Hamas in Moscow: is Russia back to big time politics?

Russian diplomacy has recently taken a number of extraordinary steps with difficult-to-predict consequences, such as an attempt to take the issue of Iran's nuclear program out of the blind alley and to invite to Moscow a delegation of Hamas...

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov.) - Russian diplomacy has recently taken a number of extraordinary steps with difficult-to-predict consequences, such as an attempt to take the issue of Iran's nuclear program out of the blind alley and to invite to Moscow a delegation of Hamas, an organization which is blacklisted as terrorist in the United States and Western Europe, and which is responsible for hundreds of Israeli deaths.

The invitation to Hamas, made public by Putin during his official visit to Madrid, took everyone aback, including Russia's partners in the Middle East settlement. Having heard additional explanations from Moscow, the Quartet admitted that the Russian president's idea had a reason behind it. The results of the Palestinian elections will have to be eventually accepted, and hence it is necessary for someone to meet Hamas face to face in order to bring home to the new Palestinian government the Quartet's position on the Middle East.

This is exactly what was done during Hamas' visit to Moscow. Judging by the outcome of the negotiations, which were generally welcomed even by the U.S. Administration, Moscow did not promise anything "extra" at the talks with Hamas, and indeed pursued the Quartet's common line. Nobody expected the meeting to produce any specific results, and the talks went without a snag. The Quartet received an opportunity to explain its position and Hamas to express its views. As distinct from the Iranian problem with its time-trouble, the Palestinian settlement is truly a perennial issue, and participants in it may choose a different pace and hope for success in the longest term.

Naturally enough, having acted as a Western-Muslim bridge, Moscow also pursued its own interests. They are easy to see, whereas the benefits of implementing the chosen line appear to be highly dubious. Obviously, Moscow is trying to restore its once solid positions in the Middle East, which collapsed after the Soviet Union's disintegration. Russia is not pushing anyone in the process but simply occupies a niche which has become vacant after a series of crude U.S. and West European mistakes.

Judging by numerous responses, the Islamic world welcomes Russia's return to big time politics in the Middle East, and with good reason - Moscow carries a palm branch. It wants to find a compromise and is ready to listen to the negotiating partner with respect. "We will not let anyone to put us at odds with the Islamic world," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. This attitude is in sharp contrast with the Western approach, which rests on pressure, or even the use of crude force, as was and is the case in Iraq.

But for all these obvious pluses for Russia, its diplomacy steps on the shaky Mid-Eastern ground with its numerous surprises, never-ending intrigue and double-dealing, where words, either expressed verbally or in writing, are not always matched by deeds. It remains a big question whether Russia, which has not yet gained enough power and authority, will be able to play its part in such an intricate game without losses detrimental to its image, economy, or policy.

Moreover, Russia has already sustained the first losses. If it has gained something in its contacts with Palestinians, it has lost as much in relations with Israel. But in order to resolve the Mid-Eastern problem, one has to somehow find the way between Scylla and Charybdis without losing anything, and by developing success in both directions.

The second loss is a failure at the talks with Iran. If a go-between did not cope with his task, he has lost some of its political weight.

Finally, Russia has suffered one more major loss. Before it could justifiably reproach the West for double standards in dividing terrorists into "good" and "bad." After the Hamas visit to Moscow, no matter what noble or pragmatic intentions it had in mind, Moscow will hardly be able to convince the public that its moral position is different from that of the U.S., Britain or other Western nations.

One leader of the Israeli opposition has already hurled a spiteful question at Moscow: What would it do if Israel invited the Chechen terrorists? The founder of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin, has declared that every Jew must be murdered, and that the aim of his organization is to free the whole of Palestine from the sea and up to Jordan. Shaking hands with representative of such an organization should not be done in public.

In a word, Moscow has loudly declared its gradual return to big time global policy. This is not bad in principle, but as in big time sports it should be ready for everything - both for glory and rotten tomatoes.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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