Expected shake-up inside the Russian house

Putin is perhaps seeking to end Israel’s continuous violation of Russian internal affairs since the fall of the former Soviet Union.
Sunday 30/09/2018
Russian servicemen stand guard in front of Russian Defence Ministry headquarters in Moscow, on September 18. (AFP)
An inside issue. Russian servicemen stand guard in front of Russian Defence Ministry headquarters in Moscow, on September 18. (AFP)

It was interesting to note that after the downing of the Russian reconnaissance aeroplane off the coast of Syria, the TV channel Russia Today invited someone who could really speak about the real mood in Russia’s leading circles.

Russia Today is the channel chosen to transmit to the world Russian President Vladimir Putin’s views and policies. The Kremlin and Russian Ministry of Defence had already expressed their anger about the plane incident but Russia Today’s guest revealed another anger inside Russian top circles, this time directed at some in Russia itself.

The guest on Russia Today was retired Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, former head of the Russian Defence Ministry’s Main Department of International Military Cooperation. He said there were Russian officials working for Tel Aviv and executing its orders rather than executing Putin’s. For those who’d prefer to dismiss this revelation, the man used stronger words and spoke of “treason inside Russian leadership by colluding with Israel.”

Ivashov, of course, does not represent the official position of the Russian government but he is someone who has an intimate knowledge of the inside workings of the Defence Ministry and his statements can be understood as reflecting a state of discomfort about Israeli influence among Moscow’s top echelons. For Ivashov to speak this candidly on Russia Today about a very sensitive issue that touches both Russian-Israeli relations and the Russian leadership could not have been possible without permission from Putin.

Russia’s steadily rising angry tone against Israel and its sudden decision to supply the Syrian regime with S-300 missile systems can be analysed in the context of Ivashov’s revelations. One then might expect a bend in Moscow’s dealings with Israel on the Syrian question. From another angle, one could expect consequences of the matter inside the Kremlin itself, particularly concerning those accused of “treason,” in Ivashov’s term.

The situation is going to require Putin to resort to calculated steps in his approach to Israel, the United States and Western allies. Putin might fall back on a different type of calculations, dictated by internal considerations having to do with the Kremlin’s concern about the influence of Israeli lobbies inside Russian institutions.

If the Kremlin deemed it necessary to issue a stern warning to officials working for Tel Aviv and executing its orders rather than Putin’s, it can only mean that a significant shake-up in the Russian leadership is on the horizon.

We won’t know more about the circumstances of this warning and its significance inside Russia. However, what seems clear is that Putin is ticked off at Israel, not just because of the downing of the Russian plane in Syria but also because Israel has made significant inroads inside Russian state institutions through its financial, economic, security and military tentacles.

Putin is perhaps seeking to end Israel’s continuous violation of Russian internal affairs since the fall of the former Soviet Union. This violation began during the term of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. After the Il-20 incident, Victor Khostov, deputy commander of Russian anti-aircraft defence missile systems in Syria, said: “Israel’s statements and words of condolence simply won’t do. It is, of course, our lax attitude towards Israel that gave it a free hand.”

Despite this anger, the crisis will not make Russia switch camps with respect to Israel. Those who were wishing for a reversal in Moscow’s relations with Israel will surely be disappointed. The Russian-Israeli friction is certainly tense but temporary and harmless. What’s a little friction between friends?

Russia’s real stance towards Israel was expressed last February by Russian Deputy Ambassador to Israel Leonid Frolov, who said: “In the case of aggression against Israel, not only will the United States stand by Israel’s side. Russia, too, will be on Israel’s side.” He added: “Many of our countrymen live here in Israel and Israel in general is a friendly nation and therefore we won’t allow any aggression against Israel.”

For Putin, the incident in Syria will be a chance to lure Washington to take part in negotiations about a final settlement in Syria. The supply of S-300 missile systems to “irresponsible parties,” in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has provoked anger in Washington and, therefore, might lead to opening negotiations for a final settlement in Syria because of considerations for Israel’s security.

Moscow has cleverly placed the missile deal with the Syrian regime within the context of its angry reaction to the Il-20 incident. Moscow has insisted on two things. The first is that the missile systems will be used solely “to protect Russian presence” in Syria and not for the protection of any other presence in Syria. The missile systems, then, are likely to be operated by Russian personnel under direct orders from Moscow.

The second thing is that the missile systems in Syria will not target any third country. This point was obviously meant as a reassuring message that the technical upgrade in Syria will not affect the strategic balance of power so dear to Israel.

So, Moscow’s fundamental attitude and policy towards Israel has not changed and the current crisis will not reach the level of breaking off relations. Russia will maintain its relations with its friend, Israel.

Russia’s angry outburst against Israel might please Damascus and Tehran but any observer can easily detect that Moscow’s anger was not motivated by the Israeli raids on targets in the Syrian territory but rather by Israel’s tricky tactics that led to the downing of the Russian plane and the death of its 15 crew members.

Before the plane incident, Russia had no objections to Israel’s continued raids inside Syrian territory as long as Russian interests and positions were spared. Moscow will continue not to object if it succeeds in rearranging its agreements with Israel and the United States.

What will be interesting to monitor are developments inside the Russian house regarding the so-called traitors among the country’s leadership.