Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meeting with the Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar, March 2005.
(photo credit: KREMLIN/ JTA)
The Kremlin’s questionable claim of widespread anti-Semitism as partial justification for threatening and even occupying parts of Ukraine should not obscure the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has genuinely championed the cause of Russian Jewry. This includes recognition and active support for a thriving Jewish community at home, and close ties to Israel’s top politicians, especially within the current ruling coalition.
Over a million Russians are now living in the Jewish state, giving President Putin millions of reasons to care what happens there. And in the past, he has demonstrated some sympathy. If he is willing to throw caution to the wind and risk Western opprobrium on the presumption of threats to Jews and ethnic Russians, there are additional ways President Putin can safeguard these strategic priorities.
As such, Putin should move against Iranian- backed terror networks around the world, and prepare a contingency for neutralizing Iran’s nuclear facilities in the event the P5+1 negotiations fail. Iran presents a strategic threat to Israel, and its terrorist clients target Jews in Israel and across the globe. These actions could even be coordinated with Washington, in a way that helps re-establish Moscow’s leadership credentials.
In addition, Putin should facilitate the orderly transition to a stable government in Syria. The world’s biggest humanitarian disaster is unfolding on Israel’s doorstep, and – barring a strong effort by Moscow – it’s likely that any future regime will be hostage to unchecked terrorist forces eager to attack Israel’s population centers. Only Putin is in a position to compel or incentivize Syrian President Bashar Assad to step aside in a way which sets Syria on a constructive path.
Putin should ensure that if Israel follows Russia’s example by launching its own attack on Iran or taking unilateral actions to defend Jewish (and Russian) citizens in the West Bank – or anywhere in Israel – it won’t have to rely only on the US veto in the United Nations Security Council. Using President Putin’s own playbook, Israel should be within its rights to undertake dramatic measures that won’t win it many friends; the wisdom of such decisions will have to be weighed by Israeli leaders as the need or opportunity arises.
During this period of Russian-Ukrainian tension, make every effort to avoid singling out Ukraine’s Jewish industrialists and community leaders. Whatever they do to bolster the land of their birth, the scales are completely balanced in the Kremlin’s favor. There should be no need to pit Russian Jews against Ukrainian Jews, or to paint Ukrainian Jewish leaders – Jews – as anti-Russian. This will not lead to positive outcomes for Jews anywhere, including within the Russian Federation.
The best way for President Putin to lock in his status and substance as the best friend of the Jewish people would be to remove the Jewish card from the table. Continue asserting Russia’s national interests vis-a-vis Ukraine, which he is prepared to do regardless of international reactions.
Invoking Jewish concerns, whether worthy or unfounded, does Jews no favors and will not convince any world leaders – but it may succeed in mislabeling Jews as his puppets (or his puppeteers).
Moscow will act as it sees fit, regardless of what the West says or does. But there may yet be ways to do so while reducing the negative fallout, for Russia and for Jewish people worldwide.The author is an American businessman. He is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate projects located primarily throughout the east coast of the United States. As a philanthropist, he is the treasurer for the American Jewish Congress, co-founder of Magenu.org, and president for OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter and counseling for troubled Jewish youth.