Placating Iran, Pacifying Africa and antagonizing Israel; Putin’s ‘new face’ for Russia

With Ukraine’s invasion now in it’s fifth month, Russia’s narrative haven’t changed but it’s approach to passing this narrative seems to have obviously altered over the past weeks. From a hardline stance, to accepting some forms of compromise, Russia’s newest gambit exudes a desire to secure alliances from a neutral African, an anti-west Iran and force a change of policy in Israel. But the real details of this gambit isn’t different from the familiar narratives the Russian federation have pushed over time. However, presently the focus of Russia’s diplomatic effort seem to be a desire to take away emphasis from the ongoing war and consolidate on points of synergy and ‘if possible’ certain anti-west sentiments in furthering these aims.

For Iran, it has been obvious that the conflict surrounding Iran’s nuclear ambition has remained a sour spot in her interactions with the West. While prior to this time Russia has attempted to be partly aloof in the Western antagonisms and sanctions emplaced on Iran as a result of her nuclear program, she nevertheless isn’t insulated from the scourge of a nuclear-powered Iran. Of course while on the one hand Russia would never want a Nuclearized Iran, on the other hand elements of desperation can be seen on the part of Russia.

With the obvious International pariah status, and sanctions on all sides it may only be plausible that Russia’s ambition now isn’t on whether or not Iran has a nuclear program, but whether or not a support from Iran can become a threat; formidable enough to force the West into reconsidering her positions and at least come to the negotiation table as regards Ukraine. Thus one can easily spot out that Russia’s ambition in relating with Iran has little or nothing to do with her stance on Iran’s nuclear program, but rather it has everything to do with a desire to fight back international isolation stemming from the Ukraine’s war. How exactly she attempts to balance the threat of Iran’s nuclear program with her present desperation for what we may term an ‘International rescue alliance for Russia’ remains yet to be seen. But then in the same vein an important question remains if Russia’s move towards Iran doesn’t also have something to do with the State of Israel.

Africa all the while has maintained a neutral status in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. President Zelensky has reached out to the continent through her apex body the African Union in a bid to address leaders of the continent, but this bid hasn’t been met with the kind of success anticipated. While tacitly certain African states like Nigeria, amongst others have issued veiled criticism at Russia’s invasion, the continent is obviously torn between pro-Ukrainian sentiments and some levels of anti-western ideology evident in certain layers of her dealings, most of which stems from the anger over European colonialism less than a century ago; which of course remain fresh in African memory.

Furthermore there’s the push for decolonization which has remained paramount both in African Academic scholarship as well as her Political landscape, and this is the point of promise the Russian foreign minister made to the Egyptian government on his visit to Egypt. Pushing the narrative away from Russia’s aggressiveness in Ukraine, Sergey Lavrov presented the Russian federation as being a victim of Western imperialist desire. His veiled reference for corporation from Africa is based on a promise to help Africa in her fight for decolonization.

But one may immediately point out that Lavrov picked a wrong talking point. Visibly it could have been much productive if he had stuck with presenting a posture of Russia being a victim of Western imperialistic ambition, and thus linking it to Africa’s colonial past. However the very point of helping Africa fight decolonization is one which immediately portrays a lack of understanding of Africa’s decolonization fight.

Fundamentally, the centerpiece of Africa’s quest for decolonization is based on a rejection of all forms of non-African interference and dominance in both the Economic, Social and Political process of Africa. Thus it becomes absurd to think that the African continent would attempt to seek Eastern help in her internal fight against the existing vestiges of Western colonialism, seeing that Russia is in herself capable of exhibiting same overt influence in Africa’s Economic and Political process if given the chance.

However if lobbying the continent into taking a side in the Ukraine conflict could seem a bridge too far for Russia’s diplomatic ambitions, it may be much productive if the Russian federation sticks with leaving the continent in the neutral posture she has taken than attempting to draw her into the existing conflict. Yet, one cannot rule out Russia’s present attempt as one billed to end in complete failure; and this is based on the fact that the anti-western sentiments in some sections of the continent are such that could be easily exploited to Russia’s favor, most especially as a result of the existence of poor Economic growth in several African States. Thus a promise of revitalizing these economies may just be the magic that Russia needs to turn things in her favor. But the level of success for such appeal in itself remains yet to be tested.

Despite these diplomatic smart moves by the Russian federation, her seeming hardline posture towards Israel cannot be explained away as being unsound. Russia understands the International posture of Israel, and her strong alliance with Western powers, hence seeking any form of support from Israel would seem not only unthinkable but also unrealizable.

Thus the Russian scheme of things with Israel seems geared towards exploiting Israel’s international challenges with Iran and Syrian into forcing a policy change within the Israeli government. This approach has remained on display since the start of the Ukraine conflict. Zelensky is Jewish and there is a strong Jewish community in Ukraine; a large chunk of which have been evacuated, thus it remains very logical that Russia should remain skeptical about what forms of tacit support Israel may offer to Ukraine even though she has openly tolled line of neutrality.

In this regards, one can see the subtle implications of Russia’s warming up with Iran as being a grounding to exploit courting a country who has remained a sworn enemy to Jews worldwide. And at the same time, coupled with Russia’s presence in Syria, it seems much plausible that Russia’s hidden message is twain; the first of which is to present a threat to the West of granting a covering to Iran, and as such heightening the fear over how fast Iran could go on to acquire the ultimate weapon. On the second hand Russia’s ploy also seem to present to Israel the possibility that her present neutrality may just lead to Russia’s shielding of Iranian proxies in Syria, which of course would raise serious concerns as regards Israel’s security. In a much similar vein the current diplomatic row between Israel and Russia as regards the threat of shutting down the Jewish agency also present Russia’s ultimate posturing as one geared towards forcing Israel to totally hands off any form of tacit support for Ukraine and if possible even rethink her support for other Western causes.

The end point of Russia’s newest gambit is yet to come into full view, but what remains real is the fact that Russia’s present diplomatic attempts seem to rather be a ploy to divert attention from the main issue at stake, which is the invasion of Ukraine.

About the Author
S Ovwata Onojieruo is a Theologian and Political scientist, with major interest in Political theory, Middle-east politics (especially as it affects the Jewish state), and international relations. He currently works as an High school tutor/debate coach, and can be reached on twitter @OvwataS
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