Vienna, June 24 – In what many are certain to view as his response to US President Barak Obama’s Cairo address earlier this month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a meeting of the Arab League there yesterday that Russia is “an organic part” of the Muslim world and opposes Western efforts to promote democratic change in the Middle East.
“Islam,” Medvedev told his audience, “is an inalienable part of Russian history and culture, given that more than 20 million Russian citizens are among the faithful. Consequently, he said, “Russia does not need to seek friendship with the Muslim world: Our country is an organic part of this world” (www.i-r-p.ru/page/stream-event/index-23456.html).
But two other of the Russian leader’s comments were likely to be even more welcome by members of the Arab League. On the one hand, he said Moscow opposes Western efforts to promote democratic change in the region. And on the other, he called for creating a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem (www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=dujour&div=299).
Because of its own history, Medvedev said, Russia is sympathetic to “the striving of Arab countries to combine in their development the most contemporary trends with respect for national and religious traditions.” That is the only way, he said, “to strengthen political stability and to achieve economic prosperity and social well-being in the region.”
The Russian president argued that the Arab world had much to “teach” others as the world struggles to overcome the global crisis, which Medvedev said, bears “a civilizational character” and consequently, “any efforts at mentoring, the promotion of democratization, or even more direct interference from outside here, in [his] view, are absolutely impermissible.”
Moreover and in what many will see as a direct response to Obama’s support for democracy and human rights and the American president’s criticism of authoritarianism, Medvedev said that “any attempts” to “create a universal model of development” and extend it “to the entire world will not work” or will “unfortunately” lead to a catastrophe.”
And with respect to the Palestinian issue, the Russian president said that “the chief task now is the rapid renewal of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations” because “the pause which has arisen in them has dragged out too long,” a development which he said is generating “ever greater concern.”
Medvedev suggested that the upcoming Moscow conference on the Near East could play an important role in leading to the creation of “an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem, living in peace and security with all the countries of the region, including Israel.”
During the same visit to Cairo, Medvedev and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak signed a strategic partnership agreement outlining the directions of bilateral cooperation between the Russian Federation and Egypt over the next ten years as well as a number of specific accords on a variety of questions (www.i-r-p.ru/page/stream-event/index-23454.html).
Medvedev’s remarks, which were only underscored by Moscow’s agreements with Egypt, were clearly intended to send a message to Arab and Muslim countries around the world that the Russian Federation is prepared to support their authoritarian regimes in the name of stability.
Moreover, the Russian president’s words were equally clearly intended to signal Western governments and especially Washington that Moscow is now prepared to actively oppose any moves to promote democracy and human rights in this region and to press Israel for concessions opening the way to the establishment of an independent Palestine.
But Medvedev’s argument may have the greatest resonance where he did not intend it: within the Russian Federation itself. Muslims there are certain to read his comments as the basis for making greater claims for their community and for opposing the newly intensified efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church to dominate the ideological scene there.