In the bad old days when I used to do analysis for a living, I had a boss which always insisted that I offer him several possible outcomes. He wanted me to tell him, “either X or Y could happen, but if not, then Z is a definite possibility”. In his mind, by covering all the possible outcomes our department’s “analysis” would never be wrong, and he would ways been seen as “systematic” and “competent” by his bosses. I always hated that. From my point of view, this is exactly what the local weatherman does when he predicts “a hot mostly sunny day, with some clouds and possible afternoons showers with local thunderstorms”. This, of course, describes almost *any* day in Florida, but this is hardly an acceptable cop out for an analyst who, I strongly believe, should be paid not to list all the possibilities, but to make a prediction based on his knowledge and expertise. I still believe that the difference between a real expert and a ignorant “pundit” is that the former has the skills to make the right call, and yet I am about to do exactly what I dislike pundits so much for: I will mention possible events, some general trends, but without making any firm prediction. And I will do that for exactly the same reasons as the pundits: I am simply unable to confidently predict what will actually happen.
I can, however, draw a few basic conclusions from the preceding installments, the most important one is that Russia is in a state of high instability and of constant change.
To illustrate what I mean by that, I have written two descriptions of modern Russia which appear to be contradictory or even mutually exclusive, but which both contain more than a few factual truths.
Russia version one:
Russia is: a country which is in the process of finally breaking off from the Western domination which, depending of whom you ask, began in the 17th century, February 1917, November 1917 or 1991. Between 1991 and 2000 the entire political system was re-designed according to US orders (all key ministries at the time were literally crowded with US “advisers” who basically told their subservient Russian “Ministers” “do this, sign that”). As for the Russian economy, it was totally controlled by the Jewish oligarchs which basically plundered it sharing the proceeds with their US patrons. As soon as Putin came to power he embarked on a massive program to get rid of US “advisers” and Jewish oligarchs and that, of course, earned him the eternal hatred of the West. As part of this national liberation process, Putin has also given the full support of the state to the main traditional/historical religions of Russia, which in practical terms means Christian Orthodoxy and Islam (nominally about 40% and 7% of the population respectively, only a much smaller proportion of which are truly religious). Pro-Western religions (Papism, Protestantism and Judaism taken together account for less than 0.5% of the population). Likewise, there are no pro-Western political parties in the Russian Duma, not because of any “stolen” elections, but simply because these parties could not even make the needed 5% to get a single representative. In other words, it is reasonable to assume that only about 5% of the population of Russia has any sympathies with the Western cultural, economic, political or societal model and 95% of Russians clearly want another course for their country.
The example of Chechnia has proven that the combined efforts of local traditional Muslim forces and of the Federal authorities are capable of dealing even with the worst forms of Wahabi extremism. As a result of this, patriotic (but not nationalist) Russians and Muslims are joining forces against a common enemy: the Anglo intelligence services (CIA/MI6 & Co.) and their proxies, the Wahabi preachers and guerrillas.
The reelection of Vladimir Putin to the Presidency has now triggered a deepening and acceleration of the movement initiated under his presidency during his first terms: following US advisers and Jewish oligarchs, it is now the turn of the proponents of the “Atlantic integrationist” viewpoint to be given the boot: the process which began with the now disgraced ex-Minister of Defense Serdiukov might well end with a dismissal of Premier Medvedev who, in many ways, is the lead representative of this “Atlantic integrationist” worldview. Should that happen, and should the “Eurasian sovereignists” gain full control over Russia’s foreign policy, this will result is a major shift of Russian policies towards Iran whom the Eurasian sovereignists always cite as the natural ally of Russia in the Middle-East.
Along a revamping of relations with Iran, Russian foreign policy priorities will be, in order of importance, the establishment of a Eurasian Union, the deepening of the political collaboration with the SCO member countries and the BRICS, in particular China and India. While Russia will continue to see the EU as an important economic partner, it will keep this relationship purely on a economically mutually beneficial basis with only “symbolic shows of togetherness”. In the Middle-East, Russia will continue to staunchly support Iran and Syria with all available means short of overt military intervention.
Russia number two:
Historically, Russia has always been an objective ally of Western imperialism, and this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. The main reason why Putin gave the boot to US advisers and Jewish oligarchs has little to do with some deeply-felt political beliefs and has everything to do with a typically Russian power struggle inside the Kremlin. The various factions in the Kremlin are now skillfully impersonating a conflict between pro-Western and nationalistic groups. This purely rhetorical propaganda campaign makes it possible for the Russian elites to remain in power. Once we realize that elites are only interested in one thing – their own power and wealth – we also can easily predict their view of the West. For these Russian elites the West is primarily a source of more wealth and power, a giant which can be played against your opponents, an overlord which will let you share in the spoils of the vicious exploitation of Russia and its people as long has the West’s interests are not truly threatened. Thus, is is equally obvious that the Kremlin will never openly challenge the West, much less so do something which could truly trigger a determined response from the West.
Take the example of Chechnia: this conflict was “resolved” only when the West, busy with 9/11 and the GWOT, gave the “green light” to the Russian forces to butcher the Chechen people and install their own puppet-thug Kadyrov. The Russians have learned that simple lesson: as long as the West considers you “their SOB” then you are free to do pretty much anything at home but if you decide to take an independent course, you end up like Noriega, Saddam, Gaddafi and Assad (this threat was openly made by demonstrators during the recent color-coded revolution attempt in Russia).
Yes, most of the highly visible Jewish oligarchs have been exiled and one, Khodorkovsky, is in jail. But what does really mean? That these oligarchs, tired of a their decade long pillaging of Russia, have decided to follow the example of a satiated tick, and simply fell-off from their host, to go and happily digest their orgy of blood in a friendlier place: Israel, the UK or somewhere else in Europe. Every departing Jewish oligarch has now been replaced with another, equally predatory and cynical, oligarch (either Jewish or Russian). The system of predatory bloodsucking of Russia and its people is still very much in place and is unlikely to ever change.
As for religions – they are practically irrelevant to Russia. Each religious denomination in Russia has a traditionalist wing which is too small to ever make a difference, while the rest of the country is populated by people who are either wholly lukewarm or even hostile to any religion. The Orthodox propaganda finds some followers in Russia only because it provides for a “patriotic” substitute for the now discredited Marxism-Leninism. As for the Wahabi propaganda, the only reason why it is popular in some nominally Muslim ethnicities is because it gives a cachet of religious legitimacy to what could only be referred to as the basic thuggery of some ethnic groups which have lived from crime and robbery for centuries.
As for Russian foreign policy, it will continue to be a bizarre mix of petty grandstanding and grand collaboration with the USA and whoever has enough power to pressure the Russian elites. The only “natural ally” of Russia in the Middle-East is Israel, if only because both countries are run by pragmatic thugs who skillfully impersonate nationalists. The Russian mob and the Jewish Mafia are, for all practical purposes, one and the same phenomenon, and they have never ceased working together for their mutual benefit. Religion or ethnicity are irrelevant for these people whose only loyalty is to themselves.
So which version of Russia do you prefer? Which one do you believe is correct?
Personally, it is pretty clear that I think that version number one is the correct overall description of what is taking place. I cannot deny, however, that version two still has a lot of factual basis behind it. In fact, version two is very much the version which “Atlantic integrationists” are instinctively comfortable with. And as long as the “Atlantic integrationists” will remain a powerful segment of Russian society Russia number two will remain a reality, at least in part.
What does that mean for Muslims in Russia and abroad?
From a pragmatic point of view, there is really very little Muslims can do to affect the processes currently taking place in Russia. Inside Russia Muslims have no other option than to support the regime in power for a very basic reason: any “success” of Wahabi Islam in Russia will inevitably turn into a total disaster for all the Muslims affected by it. First, because Wahabi Islam is a direct threat to the traditions and culture of Muslims in Russia. Second because, unlike what happened during the first Chechen war, Russia now has all the means to crush any separatist or extremist movement at any stage of its development, ranging from effective counter-intelligence work to the engagement of fully armed and trained units and formations in a spectrum of operations ranging from counter-insurgency to combined arms operations. Yes, there still are Wahabi terrorist attack in Dagestan and southern Russia, and there are Wahabi preachers still involved in all kids of murders of traditionalist Muslims, primarily in the region of Kazan but also in other parts of Russia. The primarily reason why this is still taking place is that the nuisance of these attacks is below the “reaction threshold” of the main Russian “power ministries” (State Security, Defense) and are dealt with mostly by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (sometimes assisted by local elements of State Security). After all, the murder of a few policemen or clerics is hardly a reason to justify the involvement of special forces or the military – the regular cops and courts should learn how to deal with this. But should the situation get out of control then the “Federals” will show up and deal with it, rapidly and ruthlessly.
Outside Russia, Muslims are all more or less stuck into doing more of the same. Iran, Syria and Hezbollah can only keep hoping that Putin’s Russia will be a better ally or partner than Medvedev’s, while the bulk of the rest of the Islamic countries does not need to give Russia much thought at all, if only because pretty much all of the Muslim countries on the planet besides Iran and Syria are now firmly under the control of Uncle Sam who, of course, will tell them what to think, say or do.
The main paradox
I wrote this series of articles on the topic of Russia and Islam because I saw both of these categories as a part of what I would call the global resistance against the West’s imperialism. And most of my discussion has been focused on trying to see whether Russia would ever turn into a consistent part of this resistance or not. And my conclusion is, in this respect, a very hopeful one because I very much believe that Russia will not only turn into a consistent part of this resistance, but because I even see it as the most important and powerful actor in this movement (what other major country today has a population with only 5% of pro-Western elements and sits on top of a booming economy?). In contrast, it appears to me that most of the Islamic Ummah is now firmly in the hands of the West, either openly (Jordan, Morocco, Indonesia, etc.) or through its Wahabi proxies (Qatar, Libya, Pakistan, etc.). In this context, the differences between the Egyptian Ikhwan, the “Syrian” FSA, the Palestinian Hamas, the Albanian thugs in Kosovo or the al-Qaeda constellation make very little difference to me. Fundamentally, they all, I repeat *ALL*, have been co-opted and are controlled by the USA, at least to a degree sufficient to be manipulated and used as proxies. Thus, from the Russian point of view, they are all potential, if not actual, enemies at least as much, if not more, then the regime of Saakashvili in Georgia or the Latvian and Estonian nationalists.
As far as I can tell, the Shia are the only Muslims still resisting the West’s imperialism. And when I look at the actions of the Iraqi government, I cannot even say that all Shia resist, as even nominally Shia politicians can be found amongst Western collaborators. Finally, just one thought about what could have happened in Iran if the Gucci Revolution of Rafsanjani & Co. would have toppled the Islamic Republic immediately tells me that even the Shia world is not nearly as stable and contradictions-free as I wish it was.
I will now do something else which is usually a bad idea. I will speak of people rather than ideas. But I will do this only to illustrate a simple point. My belief is that Vladimir Putin, Ayatollah Khamenei and Hassan Nasrallah are, or at the very least, should be, natural allies. By extension, I would say that what these three people individually stand for should naturally bring them to support each other and join their efforts. The question is whether these political leaders will survive long enough to join forces.
My focus on “Russia and Islam” was probably flawed from the outset since it looked primarily at two high-level concepts whereas the most interesting developments are happening at a deeper, sub-national, level. Still, if my prediction about Russia proves to be correct, resistance in Russia to the West will soon go from sub-national to national, and if by that time the Islamic Republic is still in power in Iran, and I believe that it will be, the potential of a Russian-Iranian alliance could become truly immense, in particular if it is supported by other countries elsewhere (Venezuela at the OPEC or China at the BRICS). Such an alliance could not only save Syria, but also protect Lebanon – via Hezbollah – from a foreign takeover.
This last segment concludes my series on Russia and Islam. I am sorry that I was unable to give some kind of confident and optimistic prediction. My hope is that at the very least I might have contributed to the dispelling of some myths and clichés, an admittedly far more modest goal. For example, if I have succeeded in showing that while Russia and France both struggle with seemingly similar problems (immigration, extremism, crime, separatism, etc.) they are doing so in very different contexts and one should not think of Russia as some kind of “bigger France in the East”. Muslims, in particular, should refrain from transposing Western realities to a fundamentally non-Western context.
My only confident prediction is that Russia in 10 years will be dramatically different from the Russia of today. Whether that will be for the better or the worse is, unfortunately, not something I can predict with confidence, though my personal and very strong feeling is that it will be for the better, and possibly even for the much better.
As always, time will show.