in this part of the Middle East.
The crisis has had also certain significance for the world politics. One of its consequences is a certain strengthening of the United Nations status undermined as a result of the United States unilateral actions in Iraq. Although the United Nations, by virtue of internal contradictions, almost a month was unable to influence the course of the crisis in Lebanon, this very structure had put an end to the active phase of confrontation. In parallel, Britain, France, and Germany used the events in Lebanon to increase their mutual coordination on the Middle East issues. Participating in the solution of the crisis, Paris and Berlin also achieved additional warming in relations with Washington, noticeably injured by the contradictions on military campaign in Iraq. At the same time, similarly to the second Intifada, crisis in Iraq, and the Iranian nuclear program problem, for the basic geopolitical players the war in Lebanon became a test of their authoritativeness and a chance to raise their influence in the region. First of all, this concerns the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
Russia takes a special place in the Great Game for the future of the Middle East, claiming the role of "a connecting link" between the Muslim world and the western civilization. This was repeatedly showed during the crisis in Lebanon, too. President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov clearly let know that Moscow was capable to become the intermediary between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and HAMAS, on the one hand, and Israel and accordingly the United States, on the other.
During the debate in the United Nations Security Council on the French-American draft resolution, in the contacts with the western diplomats, the Russian representative Vitaly Churkin positioned himself as "an advocate" of the Arab world, in particular, of the Lebanese government. At the same time, in this crisis Moscow was guided also by more pragmatic interests.
For the last six years the paramount problem of President Putin’s foreign policy had consisted in returning Russia its status of one of the biggest world powers. A special significance was paid to conducting its own foreign policy independent of the West. That, as well as the distinctions in the state administration, emphasized the difference of the Putin’s team from the westernized Russian leadership of the first half of the 1990s.
To continue this line and against the background of change of power in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and also destabilization in the East Uzbekistan, the tendency of renewal of rivalry with the West was precisely designated between 2003 and 2005 in the Russian foreign policy. The Middle East tactics of the Kremlin had been developed also under influence of the great power aspirations, the underlined independence and growing rivalry with the United States. Realizing the unique place of this region in the world politics, Putin in 2004-2006 initiated activization of the Russian diplomacy on the given direction. This was showed by establishment of strategic partnership with Turkey, strengthening of relations with Syria, President’s indicative visits to Egypt, Palestine, and Israel, and also by an official recognition of HAMAS.
Against this background, the war in Lebanon became a serious challenge for Putin's foreign policy. Events in the Middle East obliged Russia to confirm its status as one of the leading world powers in practice. Moscow could not play an alternative to Washington in the solution of this conflict, though. Not possessing the levers of real influence on the situation, the Russian diplomacy was compelled only to simulate an increased peacemaking activity.
Besides this, Moscow had to fix its special role in the Middle East settlement at a geopolitical level. It became possible owing to the fact that the G8 summit in St.-Petersburg on July 16-17 coincided with the beginning of the active phase of the crisis in Lebanon. In a few days, in an interview to the radio Ekho Moskvy, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov particularly emphasized the following: «We have offered the big Eight not to limit itself by that statement in the Middle East that was prepared in advance, still before the splash of violence there, and to pay a special attention to this problem». Vladimir Putin, too, emphasized the role of Russia in the discussion of the Middle East crisis. At a press conference on July 16 he called the statement of the G8 leaders on the situation in the region one of the main results of the summit. Putin noted that exactly thanks to Russia «it was possible to smooth in many respects over contradictions» in the given question. The head of the Committee on International Affairs of the Council of Federation, Mikhail Margelov, making comments on the achievements of the Kremlin within the framework of meeting of the G8 leaders, concluded that the summit had accepted Russia’s claims for the great power’s status.
Middle East policy
Having declared itself a successor of the Byzantium, since the 18th century the Russian monarchy claimed a special role in the Middle East politics. It was shown not only in the wars with Persia and Turkey for the possession of the Caucasus and Balkans, but also in the struggle against France for the control over Christian relics of Palestine and Lebanon, and also in the rivalry with other European powers for the protection of Christians all over the Middle East. During the Soviet period Moscow began to actively restore its regional positions in the 1950s, and up to the end of the 1980s it was one of the key players in the Middle East policy.
Under the first Russian President Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999), the Kremlin lost its influence in the region. However, with the coming to power of Vladimir Putin, the considerable attention was paid to restoration of close relationships with the traditional Arab partners of the USSR, in particular with Syria, Iraq, Algeria and Libya. In an interview to the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, in April 2005, President Putin had precisely designated the continuity of his diplomacy in the Middle East. He emphasized that Russia, continuing traditions of the Soviet Union, had been maintaining "special, very close contacts with the Arab world".
Against this background, during the crisis in Lebanon it was necessary for Moscow to show that it, the same as before, fills an important place in
the regional politics. Right at the beginning of military operations, on July 14, this was announced by the presidential aide Sergey Prihodko who emphasized that "Russia has been enjoying traditional authority in the Middle East". In the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement, published on August 12, it was also marked that Moscow "had been traditionally playing an active role in the region".
With an aim to demonstrate an active participation in the solution of the crisis in Lebanon, the Russian leadership between July 13 and August 12 held intensive contacts with the Middle East politicians. Vladimir Putin had held phone conversations with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (twice) and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was keeping in contact (by phone and meeting in person) with the head of the Egyptian diplomacy, Ahmad Abou al-Gheit. Simultaneously he had lead negotiations by phone with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Al Siniora. Andrey Denisov, the First Deputy of Lavrov, maintained contacts with the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and the leader of the parliamentary majority of Lebanon Saad al-Hariri. Another Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Alexander Saltanov, and the ministry’s special representative Sergey Yakovlev were paying visits to Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Israel. Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov visited Algeria, Libya and Egypt. Simultaneously, visits to Moscow by the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal and the National Security Council Secretary General, Prince Bander bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Algerian Minister of Energy and Mining Chekib Khalil, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia-Pacific affairs Mehdi Safari and the leader of the parliamentary majority of Lebanon Saad al-Hariri took place.
Problem of balance
The first in the post-Soviet period war between Arabs and Israel became a test for the Moscow’s declared balanced position in the Middle East conflict. From the beginning of the 1990s this principle was considered as a distinctive feature between the Russian diplomacy and the Soviet policy in the region. While the given innovation belonged to the first Foreign Minister of Russia, "Westerner", Andrey Kozyrev (1990-1995), it had been invariably observed by his successors, including Vladimir Putin's proteges.
At the same time, the Russian President is a supporter of an overwhelming rapproachement with the Islamic world, keeping to the opinion that his country traditionally belongs not only to European but also to Muslim civilization. In August 2003 he even put forward an initiative of joining the Organization of Islamic Conference by Russia. In June 2005 Russia received an observer’s status within the framework of this forum. Against this background, with the beginning of the crisis in Lebanon, it was important to Moscow to demonstrate to the Islamic world that the same as before it is supporting the Arab partners in a critical situation.
On a declarative level, Russia more or less had managed to observe the principle of balance. It was Putin who declared such a necessity in the first days of the war. At a press conference on July 16 he emphasized that «Russia’s position should remain balanced». The sense of such an approach, in his opinion, is that «Moscow maintains a feedback with all sides of the conflict, and this is the uniqueness of its position today».
Especially at the initial stage of the crisis, the Russian leadership criticized both participants of the confrontation, placing emphasis on the losses of the Lebanese side. The Foreign Ministry’s statement published July 14, contained “resolute condemnation of abduction of servicemen, bombardment of the Israeli territory”. Simultaneously “the military actions unleashed by Israel” were considered as “disproportionate and inadequate use of force”. Minister of Defence Sergey Ivanov spoke in the same vein the next day.
On July 16 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Hezbollah in «provocations, including those aimed at disruption of the intra-Lebanese dialogue». Four days later his ministry, reminding of the necessity of "release of the abducted Israeli servicemen”, accused Israel in «an unprecedented scale of victims and destruction» in the Lebanese territory. However on July 25 Vladimir Putin declared that «the State of Israel has the right to and should live in conditions of safety ».
In two days the Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Oleg Ozerov, was taking part in «a round table» discussion that had gathered Russian diplomats and experts, Lebanese and Palestinian politicians and journalists. With Ozerov's tacit consent, the participants of the forum declared Israel «the shock-troops of global fascism» and Ozerov himself accused Israelis of the attempts «to bomb Lebanon back to the Stone Age». On July 31, the Russian Foreign Ministry subjected Tel Aviv to strictures for «the gross violation of elementary norms of international humanitarian rights». On a level with this, three days later, again in a Foreign Ministry’s statement, it was marked that «there are no doubts on the necessity of providing security of Israel, preclusion of bombardments of the Israeli territory and acts of terror with the victims among civilians».
Since the beginning of August the official documents and appearances of the Russian officials were devoted mainly to the drafting of the United Nations Security Council’s resolution on the crisis in Lebanon. Mentioning of the abducted Israeli soldiers and bombardments of the Israeli territory had been disappearing from the documents and appearances, and there was only the scale of victims and destruction on the Lebanese side standardly marked. And if up to that at a level of declarations Russia adhered to the principle of balance, it obviously gravitated to the traditional pro-Arabian line in practice.
This manifested itself in scarcity of contacts with the Israeli leadership, in comparison with the activity on the Arab-Iranian direction. So, the first telephone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Ehud Olmert took place on August 12 under an initiative of Tel Aviv, only after adoption by the United Nations Security Council of the resolution on the crisis in Lebanon.
Moreover, at the United Nations level Russia was making common cause with the Arab countries, consistently defending interests of the Lebanese government. Not incidentally on July 24 the Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov had undertaken on the behalf of the Russian leadership «to reckon with the view of the Arab countries in the proposals on the Middle East settlement». On August 8 Vitaly Tchurkin, the Russian representative in the UN, rejected the initial Franco-American draft resolution. He gave reason for the position that France and the United States in an insufficient measure had considered the wishes of the Arab world and the Lebanese leadership. On August 10 Tchurkin declared an intention to present the own draft resolution providing humanitarian ceasefire for 72 hours. According to the Israeli ambassador in the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, the Russian initiative served first of all to the interests of Hezbollah as it gave it time for regrouping and aggregation of forces in the south of Lebanon.
On August 11 the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to send to Lebanon a commission for investigation of infringements of the international humanitarian rights and human rights by Israel. Sergey Lavrov, the chief of Russian diplomacy, is the Chairman of the UN Human Rights Council since May. He was also one of the main initiators of the given resolution. Except for Russia, 26 more member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council voted for it, 11 were against and 8 abstained.
Contacts with Hezbollah and HAMAS
The current Middle East crisis has became also a test for the Russian concept of dialogue with all political forces possessing real influence in the region. The given concept extends not only to the countries ranked by the West to «an axis of evil», such as Iran and Syria, but also to HAMAS and Hezbollah that are registered in the lists of terrorist organizations in Israel, the United States and a number of European countries.
Contacts between these Lebanese Shia and the Palestinian Islamists' movements have become an important element of the Kremlin’s independent course in the Middle East. Moscow established tacit contacts with Hezbollah at a level of the Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk in 1997-1998. In January 2006 Russia became the first non-Moslem country that had supported conducting of dialogue with the new leadership of Palestine in the person of the leaders of HAMAS. President Putin emphasized then that "our position concerning HAMAS differs from that of American and West European". On the invitation of the Russian leadership the delegation of this organization headed by the head of its Political bureau Khaled Mashaal paid a visit to Moscow this March. In such a way the Kremlin aspired to raise its own influence in the zone of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In May Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that the dialogue with HAMAS is called to promote "transformation" of this organization on the way «of recognition of the State of Israel and refusal of violence».
Two months earlier, Lavrov had noted «a political role» of Hezbollah in the Lebanese politics and supported representation of this organization in local power structures. Simultaneously the Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Alexander Yakovenko, had emphasized that Hezbolah «was an influential force presented in the Lebanese parliament, participating in the political, economic and social life of the country».
Against this background, as a result of the capture of Israeli soldiers by the HAMAS and Hezbollah insurgents directly in the territory of Israel, in June and July 2006 Russian diplomacy appeared in a rather inconvenient position. First, these events have shown that neither HAMAS nor Hezbollah are intending "to transform” and recognize the Jewish state or to refuse violent methods. Secondly, now it was necessary for Russia to prove that its contacts with these organizations had passed not vainly and it is capable to render even if some influence on them.
With the view that the new crisis in the Middle East was provoked by the actions of HAMAS and Hezbollah, Moscow first of all had tried to justify its contacts with these organizations. On July 16 Vladimir Putin declared that he did not regret about the invitation of the HAMAS representatives to Russia. «It is necessary to agree not with those who are pleasant as negotiation partners, but with those who can influence the situation», he ascertained. Further, on July 20 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized that both of these organizations are non-uniform and are subdivided into the "moderate" and "radical" elements. In the Hezbollah case, he said, "radicals" had arranged abduction of the Israeli servicemen while the "moderate" figures «had been supporting integration into political life of Lebanon». As follows from Lavrov’s statement, these are «the moderate elements» who are the suitable partners for negotiations. Later he added that «any arrangements should be coordinated with all the basic forces in Lebanon, including Hezbollah".
A week after, the Head of Directorate on Struggle Against International Terrorism of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Yury Sapunov, had explained in an interview to the Rossiiskaya Gazeta why HAMAS and Hezbollah were not included in the Russia’s list of terrorist organizations. The main reason was that they had not been noticed in terrorist activity in the territory of Russia. At the same time, Sapunov had recognized that «these organizations used terrorist methods».
In parallel, Moscow had tried to provide legitimatization of its contacts with HAMAS and Hezbollah, claiming that the contacts with them promoted peacemaking efforts of the Russian diplomacy, and accordingly the prompt settlement of the conflict. For the first time Sergey Lavrov declared this
as late as July 3, soon after the capture of Israeli servicemen by the HAMAS insurgents. He repeated the same also July 16, already after the beginning of the crisis in Lebanon. One day prior to that, his Defense Ministry colleague, Sergey Ivanov, had also told that «Russia was using the contacts with HAMAS with a view of reduction of tension in the Middle East». At the same time, negotiations on the cease-fire in Lebanon and also the contacts aimed at an exchange of the captured between Israelis and Palestinians, have been showing that Moscow has failed to involve even symbolically its contacts with the local Islamic movements. Relations with them have not promoted a real increase of Russian influence in the zone of the Middle East conflict. But then the dialogue with Moscow was effectively used by Hezbollah and particularly by HAMAS to strengthen its own image at a regional and domestic policy level.
The collapse of the Soviet Union promoted sharp activization of contacts of local Moslems with other part of the Islamic world, in particular with the large religious centres in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan. Consequently, revival of the spiritual life of Moslems of the Central-Asian republics, Russia, and a little later of Azerbaijan, had begun. Islamic fundamentalist organizations had taken advantage of these processes, as well as weakness of regimes of the new independent states. Since the first half of the 1990s they began to actively distribute their influence on Moslems of the former Soviet Union. As a result, radical movements were originally formed in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, then in the republics of North Caucasus and Azerbaijan, and also in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. About 1998-2000 they entered an open armed opposition with the secular authorities in the Chechen Republic, Dagestan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Under influence of these events representatives of the Russian expert community, secret services and then of the military-political establishment, realized that Moslems of the former Soviet empire are an integral part of the modern Islamic world. Accordingly, processes of the religious and political character in Arab countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to some extent are reflected in the situation in the North Caucasus and in the Moslem republics to the south from Russia. Thus «the interrelation of the Islamic community» has became a factor of Russia’s national security.
In March 2000 the Security Council Secretary Sergey Ivanov, who filled the post of the Minister of Defence a year later, in an interview to the radio Voice of Russia, combined the Islamic neighbours of the country in "a half moon", «bending around our southern borders and directly adjoining to them». Ivanov explained that this very "half moon", reaching from Bosnia-Herzegovina in the West, up to Sudan in the South and Pakistan in the East, is for Russia a source of ideas of the radical Islam and terrorism. The given concept reflected the perception of the new Russian leadership of the situation in the Middle East. Henceforth performances of the Sunni fundamentalists in Syria and North Lebanon, collisions in the Palestinian territories or destabilization in Iraq was estimated by Moscow not only from the point of view of regional interests, but also possible consequences in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Fears in this connection were expressed that the second Intifada or Saddam Hussein's overthrow would provoke growth of radical sentiments all around the Islamic world, that in the final could be reflected, for example, in the position of the Central-Asian regimes.
The present crisis in Lebanon has been also considered in the given context. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has quite clearly declared this on July 20 in an interview to the radio Ekho Moskvy. He reminded that Central Asia, Afghanistan and the Middle East were forming «a kind of a belt that was interconnected» and was a source of threat for the security of Russia and the allied regimes of the CIS southern republics.
Fears again had occured to Moscow that the Arab-Israeli war would cause the growth of Islamic sentiments among the Moslems not only in the Middle East but also behind its borders. This became one of the reasons of sharp criticism from the Kremlin in occasion of victims among the civilians in Lebanon. Most intelligibly it had sounded on July 18 and on August 2 in the appearances of the head of the parliamentary Committee on International Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev, representing the ruling party United Russia. According to him, «such large-scale operations do not weaken and the more they do not stop activity of the terrorist organizations and only strengthen their positions ».
The events in Lebanon really caused a wide resonance all over the Islamic world. Russian Moslems did not remain indifferent, too. Though they did not organize such mass protest rallies as their Arab coreligionists, many of their leaders had condemned the «Zyonist aggression» in the most rigid form. It is indicative that the largest gathering in Russia in support of Lebanon, consisting of more than 5,000 participants, took place on August 11 in Dagestan, a traditional stronghold of Islam in the Caucasus.
Failures of Russian diplomacy
Against the background of the previous Israeli-Lebanese war in 1982, Moscow a few times considered an opportunity to mediate between the Arabs and the Jewish state, in a counterbalance to the American peace initiatives. This is alledged in his book Script for the Third World War by Oleg Grinevsky, who headed the Middle Easte department of the Soviet Foreign Ministry in the beginning of the 1980s. However, as he said, similar ideas met with an obstacle of the lack of diplomatic relations between the USSR and Israel, broken off after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Without reliable contacts with both parties of the conflict, Moscow was deprived of an opportunity to really promote its settlement. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it seemed that the situation would change. Since the end of 1991 Russia has been maintaining full-scale relations with all countries of the Middle East. The regional tour of President Vladimir Putin in the spring 2005 became an important acknowledgement of the balanced policy of the Kremlin. He visited not only Egypt and Palestine, but he also appeared the first in history leader of the Russian state who paid a visit to Israel.
In the beginning of the crisis in Lebanon, on July 16, Putin emphasized that «Moscow had a feedback with all sides of the conflict and these could even be called confidential relations». From his words followed that the Kremlin claimed for «a unique position» in the solution of the new Middle East crisis. Many Russian, Arab and European experts tended to an opinion that Moscow could really accelerate an end of the war, using its relations with Israel, Iran and Syria. Special hopes on Russia were put by the representatives of Sunni, Druze and Christian communities of Lebanon, involved in the conflict between «Zyonism and Shia fundamentalism» against their will. On August 3-4 the leader of Lebanese parliamentary majority, Saad al-Hariri, paid a visit to Moscow. During his meetings with the Russian leaders he not only asked them «to put pressure upon Israel so that it stopped fire», but also sharply criticised intervention of Syria and Iran in the internal affairs of Lebanon. It became clear from an interview of al-Hariri, published in the Russian press, that he was expecting from Moscow of rendering of influence not only to Tel Aviv, but also to Damascus and Tehran. As far as back as July 17, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that his country would make efforts in the given direction. In an interview to the British TV channel Sky News, he declared that special relationship between Russia, Syria and Iran allowed to hope for inclusion of these countries in the settlement of the conflict between Israel and Lebanon. Lavrov also admitted that «we had been already asked to use this influence to attempt to find a way out of the situation». He concluded on this basis that «it was reasonably useful from our side to support contacts with all these forces to try to involve them [in the solution of crisis], in positive sense».
On July 20, in an interview to the radio Ekho Moskvy, Lavrov added that «Syria and Iran were able to put pressure on Hezbollah". Further he announced that « all those who had relations with Syria and Iran had been working in favour of this». It was clear that first of all the minister had meant Russia.
After Putin's telephone conversations with his Iranian counterpart Ahmadinejad on July 25, expectations put on the intermediary mission of the Kremlin had noticeably increased in the Russian mass media. The daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta underlined in this connection: «Putin is the only from the leaders of key powers who can afford to hold negotiations with the leadership of Iran. And these negotiations might appear fruitful. From all the sides anyhow involved in the Middle East standoff, Russia has the greatest influence on Iran». Online-paper KM.ru concluded in the connection with the conversation between Putin and Ahmadinejad that «Russia had been obtaining good chances to strengthen its influence in the world, becoming the intermediary between the world community and the countries indirectly involved in the military confrontation».
Only upon the end of the active phase of the crisis in Lebanon on August 14, it became obvious that intermediary achievements of Moscow had appeared illusive. It was found out that despite of attitudes with all the parties of the conflict, Moscow possessed insignificant influence on its settlement, less than it had had during the Soviet period. As well as in the beginning of the 1980s, its practical contribution was reduced mostly to participation in the United Nations Security Council debate.
The reason of "powerlessness" of Russia consists in the fact that in crisis situations the key participants of the Middle East conflict really do not listen to its opinion. Israel continues to mainly reckon with its main strategic partner and the patron, the United States. Syria, since the times of Hafez al-Assad, considers Moscow, first of all, as a supplier of arms and in the issues of the Middle East settlement its also prefers to hold a dialogue with Americans. Iran is ready to practically cooperate with Russia only on those directions where it has real influence or where their interests coincide, as for example, in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. In other questions Tehran accepts any help of Moscow with readiness, but only on the conditions of its own. The ineffectual participation of the Kremlin in the solution of conflicts around the Iranian nuclear program eloquently shows the degree of influence of Russia on the leadership of the Islamic republic. During the crisis in Lebanon, in its contacts with Americans and Europeans, Moscow had represented itself as a defender of Tehran and Damascus, categorically rejecting statements on their participation in the actions of Hezbollah. Thanks to Putin's unequivocal position, similar accusatory against Iran and Syria were not included in the declaration adopted on the results of the G8 summit in St.-Petersburg. However in return for this, neither Tehran nor Damascus had put any efforts for a successful outcome of the intermediary mission of Moscow in the Lebanese settlement.
During the crisis in Lebanese Russia had put forward a lot of initiatives which were not connected with Iran and Syria, that also had not brought any result.
The first of them became a demand of an «immediate cease-fire», essentially distinguishing Moscow’s position from the approach of Washington, London and Berlin. For the first time this demand was contained in the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement issued July 20. Subsequently it was repeated almost ten times in the appearances of Russian officials, including President Putin. However neither Israel nor Hezbollah reacted to this demand and the operations stopped only on August 14, after adoption of the corresponding resolution by the United Nations Security Council.
On July 22 Moscow put forward one more initiative, to hold in Beirut «a meeting of all those countries and the parties which could really promote an overcoming of the crisis». Since the very beginning the realization of the proposal had seemed rather doubtful. By virtue of the developed conditions, the government of Lebanon could hardly provide safety of such a large forum. It is no wonder that, in general, nobody reacted to this initiative. On August 8 the First Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Andrey Denisov, suggested «as an intermediate step, to urgently adopt a brief resolution of the United Nations Security Council on humanitarian cease-fire». This very day the Russian ambassador to the organization, Vitaly Tchurkin, declared that Moscow was going to reject a Franco-American draft resolution on the settlement of the crisis in Lebanon as the given document was allegedly not equitable to the interests of Beirut. Three days later he informed that Russia had made a decision to bring its own draft resolution of the United Nations Security Council on the «humanitarian cease-fire for 72 hours». The Lebanese government had positively reacted to this initiative, while Hezbollah had not reacted in any way to it (in contradistinction to the Franco-American draft resolution), and Israel had rejected it in the most categorical form. The current plan of the Russian diplomacy had again appeared fruitless.
Having sufferred one failure after the other, Russian diplomats had tried to exceed in every possible way their own role in adoption on August 11 of the Franco-American draft resolution. With this aim the accent was made on Moscow’s initiative on the «humanitarian cease-fire for 72 hours». The Russian representative to the United Nations, Vitaly Tchurkin, announced on August 12 that the Russian draft resolution «had conceived mobilizing influence on the Security Council members». Though only some days prior to that, Moscow refused to support the Franco-American project, Tchurkin declared that the Russian initiative had been called «to accelerate the process of development of the resolution on Lebanon». The same was emphasized in the statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry: «the Russian initiative on adoption of a brief decision of Security Council on the humanitarian cease-fire had helped to accelerate a let-out for a consensus on the Franco-American resolution».
Level with the efforts of diplomats, members of the Russian parliament had also tried to bring their contribution to the solution of the crisis in Lebanon. Representatives of the ruling United Russia party, Chairman of the State Duma Boris Gryzlov and the head of the Committee on International Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev acted as initiators there. On July 17 a decision was made “to make more active interparty and interparliamentary contacts with the Israeli and Lebanese structures, with an aim of prompting of the conflicting facions to start direct contacts.”
Kosachev declared next day that he already «had sent a number of written appeals to his counterparts, in particular the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense of the Knesseth of Israel, Tsahi Hanegbi, and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Migration Commission of the National Assembly of Lebanon, Abdel-Latif of Zeya, and also to a number of influential politicians of Israel and Lebanon with whom there are direct contacts». He also explained that these appeals had been containing a request «to immediately enter direct contacts with each other, and through these contacts to start to put pressure upon the corresponding governments to stop violence just now». Kosachev added that «Russian members of parliament, Russian politicians, I am speaking, certainly, about the United Russia, are ready to contribute to adjustment of direct contacts between politicians of the mentioned countries». He emphasized that «we have many such opportunities». The given initiative sounded rather impressively. Leaning on the authority of the ruling United Russia, it must have been coordinated with Putin's administration; especially when the former Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov acted as its main initiator. He is considered to be an absolute creature of the Kremlin and uses to put forward any initiative only under the instruction or, as a last resort, after coordination with the Presidential apparatus. Accordingly, the appeal to the Israeli and Lebanese members of parliament became one more direction of the Middle East intermediary activity of the Kremlin.
At the same time, this initiative originally had a clearly demonstrative character. In the political atmosphere of the first days of war in Israel and Lebanon, the so high level members of parliament simply could not «start to put pressure upon the corresponding governments». Such a step would have been apprehended precisely as treachery. At the same time, Tsahi Hanegbi and Abdel-Latif Zeya themselves were active supporters of continuation of military actions, respectively of the “counterterrorist operation” and “resistance to aggression”. It had followed from their public statements. The Russian members of parliament responsible for conducting of the international contacts should have known about it.
In any case, the given initiative not only failed to bring any result but even did not receive coverage neither in Lebanese nor in the Israeli mass media.
Problem of abducted soldiers
In parallel with the initiatives on general and political settlement of the Lebanese crisis, Moscow incured an intermediary mission to achieve release of Israeli reservists, abducted by Hezbollah. On July 16 Vladimir Putin stated: "We are making effort through all the existing channels to achieve the release of the Israeli soldiers". The Russian President stressed: "I have sufficient grounds to suppose that our effort is not done in vane". The next day, Putin's assistant added: «We have found necessary to take advantage of all political and other opportunities, our positions in the Middle East, to try to influence those people or those forces who, as we believe, are somehow connected with the kidnappers». As it is known, till now the Israeli side has not received even an acknowledgement that the abducted servicemen are alive.
The crisis in Lebanon has shown that despite of significant efforts for six years of rule of President Putin, Russian diplomacy had been unable to achieve a real influence in the Middle East, in particular in the zone of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was extremely important for Moscow to bring an appreciable contribution to the settlement of the crisis in Lebanon.
It had been dictated by the global and regional interests of Russia, and also by the national security considerations. At the same time, all initiatives put forward by Moscow had appeared ineffectual. Israel and Hezbollah, the direct participants of the confrontation, and also their patrons (the United States, Iran and Syria), had, in fact, ignored the peacemaking efforts of Russia. It, in turn, had not managed to render real influence even on its main regional partners, Syria and Iran. Absence of practical results was surrogated by imitation of vigorous peacemaking activity. It was expressed both, in numerous contacts with the representatives of the political establishment of the Middle East countries, and in frequent appearances of the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Tchurkin. As a result, the main achievement of Moscow in the settlement of the Lebanese crisis had been declared acceptance of the Franco-American draft resolution for the United Nations Security Council on the given problem.
Fundamental revision of its regional policy is required to change the status of Russia in the Middle East. Most likely, at least up to the 2008 presidential elections, the Kremlin would be not making such a decision. Accordingly, in the immediate future, Russia will continue to simulate an active participation in the further settlement of the Middle East conflict, simultaneusly playing no essential role in it. One should expect that, as before, this will be widely used by the conservative regimes and radical elements in the region, in particular Iran, Syria, HAMAS and Hezbollah. Factually not reckoning with Russia’s interests, they are considering «the Russian factor» as one of the elements of restraint of activity of the United States in the Middle East, and also within the frame of strengthening of their own international position.
Bron: Axis Information and Ananlysis