Thursday, July 19, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Moves to Control Foreign Aid to Russia’s Muslims

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 19 – A new foundation, jointly created by the Office of the Russian President and that country’s most important Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs), will help the Kremlin gain effective control of the influx of funds from Middle Eastern countries to Muslim groups in the Russian Federation.
Established in November 2006 as an NGO, the Foundation for the Support of Islamic Culture has not attracted much attention, but a speech by a Kremlin advisor earlier this month suggests that this institution may already be playing a significant role in regulating Muslim activities in Russia funded from abroad.
Getting a handle on such aid flows has been a major concern of the Russian state since the early 1990s when Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East sent massive amounts of money to help rebuild the Muslim community in the Russian Federation, aid that many believe triggered Islamist radicalism there.
In remarks to a July 11 roundtable in Moscow entitled “Will Increased Criminal Responsibility for Inciting Racial and National Hatred Bring Peace to the Peoples of Russia?” that were posted online yesterday, Aleksei Grishin, an advisor to President Putin, said that punishment was not enough (
According to Grishin, who was explicitly picking up on the earlier and much-commented-upon speech of Putin aide Vladislav Surkov, inter-ethnic and inter-religious peace in the Russian Federation requires both harsher punishments but also moral training and enlightenment of the population.
“Moral training,” Grishin said, “is a joint function of the family and the state, enlightenment is a function of the state and civil society, but punishment is a function only of the state.” Consequently, the state must work closely with a variety of NGOs to achieve its ends.
One example of this is the Foundation for the Support of Islamic Culture, Grishin continued. Its task, he said, “is to accumulate funds both from internal sources and from Islamic states abroad who want to help the Muslims of Russia with the goal of further financing measures for spiritual enlightenment and education.”
Were the Foundation a true NGO, such a task would be entirely natural and thus not deserve particular attention. But because it is in fact a GONGO – a government-organized NGO of the kind typical of Soviet times – the group clearly aspires to play the gatekeeper role the Russian government wants.
And because it will control one of the most important sources of funds for Muslim groups, this Foundation will provide yet another means for “loyal” MSDs – like the Central MSD of Talgat Tadzhuddin and the Union of Muftis of Russia under Ravil’ Gainutdin – to assume an even higher profile relative to other Muslim groups.
But at the same time, the obvious Russian government involvement in the Foundation may have the effect of prompting Muslim governments abroad to use alternative channels, a possibility that by its very nature could contribute to an increase in Islamist radicalism that Moscow hopes to restrict.

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