Russia seeks to take mediator role between Israel and Iran

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that "all issues should be solved through dialogue." (AFP)
Updated 10 May 2018

Russia seeks to take mediator role between Israel and Iran

MOSCOW: Following Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, Russia has positioned itself as a mediator between the Middle Eastern rivals as it has maintained good relations with both countries.
“The Kremlin is sitting on two chairs,” Russian analyst Alexei Malashenko told AFP.
“It is a complex and difficult situation for Russia that has links with both of the sworn enemies.”
Israel carried out raids on dozens of Iranian military targets on Thursday after it said around 20 rockets were fired from Syria at its forces in the occupied Golan Heights.
Russia was quick to call for restraint, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying on Thursday that “all issues should be solved through dialogue.”
He added that Russia had warned Israel to avoid “all actions that could be seen as provocative” the day before the strikes, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin.
Russian analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said relations between Putin and Netanyahu were “very good” and that the meeting, on the eve of the strikes, showed Russia could play a major role in the Israel-Iran dispute.
“Moscow could use its good relations with the two countries to help them communicate and make sure confrontation does not exceed certain limits,” Lukyanov said.
Russia has become a major player in the Middle East since intervening in the Syrian war on the side of the Damascus regime in September 2015. Analysts also highlight its role as mediator in other conflicts in the area.
“The role of Russia as a mediator is strongly appreciated in the region. This role will be reinforced if the crisis between Israel and Iran worses,” said Alexander Krylov, a foreign policy expert at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
Krylov told AFP that Russia’s “additional value” is that it has good relations with forces that other actors refuse to speak to such as with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the Kurds.
Russia’s good ties to Israel were demonstrated by Netanyahu’s visit, he said.
“I do not rule out the idea that Israel gave some clues to Russia about the strikes,” Krylov said.
But even if Russia considers Israel’s security concerns over Iran legitimate, Lukyanov said, it sees Iran as an “indispensable partner on many issues, especially in Syria.”
Russia, Iran and Turkey regularly meet to discuss the regulation of the Syrian war, where the three countries have positioned themselves as major players.
Unlike Turkey, Iran and Moscow are unflinching allies of the Bashar Assad regime and often maintain a united diplomatic front.
Analyst Alexei Malashenko said Russia would do everything possible to maintain relations with both Israel and Iran without taking a stand, especially since Israel’s strikes “do not threaten” Moscow’s position in Syria.
“If Israel were to defy Russia’s dominant role, Russia would react and take a stand. This is unlikely to happen because Israel knows Russia defines the rules in Syria,” said Lukyanov.
But if escalation continues, Moscow will find it difficult to keep playing a mediator’s role.
“Even with the best intention, nobody can bring Iran and Israel to the same table,” said Malashenko.
He added that Russia is also closely watching Washington’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal, which the Kremlin has opposed. On Thursday Moscow said it would continue a “close collaboration” with Iran on the agreement.
Lukyanov said it may not have been coincidental that the Israeli strikes took place shortly after US President Donald Trump announced his country’s withdrawal from the deal.
“Iran’s enemies can only be inspired by this decision: there is a very strong anti-Iranian sentiment,” Lukyanov said. “Increased US pressure on Iran has certainly helped Israel fulfill its agenda.”

Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

Updated 31 min 44 sec ago

Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

  • Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately
  • Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month

HONG KONG: Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations.

Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately. Others continued toward Central, a key business and retail district and the site of the 2014 Umbrella Movement sit-ins.

Large protests began last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the bill dead, but protesters are dissatisfied with her refusal to formally withdraw the bill. Some are also calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights in city.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, and was promised certain democratic freedoms under the framework of 'one country, two systems.' Fueled by anger at Lam and an enduring distrust of the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing, the demonstrations have ballooned into calls for electoral reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Walking in sweltering heat, protesters dressed in black kicked off Sunday’s march from a public park, carrying a large banner that read 'Independent Inquiry for Rule of Law.' 'Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!' the protesters chanted, forming a dense procession through Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district as they were joined by others who had been waiting in side streets.

“I think the government has never responded to our demands,” said Karen Yu, a 52-year-old Hong Kong resident who has attended four protests since last month. “No matter how much the government can do, at least it should come out and respond to us directly.”

Marchers ignored orders from police to finish off the procession on a road in Wan Chai, according to police and the Civil Human Rights Front, the march’s organizers. Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month.

Their main demands include universal suffrage — direct voting rights for all Hong Kong residents — as well as dropping charges against anti-extradition protesters, withdrawing the characterization of a clash between police and protesters as a 'riot' and dissolving the Legislative Council.                   

Protesters read the demands aloud in both English and Cantonese in videos released Saturday. “We did not want to embark on this path of resisting tyranny with our bare bodies,” they said, “but for too long, our government has lied and deceived, and refused to respond to the demands of the people.”

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some confrontations between police and protesters have turned violent. In Sha Tin district last Sunday, they beat each other with umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping center. Demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1 by moving past barricades and shattering windows.

Meanwhile, police officers have used pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets to quell the crowds.On Friday, Hong Kong police discovered a stash of a powerful homemade explosive and arrested a man in a raid on a commercial building.

Materials voicing opposition to the extradition bill were found at the site, local media said, but a police spokesman said no concrete link had been established and the investigation was continuing.