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Russian-Palestinian relations
Palestinian territories   Russia
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     Palestine      Russia

Palestine–Russia relations (Russian: Российско-палестинские отношения) is the bilateral relationship between Russia and the State of Palestine.

The history of Palestine–Russia (and between 1917-1991, Palestine–Soviet Union) relations has been long and complex. For a number of historical and political reasons, it has been deeply interwoven with Russian (and between 1917-1991, Soviet) relations with the Zionist-Israeli enterprise, Arab nationalism, and Third World national liberation movements in general. However, at the same time, particularly between 1956 and 1990, Soviet-Palestinian relations were also part and parcel of the then ongoing Soviet-American confrontation, and even after the Cold War ended, the international and ideological role and importance of the Russian-Palestinian relationship always far exceeded its local and regional limitations. This relationship has continued even today. Russia is still an important player in the Middle East peace process and is a member of the Middle East Quartet.



Russia had become very involved with the Middle East in the late 1700s when a treaty was signed in 1774 which officially made the Russian Empire the protector of Orthodox Christians. Orthodox Christianity had been the religion of the majority of Palestininans until well after the Islamic conquest, and has remained that of the majority of Christians in Syria-Palestine. But there was almost no sense of Russian involvement in the Middle East because Russia was mostly concerned with checking the powers of both Turkey and Persia.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917 which put Vladimir Lenin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in power, the Soviet Union became mostly Communist and officially atheist. In 1922 the Soviet government decided to give strong support to the Palestinian Arabs. In fact, in 1930, the Executive Committee of the Communist International described Zionism as “the expression of the exploiting, and great power oppressive strivings, of the Jewish bourgeoisie.”[1] Also, the Communist Party of Palestine, founded by the Jewish immigrants in 1919, when it was admitted to the Comintern, was strongly advised to “support the national freedom of the Arab population against the British-Zionist occupation.”[2] But even so the Communist Party of Palestine had little political power and the Soviet Union was mostly concerned with its own problems during the 1920s and 1930s that it had little impact in the Middle East policy.

But with the end of World War II, the Soviet Union emerged as one of the victors and as a result it became a superpower. This made it able to project its power into regions were it thought was never possible before. The Soviet Union along with most Middle Eastern Communist parties denounced the partition of Palestine. But in the end the U.S.S.R. decided to recognize the new country of Israel. In fact Soviet policymakers were very pragmatic about the Middle East. Without ever changing its official anti-Zionist stance, from late 1944, until 1948 and even later, Stalin adopted a pro-Zionist foreign policy, apparently believing that the new country would be socialist and would speed the decline of British influence in the Middle East.[3] But with Israel eventually turning into a pro-Western and American ally, this caused a great shift. Soon the Soviet government began to regard Zionism as an enemy and started supporting the Arabs more than ever. The official position of the Soviet Union and its satellite states and agencies was that Zionism was a tool used by the Jews and Americans for "racist imperialism." In fact the Communist Party of the Soviet Union defined Zionism as "militant chauvinism, racism, anti-Communism and anti-Sovietism,... overt and covert fight against freedom movements and the USSR."[4]

But the Soviet Union didn't even support the rights of the Palestinians as more openly and was very cautious about the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) (founded in 1964) and the Fatah party (founded in 1958) during the 1960s. The Soviet government was very unhappy about the first two PLO leaders. Still the Soviet Union established some contact with the PLO leadership in 1964 and in 1965 they established contacts with the General Union of Palestinian Students and the General Union of Palestinian Women. But it was only after the Six Day War which ended with the defeat of the Arabs by Israel in June 1967 that the Soviet Union took a more favorable view on the PLO. When Yasser Arafat visited Moscow in 1968, Moscow began to see him as their man and the following year Arafat was elected as chairman of the PLO and relations with the Palestinians were firmly established.

By the 1970s with the loss of Soviet influence in Egypt, relations with the Palestinian militants were strengthened further and soon Soviet arms and training were sent to Palestinian groups. The KGB was responsible for arming and training most of the Palestinian groups. In fact, it was the KGB which decided which militant groups should receive the money and weapons. By 1972 the Soviets had declared the Palestinian movement the vanguard of the Arab liberation movement.[5] In the summer of 1974 a PLO embassy was opened in Moscow.[6] During this time Yasser Arafat had addressed the United Nations and soon the PLO was granted observer status at the UN in 1974. In 1975, the Soviet Union sponsored and voted in support of the UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 which equated Zionism with racism (the resolution, however, was later revoked with Resolution 4686 in 1991, which the Soviet Union voted for and proposed as well). After the Camp David Accords in September 1978, the Soviet President, Leonid Brezhnev, declared that “there is only one road” to a real settlement, “the road of full liberation of all Arab lands occupied by Israel in 1967, of full and unambiguous respect for the lawful rights of the Arab people of Palestine, including the right to create their own independent state.”[7] At the end of Arafat's visit to Moscow, 29 October to 1 November 1978, the Soviet authorities finally recognized the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”[8] Nevertheless the Soviet Union urged the PLO and Yasser Arafat to accept the provisions of resolution 242 and recognize Israel and start Peace talks.

In March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power and he started his programs of Glasnost and Perestroika which resulted in many changes. The Soviet Union began to reduce support for Third World and other leftist guerrilla movements and urged them to embrace reconciliation. The Soviet Government tried unsuccessfully to encourage Yasser Arafat and the PLO to recognize Israel before the Palestinian Declaration of Independence on November 15, 1988 in Algiers, Algeria. But despite Soviet condemnations of it along with the U.S., the Soviet Union became one of the first countries to recognize the new State of Palestine and officially established diplomatic relations with it by the end of 1989. But by the early 1990s as the Soviet Union started to dissolve, it began to increase its relations with Israel. Also many elements of the PLO along with Arafat had supported Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and as a result they soon gradually lost support of the Soviet Government.

The Soviet Union itself was disbanded after the August Coup in 1991. As a result the Palestinian Liberation Organization lost one of its main sponsors. Also some members of the PLO and Yasser Arafat were very sympathetic to the coup plotters and this had greatly angered Gorbachev and the Soviet leaders. This caused the Soviet government to give up support for the PLO. As a result the PLO began peace talks with Israel in 1991.

Current relations

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the newly created Russian Federation continued the policy of supporting the Palestinan cause albeit in a somewhat limited fashion. Under Presidents Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, Russia has been balanced and moderate in its dealings with both Israel and the Palestinians and it favors peace between both sides. Russia supported the Middle East Peace Process and the Oslo agreements in 1993. Yasser Arafat had been a frequent visitor to Moscow during the 1990s until 2001. In fact, Russia was one of the countries that voted in 1998 to give Palestine more rights at the UN despite the opposition by both Israel and the United States. Arafat's sucessor Mahmoud Abbas has even stronger connections to Russia. In fact Abbas had earned his degree at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow where he had earned his Candidate of Sciences degree[9] (the Soviet equivalent of a PhD). Abbas has visited Russia on several occasions and has met with both Medvedev and Putin.

In March 2006, the Russia-Hamas talks began, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to discuss the future of the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after Hamas became the majority party of the Palestinian National Authority Legislative Council, having won a majority of seats in the Palestinian elections. On February 10, 2006 Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Kommersant journalist Andrey Kolesnikov and a Spanish parliament member, said that he does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization.[10] During the talks in March 2006, Lavrov called on Hamas to comply with the earlier commitments signed by the PLO, and he reiterated those requirements but Hamas refused.[11] On March 7, 2006 Russia expressed hope that Hamas would consider supporting the Road map for peace and the peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia, but it did not materialize. Israeli spokesman stated: "They (Hamas) did not accept any of those principles ... therefore I don't know where they (Russia) draw their optimism from Hamas changing its ways."[12] The invitation and the talks have caused controversy wherein Russia's intentions in changing its views towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were questioned by commentators in the United States especially among the neoconservatives. Russia was harshly critical of the 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza Conflict and condemned Israeli actions.".[13][14] Russia also sent 60 tons of tent, medicines, and food. Also President Medvedev ordered extra humanitarian aid to be sent to the Palestinians.[15][16] Russia still continues to support the creation of a Palestinian State and for a lasting peace in the Middle East. Recently after a meeting between the Foreign Minister of Russia Sergei Lavrov and the Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki on December 9, 2009, both Russia and Palestine have said that their relations are close and friendly and that Russia will continue to assist Palestine in all fields.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Spector, Ivan, The Soviet Union and the Muslim world, 1917-1958, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969, p. 172.
  2. ^ Kramer, p. 7.
  3. ^ Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (1987) p.527
  4. ^ (Russian) Сионизм (Большая советская энциклопедия) (Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition. 1969-1978)
  5. ^ Golan, The Soviet Union and the Palestine Liberation Organization, pp. 35-36.
  6. ^ Golan, Soviet Policies in the Middle East from World War Two to Gorbachev, p. 112.
  7. ^ Soviet World Outlook, Vol. 3,No. 10, 15 October 1978, p.4.
  8. ^ Pravda, 2 November 1978.
  9. ^ Аббас на глиняных ногах (Abbas on the feet of clay), Kommersant-Vlast No. 2(605), 17.01.2005) (Russian)
  10. ^ The President Tells Shamil Basaev from Hamas (Kommersant)
  11. ^ land-for-peace arab proposal Daily Star
  12. ^ Russia hopeful Hamas will support peace road map (Reuters) March 7, 2006
  13. ^ Israel Kills at least 225 and wounded 700 People in Gaza, 28 December 2008 Sunday Retrieved on 2009-01-08
  14. ^ Reuters AlertNet - Russia asks Israel to end Gaza attacks, let in Retrieved on 2009-01-08
  15. ^ Российская гуманитарная помощь доставлена в сектор Газа
  16. ^ Медведев поручил оказать дополнительную помощь Палестине
  17. ^ Transcript of Remarks and Response to Media Questions by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Joint Press Conference Following Talks with Palestinian National Authority Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad Malki

External links


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