By Ahmed IDREES
Russia has started a new democratic phase simultaneous to the great developments in the Arab world labelled by some as “the Arab Spring“. Whether this label is realistic or not, Russia needs to revise its foreign policy towards the region and play a proactive role to balance the imbalanced world power equation that has been damaged by two decades of mono-polar miscalculated military adventures.
Since the disintegration of USSR, Russia’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Muslim world in general and Arab world in particular has been irrelevant in the international political arena leaving the region to be dominated by mushrooming Islamic extremist groups that are supported by certain US-backed rich Arab countries. It seems that Russian policy has been kept hostage to the “wound” inflected on Moscow by Muslim combatants known as “Mujahideen” during the Afghan war. It is obvious that domestic factors too contributed to this disintegration and active Jihadist movements in Chechnya and Daghistan also increased Moscow’s sensitivity against Muslim militants.
This shelled policy has in fact caused a great damage to Arab world as it allowed certain ideology, precisely Salafism, Wahabism or Islamic extremism to take over the region with encouragement from the US-backed rich Arab Salafist regimes.
Although the Russian position on Iran’s nuclear issue has been unintelligibly swinging between un-enthusiasm and infidelity as described by Iranians, Moscow’s position on Syria is and should be applauded by many in the Arab world. Russia should not allow Assad’s regime to fall even if it has been as repressive as any other Arab regime. Russian and Chinese position on Syria has so far prevented a devastating war that could have engulfed the whole region. Russian policy makers should look to the Syrian issue in context of their general foreign policy. Here are some points for reflection:
1- In the Afghan war, which I name as the World War III, Salafism or Islamic extremism was used as an ideology to fight against the atheist communist USSR and its interests. Oil rich Arab Salafi regimes played the main role in recruiting, arming, training and financing Muslim militants. The same scenario is being replicated in Syria. Salafism is being used as an ideology. Muslim extremists, including many ex- Afghan jihadists, are invited to participate in “Jihad” against Assad’s regime. They are armed by the same Arab regimes and glorified by the same Arab media as Mujahideen. The main target in this scenario is to dismantle the present Syrian regime but this will lead also to destroying the Russian interests. Like the Afghan situation, neither USA nor Europe is losing any soldier or money. Rather they are concurrently reaping economic benefit from arms sales which rich Arab regimes buy from Western companies and reroute them to the militants in Syria. If Russia softens its position under any pressure or temptation, it will lose its single strategic ally as well as interests in the region and allow the US “fashion” to spread to other conflicts where US interests may be threatened. Arab allies or partners would be there to reactivate the same ideology, mobilise Muslim militants, arm them and give them favourable media coverage. Muslim clergymen as usual would be ready with their decrees (fatwas) for Jihad and Mrs Clinton would appear on TV screens to repeat her notorious statement “so and so regime has lost its legitimacy and should go”. The EU, of course, would follow suit. I am not in favour of confrontation but the legitimate Russian position in Syria is working so far as a regional safety plug and should be thought of by decision makers in Moscow in other similar conflicts.
2- The recent Russian development with Tunisia is an important step in the right direction and should be consolidated and followed by similar initiatives with the new political set ups in the Arab world, which aspire to pursue neutral policies and deal with all global powers equally. Doors are open for Russia to step in with concrete programs benefiting the whole region. These initiatives should be customized according to each Arab country’s needs and circumstances. Russia should forget the Afghan humiliating “blow” and know that Arabs now look to it not as a communist but as a Christian country like any Western one. It should be a matter of priority to enhance and strengthen Russia’s allies in the Arab world and Tartus naval base in Syria must be developed and protected.
3- Russia should benefit from the economic crisis hitting US and Europe and have her both feet on the ground in the Arab Spring countries that need huge infrastructural projects and enormous investments. Arab peoples now look to Western countries with an eye of suspicion because of their support to the old tyrants. Russia would land there with a clean record.
4- Russia needs to reshape its policy towards regions like Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan including even Taliban, to make it pragmatically flexible. In fact, it was a strategic mistake to neglect Afghanistan under any pretext since the collapse of USSR.
With Mr Putin in a new tenure, the Arab world should see a new Russian foreign policy that supports the peoples and not the regimes as the West used to do. There is a big mistrust for US and Europe in the hearts of Arab nations now who by and large blame the West for all what they have been suffering from since decades.