Op-edHamas is not on the UN list of terrorist organizations

At odds with Israel, Moscow won’t even condemn Hamas for murder of its own citizens

Moscow’s refusal to investigate atrocities committed against Israelis with Russian citizenship during the Oct. 7 massacre hints at relationship issues that Israel can no longer ignore

Ksenia Svetlova

Executive Director ROPES (Regional Organization For Peace, Economics & Security); Senior non-resident fellow Atlantic Council; former member of Knesset (Hatnua)

Russia's United Nations Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya raises his hand as he votes against a US resolution over the ongoing Israel-Hamas war that was vetoed in the UN Security Council, Wednesday, October 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Russia's United Nations Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya raises his hand as he votes against a US resolution over the ongoing Israel-Hamas war that was vetoed in the UN Security Council, Wednesday, October 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has found no grounds for investigating the murder and abduction of Russian citizens in Israel by Hamas terrorists during the October 7 massacre, according to a report by Russian opposition media outlet Mojem Obyasnit. Israel’s Foreign Ministry says 23 Russian citizens were killed during the atrocities and another seven were kidnapped to the Gaza Strip.

Mojem Obyasnit reported that in late October, a municipal deputy from Saint Petersburg, Sergei Samusev, forwarded an official letter to FSB director Alexander Bortnikov and head of its investigative committee Alexander Bastrykin. In it, Samusev demanded that the actions of Hamas against Israelis with Russian citizenship be investigated and classified as a terrorist attack.

Samusev noted in the missive that an affirmative response would also allow the prosecutor general’s office to begin the procedure for recognizing Hamas as a terrorist organization in Russia.

This week, Samusev received an official response from the FSB, stating that “[t]he information provided has been noted, however, there are no grounds for taking response measures at this time.”

Unlike dozens of other radical Islamist organizations and movements, Hamas is not banned in Russia, nor is it recognized as a terrorist organization. Since the early 1990s, hundreds of Russian citizens have suffered from Hamas violence in the form of terror attacks and rocket fire on Israeli cities. Yet Russia has never openly raised the issue with Hamas leaders, who were first officially invited to visit Moscow soon after the January 2006 Palestinian legislative election.

In that election, Hamas surprised Israel and the West when it garnered a large parliamentary majority through a vote previously declared free and fair by international observers, thus turning it into a valid political player in the eyes of Russian officials who were looking to regain influence in the Middle East.

Palestinian supporters of Hamas wave green Islamic flags following Friday noon prayers in the northern West Bank city of Jenin after the Hamas electoral victory, January 27, 2006. (Photo by SAIF DAHLAH / AFP)

According to the Kremlin, since Hamas is not on the United Nations list of terrorist organizations, there is no imperative for Russia to designate it as such at home.

When it wants to, Russia acts quickly and decisively against those who are suspected of supporting or cooperating with Islamic terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. It also accuses regime critics and political dissidents of supporting terror.

In June of this year, the FSB opened a case against political scientist and Kremlin critic Boris Kagarlitsky for “justifying terrorism,” weeks after he was arrested under an article that forbids public calls for terrorist activities using the internet. Kagarlitsky is a renowned sociologist who until recently taught at the Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences.

Russia still hasn’t explicitly condemned Hamas for the atrocities the terror group committed on October 7, when 3,000 terrorists stormed across Israel’s border killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 240 more to the Gaza Strip. The October 7 massacre was committed with extreme brutality, as victims were tortured, dismembered, raped and burned alive, and included large numbers of women, children and the elderly.

In this pool photograph distributed by the Sputnik news agency, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council in Moscow on October 30, 2023. (Gavriil Grigorov/Pool/AFP)

During a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Putin strongly condemned any actions that victimized the civilian population, including women and children. He has also harshly criticized Israel’s military activity in Gaza on many occasions, comparing the situation there with the Nazi siege on Leningrad during World War II. Israel has vowed in the wake of the attacks to remove Hamas from power in the Gaza Strip and secure the release of the hostages.

Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Nebenzya, boldly stated that Israel “doesn’t have a right to self-defense” in Gaza, since it is considered an occupying force.

While wary of political Islam and its possible influence over Russia’s sizable Muslim population, Moscow continues to differentiate between its different shades according to political interest. Radical Islamic organizations in Syria or Egypt are included in its “blacklist” of terrorist organizations, while Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah are exempt from it due to their geopolitical importance to Russia.

Until October 7, Israel went along with this situation for the sake of strategic relations, including Israel’s vital interests in Syria. However, in the aftermath of the massacre, it has become clear that the disagreements between the two countries can no longer be overlooked.

The writer, a former Member of Knesset, is a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council and executive director of ROPES.

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