On April 6, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that Moscow formally recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In the declaration, Russia first reaffirmed its commitment to UN principles of an eventual Israeli-Palestinian settlement and said it saw East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. “At the same time,” the statement read, “we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” Although Israel continues to view Jerusalem in its entirety as the country’s capital, no country today maintains an embassy in the city. El Salvador and Costa Rica moved their embassies to Tel Aviv a decade ago (they were the last to do so). And despite the declaration, Russia is reportedly not yet considering moving its embassy.
Moscow’s statement, which Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Israel is “studying,” nevertheless marks a major change. Russia is now the only country in the world that recognizes any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, although in recent months there had been discussions within U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration about whether to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
There are many reasons that can explain Russia’s move. For one, the timing distracts from international condemnation of Russia’s continued support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The announcement came two days after Assad unleashed the worst chemical weapons attack against his people in years, but before the U.S. air strike in response to said attack. Still, Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely pursuing a larger and more self-serving agenda.
PUTIN’S RENEWED REGIONAL ENGAGEMENT
When Putin officially assumed power in May 2000, he sought to increase Russia’s role in the Middle East after his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, had largely abandoned the region in order to concentrate on domestic affairs. The Soviet Union’s approach to the Middle East was ideological, but Putin’s was purely pragmatic. He was willing to work with anyone in the region An agreement comes into force this year in which Russia will pay $83 million in pensions to former Soviet citizens now living in Israel—even as it has no money to adjust pensions for inflation for Russian citizens.
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