Teaching the Russian bear new tricks

Category: World Affairs Topics: Foreign Policy, Russia Views: 861

Russia as a nation continues to be torn between what it was in the past and what it hopes to be in the future. With economic pressures bearing down upon it and with geopolitical instability constantly knocking at its door, Russia is justifiably schizophrenic in both its foreign and domestic policy stances. In some cases this bodes well for Muslims, as in the case of Iraq. In other situations, this spells disaster, as is currently evident in Chechnya and Daghesten. Regardless however of which face Russia chooses to wear on any given day, Muslims need to acquaint themselves with those multiple personalities and work on various fronts simultaneously to achieve the best of all possible outcomes for Muslims living under Russian rule and within the Russian sphere of influence.

In this quest for understanding, Muslims must first and foremost exploit the "Eurasian" tendencies inherent in the political and social dynamics of Russia. Eurasianism refers to a geopolitical leaning amongst some Russian leaders and intellectuals that describes the future of Russia as being inextricably linked with its Asian ties.

Charles Clover, the Kiev Bureau Chief for the Financial Times, did an excellent expose' on Eurasianism in the March/April edition of Foreign Affairs. In that article he argued that amongst the opposing Russian political forces, there exists an affinity for Russia's Asian connection that separates it from the western world. Proponents of this include Gennadi Zyuganov, Yevgeni Primakov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

But the Eurasian landscape is difficult to navigate, as Russian policy is often inconsistent when it comes to dealing with Muslims. On one hand Iraq represents an important economic tie should sanctions on that country be lifted. On the other hand, Afghanistan continues to represent Russia's failed attempts at geographically and politically expanding its sphere of influence. And of course, the Caucasus region remains a thorny issue that has a history predating Russia's Communist expansionist designs.

So where does this leave Muslims? In quite a pickle.

Russia could very well be the balancing factor Muslim countries need in order to stave off interventionist policies concocted by the Untied States and other western interests. But Muslims surely don't need Russia rampaging across the lower half of its domain, treading on self-determination, economic independence and human rights.

The problem is that Russia quite desperate. Not but a year ago, the country was on the verge of economic collapse. But thanks to George Soros, the IMF and other economically stabilizing factors, it was able to stay afloat. But Russia is far from prosperity. Politically the vultures have been circling the Kremlin for years, waiting for the shaky tenure of Boris Yeltsin to end. So like an HIV infected person, Russia is susceptible to any of several virulent scenarios that could send it reeling. And in an effort to fight the symptoms of its illnesses, Russia gives to the Muslims with one hand and takes with the other.

Muslims therefore need to give Russia options.

One of every ten Russians is Muslim. That is a significant statistic. Russia knows the significance of this, but few Muslim countries and organizations seem to be using this as political leverage. Russia needs a steady flow of diplomatic, economic and NGO input from Muslim interests to give it the options it needs to end the antagonistic tendencies it can have with reference to Muslims.

This might seem abhorrent to Muslims enraged with Russian aggression in Chechnya. But working either side of the diplomatic fence is a skill Muslims need to perfect if they are to thrive in coming century. There is no reason why the foreign ministers of Muslim countries shouldn't be publicly applying pressure on Russia over its policy in the Caucasus, giving it both warnings and incentives for modifying its stance. By the same token, the Organization of Islamic Conference and the Arab League could also be more vocal about Russian involvement with Muslim regions of the world.

We live in times in which alliances and diplomatic dealings will become increasingly important. Russia will act out of self preservation if forced to do so. Therefore Muslims need to engage Russia on several fronts to position themselves and the Muslim agenda for success in the 21st century.

Ali Asadullah is the Editor of iviews.com

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Foreign Policy, Russia
Views: 861

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