While the Western world reacted with horror to the heart-breaking scenes of Hamas gunmen preying on Israeli civilians on October 7, the reaction in Russia was markedly different.
Kremlin-endorsed propagandists celebrated the fighting as a distraction to tear the West’s eyes from Ukraine, produced new conspiracy theories to explain the news, and delighted in the discomfort and fear of Russian Jews who have emigrated to Israel.
There’s as yet no evidence that Russia knew of the impending attack, although it has fostered ties with Hamas. In March, Hamas reportedly sent a high-level delegation to Russia and held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, warning the Kremlin that the group’s “patience” with Israel was “running out.” Senior Hamas figures also visited Russia in May and September 2022. The group has said its attack was supported by Iran and other countries but did not name them.
But while the Kremlin may not have been directly involved, many of its citizens are openly antisemitic, as are senior officials. Military correspondent Dmitry Steshin, known for his overtly genocidal statements about Ukrainians, posted on his Telegram channel Russky Tarantas that there should be “not a drop of pity or sympathy” for Israelis, including former Russian citizens. Steshin complained about people who left Russia for Israel, describing them as “relocants.”
He wrote: “We stayed here and are still standing knee-deep in blood. Let the ones responsible for our tears do that as well! Or let them run, to refresh their historical memory. Greetings to the relocants!”
Sergey Mardan, one of Russia’s best-known propagandists and host of the eponymous show on the state channel Solovyov Live, wrote on his Telegram channel that he was happy for the Russians who moved to Israel because they didn’t want to live in a country that is at war with its neighbors.
He added, “This mess is beneficial for Russia, because the globalist toad will be distracted from Ukraine and will get busy trying to put out the eternal Middle Eastern fire.” Mardan explained, “Iran is our real military ally. Israel is an ally of the United States. Therefore, choosing a side is easy!”
During his show, “Mardan,” the host made a bizarre comparison between Palestine and Russia, claiming that Russia “has been occupied since 1991” and is only now seeking to correct the situation. Russian propagandists frequently claim that Ukraine is “occupying” Russian lands, which Russia is fighting to reclaim.
Head of RT, Margarita Simonyan, wrote on her X/Twitter account, “The country that is not at war with its neighbors is again at war with its neighbors. We await the exodus of Russian pacifists. Then again, we won’t hold our breath.”
Host of the show “Morning Z” on Solovyov Live, Boris Yakemenko, blamed the violence on gender issues (presumably a reference to LGBT+ debates in the West), stating, “What is happening today in different corners of the world shows that the world has come to a dangerous point, beyond which lies the new world. Crossing into it will be preceded by horrendous casualties, because of a feeling of total injustice, insanity, a total lack of understanding of what is happening, with all of these genders, with all of these strange phenomena!”
Yakemenko read caustic messages from members of his audience, pondering which citizenship Russian relocants would choose this time. He addressed former Russian compatriots, telling them to “Go ahead and run, or hide in bomb shelters.”
During his show on October 7, Vladimir Solovyov, described the Hamas attack as a “loud slap” to Israel and its intelligence services, assigning all fault to America as a “guarantor of peace in the region” and baselessly blaming Ukraine for providing arms to Hamas. (Hamas’ main arms supplier is actually Iran).
Such accusations were repeated across Russian state media, despite its military illogic, clear Ukrainian support for Israel, and the enormous difficulties of shipping arms to Gaza.
Military correspondent Alexander Kots discussed this preposterous talking point with Komsomolskaya Pravda and made it clear that he isn’t rooting either for Israel or for the Palestinians. Kots then went on to say: “In the event of a conflict, it’s anticipated that we must be on someone’s side. I don’t want to take either side. One helps Kyiv arm itself and fight against Russian troops, while the other side takes civilians hostage and abuses their corpses. And, judging by the footage that comes from there, they also rape female soldiers of the Israeli army. A plague on both your houses!”
Putin’s former advisor, Sergey Markov, added a supernatural claim by blaming Russian émigrés for bringing war to Israel by “jinxing” any country they run to. He said: “Russia is calling for peace, but understands that war is inevitable.
“The Soviet Union has been helping Palestinians for many years. The main ally of Israel is the United States, which is also Russia’s main enemy right now. Russia’s ally, Iran, is an ally of Hamas. Russia will benefit from the rising oil prices as a consequence of this war . . . Any conflicts on which the US and the EU have to expend resources are beneficial for Russia because this lessens the resources sent to the Russophobic regime in Ukraine.”
Marat Bulatov, who hosts “Day Z” on Solovyov Live, decided to start the show with more important news, congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his 71st birthday. Bulatov proceeded to describe Putin as “our boss, our Commander-in-Chief, our president, and our sovereign.”
He told the audience, “We have to be with our president, with our country, or else we could experience something like what is happening in Israel.” Bulatov absurdly alleged that Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu “is calling for jihad” against Palestine and later read a message from a viewer that said, “We are calling on Palestine to keep it up!”
Nina from St. Petersburg sent a message that Bulatov read out loud: “It’s not like last year, when the Crimean bridge was destroyed for Putin’s birthday. We only have good news today!” The host replied, “Yes, I completely agree!”
Julia Davis is a columnist for The Daily Beast and the creator of the Russian Media Monitor. She is a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Screen Actors Guild, and Women In Film.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.