Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone on Sunday for the first time in weeks, offering very different accounts of their discussion in a reflection of the tense relationship between the two leaders since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.
Netanyahu stated that he was dissatisfied with Moscow’s positions in the United Nations Security Council and “expressed strong criticism of the dangerous cooperation between Russia and Iran,” according to a statement from his office.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin declared that the focus of the conversation was the “catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.”
Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, backed a UN resolution on Friday calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and accused the United States of being “complicit in Israel’s brutal massacre,” an apparent reference to the more than 17,000 people that Gaza health authorities say have been killed in the enclave since the war began. The United States blocked the resolution, arguing that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas attacks.
Netanyahu’s criticism of Russia for its ties with Iran is partly a reference to the close relationship between the two countries fostered by the war in Ukraine. Tehran, one of Hamas’s main sponsors, has supplied Moscow with thousands of explosive drones for use in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Putin has described Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 as a terrorist act and reiterated that position during Sunday’s call, according to the Kremlin. While his support for Israel was initially moderate, he has sought to preserve working ties with the country.
At the same time, Putin has argued that it was the domination of Western elites that allowed the crisis to occur in the first place. Russian state media have expressed support for Hamas and undermined Israel. They have also denigrated the United States, Israel’s main ally.
“The Russian side is ready to provide all possible assistance to alleviate the suffering of civilians and reduce the escalation of the conflict,” the Kremlin stated in its leaders’ conversation.
Highlighting the layered nature of the relationship between the two leaders, Netanyahu also praised Russian efforts to free an Israeli citizen who also holds Russian citizenship in Gaza. Israeli authorities claim that Hamas’s attack on October 7 resulted in the death of around 1,200 people and the taking of approximately 240 hostages.
Matthew Mpoke Bigg is a correspondent covering international news. He previously worked as a reporter, editor, and bureau chief for Reuters and has had postings in Nairobi, Abidjan, Atlanta, Jakarta, and Accra. More about Matthew Mpoke Bigg