Vladimir Putin’s pals have been boasting about Russia’s backing of Hamas; critics say they are one of a number of notorious anti-Western allies being used to distract from Ukraine.

Anna Nemtsova

Nov 20, 2023

The Daily Beast


A former deputy prime minister of Israel has told The Daily Beast that the world should see the Hamas terror attack on Israel, which killed at least 1400 people, as part of a larger conflict being stoked by the Kremlin.

“Putin—the real Hamas ally—has defined the lines of the big confrontation: Hamas, Iran, Russia, China on one side, and Israel, Ukraine and the United States on the other,” said Natan Sharansky.

Sharansky, who was a jailed dissident during the Soviet era before emigrating and moving into Israeli politics, said President Vladimir Putin was honing a “new evil empire” to take on the West.

Kremlinologists in Ukraine, Israel, and Russia told The Daily Beast about an increasingly dangerous global game being played by Putin as he tries to draw eyes away from his war on Ukraine.

Sevgil Musayeva, the editor-in-chief of Ukrainska Pravda, says there is a firm consensus in Kyiv that Putin played a role in the well-prepared Hamas operation. “The chief of the [Ukrainian] defense intelligence made it clear to us that the Kremlin had known about the attack on Israel by Hamas,” Musayeva told The Daily Beast. “Russia continued to bomb us in the east and south, killing hundreds of civilians but Ukraine disappeared from the top headlines. Even after Russia bombed the funeral in Groza village killing people from every second house, all the news focused on the Israel and Hamas war, which obviously played into Putin’s hands.”

When Putin met Xi Jinping, he promoted one of his great fantasies – the “unification of the big Eurasia,” which would see countries led by long-time authoritarian leaders join together to form some kind of military, economic, and ideological anti-Western camp. Russia’s pro-Kremlin media rejoiced, celebrating the meeting with China’s president. “The West is nervous; the Putin-Xi meeting makes Ukraine’s allies worried,” Komsomolskaya Pravda reported. The Kremlin’s TV propagandists bragged about the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel as if it were performed by the Russian army itself and boasted about future targets.

Former Russian lawmaker and KGB officer Gennady Gudkov told The Daily Beast that there was a serious risk for further disruption.

“Washington has to focus. Putin’s quickly creating a union of tyrants and dictators in the Middle East, North Korea, and Africa to outplay the United States before the elections, using the old

GRU and FSB tactics of distracting attention from the main theater of actions in Ukraine,” he said.

“Last week, I met with African democratic opposition. They warn: Putin’s Wagner has been staging military and non-military coups in Mali, CAR, Niger and now they are plotting to mess up more African countries. Putin supports terrorists in Lebanon, where we suspect that the GRU had been training Hamas before the attack.”

According to the chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning Memorial human rights organization, Putin’s strategy is as old as the Soviet-era books on military intelligence. The more violence and tragedies there are in U.S.- supported regions, the better it is for Moscow.

“In the mid-1970s, the Soviet GRU provided military training and weapons to the MPLA movement in Angola to support their fight against the U.S. partner, Portugal. One of the GRU agents bragged to me once that his students at the GRU managed to mess around in six different countries,” Alexander Cherkasov told The Daily Beast. “Managed destabilization was Moscow’s biggest business starting from the Khrushchev era; Putin just copies the old strategy, sending spies to stage a coup in Montenegro in 2016, making friends with the Taliban, establishing bases in Syria and in Africa. The army’s special services always worked towards expansion, so this strategy is a direct continuation.”

The more the West grows weary of the war in Ukraine, the more Russian propagandists and pro-Kremlin bloggers celebrate all over Telegram. Pro-Kremlin analyst Marat Bashirov said they had threatened to keep President Biden pre-occupied until the next U.S. election: “Is Ukraine not enough for you? Here you have Israel. Is Israel not enough? Here is… the list is long. We have outplayed you but that is not clear to many, yet.”

On Oct. 9, the Ukrainian intelligence agency, GUR, warned the world of a provocation being cooked up by Moscow. The next step in Putin’s plan would “be fake accusations of the Ukrainian military allegedly selling Western weapons to terrorists,” the agency said. Sure enough, the GUR was right. The Kremlin’s disinformation campaign against Ukraine began on the following day when major Russian media outlets reported—without foundation—that Ukraine was arming Hamas.

There was a time when Sharansky was in the upper echelons of Israeli public life that believed Putin was going to be friendly to Israel, but “all the promises turned into lies,” he said. Putin wanted to demonstrate good relations with the Jewish community but “Syria and Iran were his cards to pressure the West, I wrote in my reports,” said Sharansky, who is based in Jerusalem. “I knew that when the moment to choose between Syria, Iran, and Israel came, Putin would not hesitate and sure enough, he armed Syria. Now Russia’s central ally is Iran.”

Putin called Benjamin Netanyahu only after he had talked with his allies in the Middle East after the Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis. “Bibi should have not answered the phone call from Putin because it was already clear that Putin was tight with Hamas,” Sharansky said. “Putin did not call to express sorrow, but to offer help with negotiations. Bibi said no help was needed. Our divided

society, far left and far right, are united now; we have all agreed to fight and destroy Hamas. Only unity in the fight will wear down the Evil Empire.”