Russian general says Moscow is ‘here to stay’ in Arab world
TUNIS - Russia’s strong post-“Arab spring” resurgence in the Middle East and North Africa “is here to stay” with a strategy that aims at entrenching Moscow’s influence beyond the defence of the Orthodox church or the revival of its inheritance from the Soviet Union-era in the region, the head of a think-tank linked to the Kremlin said.
Retired Russian lieutenant-general Leonid Reshetnikov, the chief of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, warned that Libya might become “another Syria” as Islamic State (ISIS) fighters could flee to North Africa after their defeat — within “six months at the latest” — in Syria.
The former senior military officer, however, warned that Russia will not intervene in the North African state as it is doing in Syria.
“Libya is a European priority, not a Russian one. Russia can only cooperate with Europe in fighting terrorists there and restoring stability and peace in Libya,” said Reshetnikov in an October 4th address to researchers, diplomats and senior officials, including top military officers, at a conference in Tunis organised by the presidency-affiliated Tunisian Institute of Strategic Studies.
Reshetnikov worked as analyst for the foreign wing of Russia’s intelligence service SVR. His institute was a secret offshoot of the SVR before being transformed into the Kremlin’s studies and analysis arm under President Vladimir Putin.
“Russia is restoring its position and role in the world stage with its full strength especially in the Arab world,” said Reshetnikov adding that “Russia’s role is to reinforce stability in the world in a multi-polar global stage, to ward off tyranny towards states and interference in domestic affairs of countries and protect territorial unity of all countries.”
Russia’s links to the Arab world grew from interests to shield the Orthodox Church during the tsarist empire. Interest waned when early Soviet Union leaders decided the region was no fertile ground for Marxism potential.
Only during the Cold War did the Soviet Union build alliances with Arab countries, such as Egypt, Iraq, Algeria and Libya, as part of the fight against the West as Arab national liberation movements did not depend on the Soviet support.
Arab countries benefited from rapprochement with Moscow before the demise of the Soviet Union as Arab governments kept political and ideological ties with the Soviets at the lowest level while optimising gains from military and economic cooperation.
Soviet military personnel were directly involved in the sides of Egypt and Syria after the 1967 war with Israel.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dominance of free market liberalism, Moscow’s influence ebbed, leaving piles of unpaid debt worth billions of dollars with Arab states.
Aswan dam in Egypt and El- Hajjar steelworks in Algeria’s Annaba remain old milestones of the economic cooperation with Soviet Union.
“Russia has returned to the Arab world. We are back to our interests. We are back to the positions we had lost a while ago. Our relations with the Arab world are older than 230 years. Our ties to the Arab world are more than 400 years,” said Reshetnikov as he compared the timeframe of Russia’s historic ties to the Arab region with those of the United States.
“Our tasks in the region are to stem the collapse of Arab states, to restore and protect the unity and sovereignty of the Arab states against projects and plots to dismember them as are the cases with Syria, Iraq and Libya and the list is lengthy,” he said.
“We are back to protect Arab states and we are against the projects of regime changes and rebuilding states,” he added in reference to Western support for “Arab spring” transformations.
Labidi Mohamed, a human rights activist, said: “It is sad to hear you explaining that Russia is basing its diplomatic strength on the use of force while the Americans do the same even though they use another language . The loss of peace is the casualty of such showdown and it is terrible for the evolution of the international relations between peoples and nations. Where are the human rights and the rights to peoples to live in peace and dignity?”
The general answered: “Russia seeks peace and will defend peace on the global stage.”
Reshetnikov, summarising the direction of his country’s policy in the Arab world, said: “Russia seeks to help in the development of the Arab states. Russia is at the beginning of the road. The desire and the activity will intensify each day.”
He said Russian eyes are on the “Arab world as testing ground for radical political Islam” with the aim of shielding its 15 million Muslim population from the growing Islamist influence spreading into Russia.
Reshetnikov ruled out closer links with Saudi Arabia, arguing that Riyadh plays a role in helping Islamist extremists in Russia and elsewhere.
“The Saudis proposed to Russia that it leaves Syria and gets billions of dollars as a reward. We dismissed such a proposal. Russia is not the kind of country to be bribed to change its foreign policy,” he said
He said Russia does not seek alliance with Iran, just cooperation as a good neighbour on the same scale as Moscow sees Turkey and Poland.
“It will take us no more than six months maximum to finish with Daesh in Syria with the help of our allies the Syrian Army, Hezbollah and the support and assistance of Iran,” said Reshetnikov using Arabic acronym for ISIS.