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    Central Asia
     Feb 21, 2007
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Russia's hudna with the Muslim world
By Spengler

Janus-like, Russian President Vladimir Putin showed two faces toward Islam last week. In a historic and widely reported visit to Riyadh on February 11, Putin announced that "Russia is determined to enhance cooperation with the Islamic world". As a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, he added, Russia has long experience in fostering cooperation between faiths and ethnicities, adding, "Russia is bent on pursuing this approach in all regions, including the Middle East and the Gulf."

In an equally historic but little-reported action, on Thursday Putin

installed as acting president of Chechnya the strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, whose private army allegedly murders and abducts enemies of the regime with impunity. The son of a Muslim rebel, the bete noire of human-rights advocates, Kadyrov embodies internal policy toward its Muslim population. It is the same policy that Russia pursued these three centuries past.

Russia does not propose to ally with the Muslim world against the United States. Putin's initiative should be thought of as a hudna, a brief truce in a long war. With justification, Putin cites Russia's experience with the Islamic world. It has been enmeshed in imperial ventures on its southern border for 300 years and now stands at the frontier between Islam and the Western world. The new Chechnya offers a likelier model for the new Middle East than the Bush administration's delusional pursuit of democracy. Russian troops killed between 35,000 and 100,000 civilians in the first Chechen war of 1994-96, and half a million were driven from their homes. Dead and displaced Chechens, that is, comprised roughly half the population. Another 5,000 or so died in the second Chechen war of 1999-2000, when Russian forces leveled the capital city, Grozny.

In Kadyrov Russia has found a local overlord who actually will do what the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin vainly hoped that Yasser Arafat would do: deal swiftly of the local hotheads who get out of line. Putin and his colleagues have bested Israel's death toll during the Palestinian intifadas by two orders of magnitude. Putting Kadyrov, 30, in charge of what remains of Chechnya adds insult to injury.

Putin's pragmatism with respect to the human rights of Russian Muslims detracted not a whit from the festivities in Riyadh, because issues of principle have no place whatever in Middle Eastern politics. "I see in Putin a statesman and a man of peace and fairness," said King Abdullah to the official Saudi Press Agency before the visit. "That's why the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia extends a hand of friendship to Russia."

Loyalties do not extend beyond clan and family, and the rest is a matter of opportunity, guile and maneuver. That is how business is done in that part of the world. You embrace your worst enemy when you are too weak to fight him, and you annihilate him when opportunity presents itself. When you have winnowed his ranks sufficiently to convince him that he is too weak to fight you, you embrace him once again. It is the sort of dirty work to which Americans are unaccustomed, but for which the Russians have had centuries of practice.

For the moment, Russia and Saudi Arabia have a pressing interest in common, namely avoiding a US (or Israeli) military strike against Iran. Neither is prepared to deal with the consequences. Saudi Arabia fears for the loyalties of its own Shi'ites, and Russia fears for the stability of its southern borders. It might seem that Russia would benefit from hostilities in the Persian Gulf, which would increase the oil price as well as Russia's own leverage in the international oil market. But the strategic issues override this apparent economic advantage. A nuclear-armed Iran is the last thing Russia wants, but Moscow is not prepared - yet - to confront the consequences of a general destabilization of its soft, Muslim-majority underbelly.

Russia's position in the world differs in fundamentals from that of the United States and Western Europe. United Nations projections show its population declining from about 150 million in 1989, when communism collapsed, to about 90 million at mid-century, and the median age will rise from 25 to 50 years. Russian women have 13 abortions for every 10 live births, and life expectancy has fallen to 65 years from 70 years in 1985. But Russia's Muslim majorities continue to grow and will exceed the non-Muslim European population in as little as three to four decades.

Linear projections are one thing, and the will to live is another. On paper, Russia's position appears hopeless; whereas current trends show a Muslim majority in Europe a century hence, Russia may have a Muslim majority in less than two generations.

Perhaps it is inevitable that Washington should misunderstand Moscow at this juncture in history. Putin has embarked on a monstrous enterprise, next to which Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor seems like a country parson. European Russia is dying, and Muslims will compose a majority of citizens of the Russian Federation by as early as 2040. But the successors of Imperial Russia, the Third Rome after the fall of Constantinople to Islam in 1453, refuse to slide without a struggle into the digestive tract of the House of Islam. Western Europe may go with a whimper rather than a bang as Muslim immigrants replace the shrinking 

Continued 1 2 

Russia straddles the Sunni-Shi'ite divide (Feb 17, '07)

Jeb Bush in 2008? (Feb 3, '07)

Putin's war with radical Islamists (Mar 8, '06)


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