Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 187

Russian diplomats moved along a different but related path yesterday, launching a diplomatic initiative ostensibly aimed at explaining to Middle Eastern leaders the reasons for Russia’s military operations in the Caucasus. diplomatic sources indicated that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov intends to soon dispatch envoys to various Arab countries–including Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia–with official messages justifying current Russian policy in the Caucasus. The effort was said to reflect the importance which Moscow attaches to ensuring that the Muslim Arab states understand the reasons for Moscow’s assault on Chechnya’s Islamic rebels (Reuters, Russian agencies, October 10).

But the Russian Foreign Ministry reportedly also invited in several ambassadors from Arab countries for talks yesterday to warn them against indirectly providing support for the Chechen rebels. According to the ministry’s press department, the ambassadors were shown information proving that Islamic organizations on their territories had “launched a campaign of moral and material support to Chechen terrorists.” The Russian Foreign Ministry reportedly expressed Moscow’s “serious concern” over the situation. Russian diplomats also apparently suggested that Arab leaders should keep in mind the longstanding and friendly ties which exist between Moscow and a number of Arab states (Russian agencies, October 10).

Yesterday’s reports did not indicate exactly which ambassadors had been summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry. To date, however, Moscow has tended most often to identify Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as sources of support for the Chechen rebels–allegations denied by those two governments–though there have also been references by Russian officials to Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle East. Moscow obviously hopes to cut off any aid to Chechen rebels that might be coming from these countries, while simultaneously maintaining the friendly relationships it currently enjoys in the Arab world. Moscow may be concerned that the two wars it has now waged this decade against Islamic fighters in Chechnya–together with its support for Yugoslavia’s long crackdown against Islamic rebels in Kosovo-could cost it political support in the Arab world. Moscow has tried to counter any such perceptions by arguing that it is in fact battling “terrorists” with no real connection to traditional Islam.