On September 30, the Federation Council gave its consent to use the Russian Air Forces in Syria. Since then Russia has faced various threats from jihad to economic sanctions. Renowned Russian expert on Islam, President of the Institute of Religion and Policy, member of the Council for Interaction with Religious Associations at the Russian President Alexander Ignatenko tells Interfax-Religion correspondent Yelena Verevkina about consequences of this decision.
- There is an opinion that Russia stepped into the war not fully understanding the processes underway in the East, and now stands for Shiites in the conflict of Sunnis and Shiites which resulted in aggravating relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia. How can you comment it and what are the true reasons these countries’ attitude to Russia?
- I am absolutely sure that Russian leaders, first of all, supreme commander Vladimir Putin understands what Russia was going to do, what were the reasons for such actions and pretty well knew the situation in Syria and around Syria. They considered the negative moments that could come up when realizing the plan, including reaction of those states, of those centers of power which participated in kindling the Syrian conflict and were not interested in settling the conflict the way Russia sees it. We should list Saudi Arabia and Qatar which played great negative role in the Syrian crisis. They are states where Islam is represented mostly with Sunnis branch and their negative reaction was caused not by Syrian Shiite or Alavite regimen (which is also not quite correct) but because Russia's actions did not meet their strives, the things we can call geopolitical interests, which they carried out when promoting the Syrian crisis. I have to say that ruling regime in Syria is not Alavite, but regimen of the Baath Party or the Party of Arabian Socialist Revival. Its ideology is secular, non-religious Arabian nationalism of the left socialist orientation. The Baath Party was founded by an Orthodox Christian in the late 1940s, all confessions of the Middle East have always been represented in it. By the way, Saddam Hussein also belonged to this party, though he also belonged to Sunnis. However, it did not satisfy those who are crying out that Bashar Assad is an Alavite. And Muammar Gaddafi was a Sunnite.
- You believe that religious motives are secondary in this crisis and acting against Russia these states just protect their geopolitical interests?
- They certainly have their geopolitical interests in Syria. I say it again, these states initiated the Syrian crisis and they did it not because of religious motives. They thought they would manage to resume it quickly, the way it was done in Lybia, but it never happened and it resulted in the continuous crisis that has already taken four years, aggravating and involving different countries. Moreover, such states as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are not so strong to realize such a large scale geopolitical project, they use the help of their allies, first of all, the United States of America. They wanted the USA and other countries to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them. But the crisis aggravated and we have what we have now.
- Don't you think that these states expected that Russia would participate in the conflict in the current format?
- It is difficult to say, but we cannot exclude that these states even wanted to involve Russia in the Middle East processes, these states as well as other Arabian and Muslim states always turned to Russia saying that Russia should play more active role in the Middle East the way it did in times of the Soviet Union. They supposed that Russia would do something to realize interests of these states, but it went not the way they wanted.
- As relations are cooling, do you think that these states could finance the Islamic underground in the North Caucasus and the Volga Region?
- They have experience of supporting bandit underground, I would not even use the word 'Islamic' in this case. We just have to remember that in the second half of the 1990s such states as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some others supported, financed, armed, sent volunteers, instructors, ideologically cared for militants and gunmen, who acted in Chechnya and Dagestan, and they have such experience. It is impossible to exclude that this time they will try to do something of the kind. But the situation in Russia has changed.
First of all, Russia has successful experience of fighting against military bands in late 1990s - early 2000s. Secondly, in the place of Chechnya that was a terrorist and extremist formation, there is the Chechen Republic where Muslims live and prosper. By the way Sunnites leaded by Ramzan Ahmatovich Kadyrov. So, the situation has changed dramatically.
The third moment is that these countries are involved in the Syrian crisis, they invest money and efforts in it. And the fourth moment is that Saudi Arabia is in war against Yemen, it is the war in which Saudi Arabia suffers defeat, and the destiny of this war is still not settled. To put it simply, the situation is not the same as it was in the second half of the 1990s when they wildly attacked Russia in the Russian Northern Caucasus.
- What do you think about statements that Saudi Arabia and other Muslim states can take economic measures against Russia?
- I say it again: Saudi Arabia is in the state of war. Any economic sanctions against our state will certainly strike it back, as it happened with the countries of the European Union. What economic sanctions?! It is just double-talk, it is not serious.
- Some time ago over 50 religious figures of Saudi Arabia urged Muslim countries to war against Russia, Iran and Syrian government. Are these statements serious?
- I don't think that such fatwas and calls will have serious influence on Russian Muslims. I'll tell you why. The thing is that Islamic State, despite their pretenses to represent true Sunnite Islam and protect Sunnite interests, in fact categorically and toughly stands against Muslims: Shiites, Sufi and even Sunnis. I say 'even' because they call themselves Sunnite. They destroy Shiite mosques, Sufi mazars, let alone Christian churches. But they also destroy Sunnite mosques, which they also don't like for some reasons. For example, three Sunnite mosques, the mosque of Prophet Yunus, mosque of Prophet Shit and Prophet George were destroyed. They level Sunnite cemeteries to the ground. And Russian Muslims know and if they don't, let them know, if Islamic State comes to the territory of Russian republics of the Northern Caucasus, for example, to Dagestan, they will eliminate the places of Sufi worship, kill Sufi sheikhs the way they do it everywhere - and very important moment! - destroy not only Shiite mosques, which we have in Russia, for instance, in Dagestan, but also Sunnite mosques. To put it simply, Islamic State and its supporters Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others, are enemies of all Muslims, including Russian Muslims. All these calls are empty phrases, they won't meet response among Russian Muslims.
- Do you consider serious a Caucasus representation of the Islamic State?
- There was no representation, the Caucasus province was proclaimed there, but it is also an empty phrase. There were three-five people who pronounced oath of loyalty to caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but it does not mean much as most of them already passed away. Others left for Syria. Here we have to say that when Russia bombs the ISIS, it struggles for its own security, for security of Russian citizens, including Russian Muslims, eliminating all these terrorists in far distances from Russia, in order not to struggle against them in our land, if they decide to come back and bring the ISIS slogans and ideas to the Russian territory.
- Is it possible that Russian actions in Syria will provoke activation of terrorist Islamic groups in our country? Several days ago there was information about prevented terrorist act in Moscow...
- Our special services cut it down at the stage of preparations. There are various forces, centers of power that urge to jihad, meaning terrorist attacks, but God sends a curst cow short horns. Russian Muslims understand that Islamic State, its ideologists and sponsors are enemies of Muslims, both Russian and Syrian, that's why these calls are empty and aimless. An attempt to commit a terrorist act was prevented in Moscow and the Investigation Committee says that it had been prepared before Russian Air Forces bombed the Islamic State. We can answer with President Putin's words, that even without Russia's participation in Syrian events, international terrorists were bitter at it and prepared terrorist acts against it. As a rule, their actions are cut down at the stage of preparations and Russian citizens, including Muslims, are protected by the Russian Law Enforcement Agencies and the Special Services.