Interviews (24)

M.K. Bhadrakumar's article on Vitaliy Naumkin's interview to Izvestiya

In an interview with the influential Russian daily Izvestiya, the well-known “Orientalist” scholar and establishment figure, Vitaly Naumkin, has floated the startling idea that Moscow must play a role in resolving the Palestinian problem. He said, “Moscow has long urged for [organizing] a top-level meeting between Palestinians and Israelis in Russia, on a Moscow platform. It is necessary to turn Moscow into a venue for such talks.”

Naumkin explains that Moscow has unique credentials to kickstart peace talks, since it is a veto-holding member of the UN Security Council with an obligation to pursue the implementation of relevant UN resolutions on Palestine and is also a member of the Middle East Quartet. Alas, US obduracy has stalled the Quartet, while Washington is stonewalling by casting its veto in the Security Council. He lamented that the US is hobnobbing with extreme right-wing elements in Israel who are not even representative of Israeli opinion.

The idea of Russia acting as a mediator in talks on the Palestinian problem dates back to the Soviet era. It’s been a non-starter due to the West’s dogged determination to keep the Soviets out of the strategic Middle East region. But although Cold War has ended, any Russian attempt to highlight the Palestine problem as the core issue in the Middle East will run into strong headwinds from Tel Aviv and Washington.

So, why is Naumkin, a top establishment pundit (who heads the Russian Academy of Science’s hallowed Institute of Oriental Studies), wading into the whirlpool? In a manner of speaking, he is actually using an “objective co-relative” to clarify the real state of play in the Russian-Israeli ties.

In the interview, Naumkin dispels any notion that Russia and Israel are in any “strategic alliance.” He prefers to call it a “normal trust-based relationship,” which enables the two countries to “fight terror together” and maintain excellent economic ties. Period. Quintessentially, as he puts it, the two countries “no longer see each other as enemies.”

Naumkin points out that Israel’s stance on Ukraine is helpful insofar as it refuses to join western sanctions against Russia, and, secondly, Israel is in harmony with Russia as regards attitudes toward World War II and fascism. But does it mean that Moscow and Tel Aviv have identical stance on everything under the sun? For heaven’s sake, no!

What makes Naumkin’s remarks very interesting is not only his subtlety of mind but that he belongs to the great Soviet tradition of scholar-diplomats who are on the frontline of Russian foreign policy. Quite obviously, Naumkin has marked some distance between Russia and Israel at a complicated juncture when the self-serving western narrative would be that the two countries have struck a deal at the highest level of leadership regarding the future of Syria, leaving Iran out in the cold.

Moscow feels that poison is being injected into Russia’s complex equations with Tehran and Damascus

Moscow feels that poison is being injected into Russia’s complex equations with Tehran and Damascus. Who else but Naumkin could provide the perfect antidote? The heart of the matter is that Russia has substantially improved relations with most countries in the Middle East in recent years after a decade of limited cooperation through the first decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russian diplomacy has shaken off the Soviet-era ideological baggage and is highly pragmatic. Thus, although Saudi Arabia and the UAE significantly contributed to the bleeding of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s and had covertly fostered “jihadism” in Chechnya in the 1990s, the Kremlin today is eager to build relations with them. In fact, Saudi Arabia is Moscow’s strategic partner in the so-called “OPEC+ deal” aimed at stabilizing the world oil market.

Again, Qatar, which has been called the “Club Med for terrorists” and was a latent ally of Chechen rebels, is currently negotiating the purchase of Russia’s advanced S-400 missile defence system.

Moscow’s diplomacy aims to convey the impression to its Middle Eastern interlocutors – be it Israel, Jordan, Iran or Saudi Arabia – that Russia keeps its end of a mutually beneficial bargain. But if anyone adds mystique to the bargain and elevates it to a Faustian deal, Moscow may be left with no option but to bring it down to terra firma.

Plainly put, Naumkin, (who, interestingly enough, also happens to be Russia’s advisor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria Steffan de Mistura) knows perfectly well what Russia is attempting in southern Syria – namely, to eliminate the remaining strongholds of terrorist groups ensconced in that region bordering Jordan and Israel. Indeed, if Israel could persuade Washington to shut down the base in Al-Tanf (which makes no sense from a military point of view anyway), it will help the overall Russian efforts. On the other hand, Israel has no reason to worry, because Iran does not intend to participate in the liberation of the provinces of Daara and Quneitra that straddle the Golan Heights.

Besides, it is no secret that Russia has nothing to do with Iran’s policy of resistance against Israel. But then, to put two and two together to shout and dance in jubilation that Russia is muzzling Iran is completely unnecessary – and can turn out to be counterproductive. Of course, if anyone tries to create confusion, Moscow will clarify. That is what Naumkin has ably done.

Article published in Asia Times:

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Iran remains under intense pressure from the United States, supported by Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration would clearly like to force Iran back into international isolation. Regional powers are also pushing back against what they see as growing Iranian influence among its neighbors. How is Iran negotiating these trends? What countermeasures can it employ?

There is nothing new under the sun here. From the first days of the Islamic Revolution, the country began its adjustment to the difficult conditions of international isolation – something it’s only recently been able to start coming out of. But hardly all countries see Iran as part of an “axis of evil” – the European Union’s stance is different from that of the US and its axis of Middle East allies.

The best Iranian countermeasures to the new US diplomatic and economic offensive are simply to continue to abide by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif uses the word “restraint” quite often in interviews, and one gets a definite sense that the Iranian establishment is wary of being provoked into rash action.

It’s not even clear to what extent the Trump administration is playing an “Art of the Deal” game with noisy threats to withdraw from the agreement. Trump talked in his campaign a lot about US money wasted on recent wars, the cost of NATO, etc. – the expense of empire. A hot conflict with Iran would not be cheap. Of course, that’s assuming there’s some reasoning behind Trump’s actions…

In any case, as of now Trump has only passed the buck on the JCPOA to congress by requesting them to review the agreement. They may well stick to it – surely there is an awareness in Washington, despite the rhetoric, of the damage a unilateral US withdrawal would inflict on its own reputation and international security. If congress balks, Trump can still say he fought it, but lawmakers wouldn’t go along.

But there are and will continue to be new attempts to ratchet up the pressure on Iran, and new provocations. In this kind of game, Iran will continue its displays of “insubordination” to the will of the hegemon while taking care not to go too far.

Of course, if the US continues to use its influence and economic might to block the economic integration promised by the JCPOA – perhaps the deal’s primary incentive from an Iranian perspective – there is a danger that the Iranians will decide it’s not worth it. The tactic of signing an agreement but then stalling its implementation is also not new. It’s worth noting that the Iranian side was complaining about this during Obama’s tenure; it’s not something that cropped up with Trump.

How do you view the continuing hysteria surrounding Iran? Is “hysteria” an overstatement? What can be done to stop the escalation of the Sunni-Shia clashes?

You mean hysteria in the West? I don’t think we are hysterical about Iran here in Russia. I don’t know what can be done about Western hysteria. It’s a very old tradition. Somehow they’ve gone from the “Omar Hayyam Society” in Victorian England to the “Axis of Evil.” Although I think anti-Russian hysteria in some countries may soon outdo anti-Iranian hysteria – that might be a kind of solution to the problem: just replace it with somebody else. 

Perceptions of Iran in many of the Gulf states also seem to verge on paranoia at times. There are historical divisions. Russia has great potential as mediator but much of depends on Russia being seen as objective and not too

What are Iran's national interests internationally? What are its foreign policy goals – both stated and unstated? In other words, where does it want to go? Where does it see itself in the medium term? 

All players in the region (and some outside of it) are striving for influence, and Iran is no exception. But we should not underestimate the degree to which the perception of threat drives Iranian actions. Its goals are to ensure stability on its boarders, to avoid open conflict with the West, at the same time preserving and strengthening its defense capability. The more the perceived danger nearby, the more instability, the more urgent Iran’s need to have a strong influence outside of its borders – in Iraq and Syria, for instance.

But Iran also wants a better dialogue with the West – something that started to happen, but is now uncertain. Iran has become good at maintaining its “resistance economy” – some of my friends in Tehran laughed when I told them several years ago about sanctions imposed on Russia: “Oh, try dealing with it for thirty some years!” they said. But Iran wants and needs to build a better economy, and increasing ties with the West is part of this. Still, the Iranians will be loathe to engage in a dialogue that they feel is one-sided. From their perspective, there have been too many years – decades – of this.

You asked about foreign policy, but many domestic issues are closely connected with foreign policy, so I should talk at least a little about that as well. The economic and social burden of massive numbers of refugees from neighboring failed states – or states forced into failure – is one example that comes to mind. There is also the ethnic policy inside of Iran. Many of the tensions of minority groups in Iran – Kurds, Arabs, Azeris, Turkmen and others – depend on the situation with those same groups just across the border in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan – all bordering on Iran with ethnic populations spilling into Iran. In recent years, the central government in Tehran has taken steps to improve the living conditions of minorities in the country and to address their complaints, but the success of these measures is also dependent on outside factors.

It is reported that Iran was heavily involved in defusing the recent incident between Arab Iraqis and Kurds around Kirkuk. If you remember, they were on the verge of an armed conflict. Some will say: again Iran is meddling. But how could Iran not be considered a stakeholder? There are seven to eight million Kurds living in Iran.

It would seem that Iran really does view Russia as an ally. The two countries have achieved significant successes in Syria. How permanent is this alliance? How is it backed up by contracts, treaties, etc.?

It’s difficult to imagine Assad and his government still existing without Russia and Iran. Whether or not that is a success depends on your perspective. Preventing a radical Islamic takeover of Syria is certainly a success. Liberating Palmyra is certainly a success – there was no participation in the battle from the Combined Joint Task Force of half a dozen Western countries, unfortunately. From a logistics point of view alone, cooperation in Syria is not simple. There are diplomatic and cultural nuances too: Russian missile launches from Iranian territory raised questions in the Iran Majles (parliament) – the Iranian constitution categorically prohibits foreign military bases on Iranian territory – this is the specter of Iran’s colonialized history, in which Russia – alongside Britain and America – played a not always positive role.

It will take more work to develop a true alliance – and the long, complicated history between Russian and Iran is an important factor. There were multiple wars, the Turkmanchai Treaty of the early nineteenth century, giving much of northern Iran to the Russian Empire. At the moment, the two countries have common interests, not only in Syria, but security issues in the Caucasus and Central Asia. For a long time now, Russia and Iran have been trying to boost trade, but economic ties are still not anywhere near their potential. Yes, some contracts have been signed, but not nearly as many as have been proposed. There are issues of trust, perhaps, but also pressure from outside.

The fact is that while we may both disagree with much of the United States’ foreign policy, the US holds the keys to the global economy, and access to US markets and financial systems is paramount. And most of the youth of Iran is enchanted with the West and particularly the United States – the pop culture. Although I should say that Russian high culture enjoys an excellent reputation in Iran – the writers, musicians and filmmakers. Iranian culture is also making more and more inroads into Russia. Even in Moscow, we now have an Iranian film festival, there are evenings of Iranian music and poetry. The Iranian Cultural Center here does an excellent job.

It makes little sense to me that we do not have stronger ties, and I hope the future will bring them.

Photo credit: Fotolia / Borna_Mir

IMESClub's Council Chairman, one of the greatest world experts on the Middle East was named this week as a mediator in the Syrian peace talks and advisor to Staffan de Mistura. 

We share the article by Reuters on the matter.


A Russian academic named this week as a mediator in the Syrian peace talks is an acclaimed expert on the Arab world with the trust of the Kremlin, a sign of the influence Moscow has won at the negotiating table after a five-month military campaign.

Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy on Syria, said he had appointed Russia's Vitaly Naumkin, 70, as a new consultant to support him in brokering peace talks in Geneva between the sides in Syria's civil war. De Mistura said he also wants to appoint an American, who has yet to be named.

The posts reflect the roles of the Cold War-era superpowers as co-sponsors of peace talks that began this week in Geneva, with Moscow a leading supporter of President Bashar al-Assad and Washington friendly with many of his enemies.

Naumkin's position is likely to ensure that Moscow retains its clout at peace talks, even as President Vladimir Putin has announced he is pulling out most of his forces after an intervention that tipped the balance of power Assad's way.

Reuters spoke to nine people who know Naumkin, and all described a talented and well-connected scholar who speaks fluent Arabic and has rich experience mediating in conflicts.

He has close working relationships with Russia's leaders, and describes himself as a protege of Yevgeny Primakov, a former Russian spy chief, foreign minister and prime minister who once served as an architect of Soviet policy in the Middle East and later as an informal mentor to President Vladimir Putin.

Naumkin did not reply to a Reuters request for an interview, but acquaintances said his views were likely to reflect Russia's policies.

"He has a political line, it's our good political line," said Alexei Malashenko, a long-standing Naumkin acquaintance and scholar in residence at the Moscow Carnegie Center think tank.



Another person who knows Naumkin, who gave an assessment of his role on condition of anonymity, described him as a talented academic who would defer to senior Russian officials on policy.

Several of the people who spoke to Reuters said Naumkin was in regular contact with Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia's deputy foreign minister and presidential Middle East envoy.

De Mistura nevertheless said Naumkin's job would be to help the U.N. mediation team, not serve Russian interests: "He reports to me, not to his own mother country."

Born in the Ural Mountains, Naumkin studied Arabic language and history at Moscow State University, before serving for two years in the Soviet army teaching Arabic to military interpreters.

He gained a reputation as an outstanding simultaneous interpreter and was called on to translate at high-level meetings between Soviet officials and Arab leaders. It was in this role that he built up a rapport with Primakov, whom he met in Cairo in the 1960s.

Primakov later invited him to work as an academic at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow, according to Naumkin's own account. Naumkin did pioneering research into Socotra, an island between Yemen and Somalia, and spent periods living in Yemen and Egypt.

"He knows the Middle East not by hearsay, not from inside an office, but he's lived within it," said Alexander Knyazev, a Kazakhstan-based analyst who has known Naumkin for years.

In the early 1990s, Naumkin facilitated back-channel negotiations between rival sides in a civil war in the mainly Muslim ex-Soviet state of Tajikistan.

Naumkin arrived in the Tajik capital at the height of the fighting together with Harold Saunders, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State. Unsolicited, they offered their services as mediators to the Tajik leader.

When he accepted, they went to the Tajik foreign minister's house and slaughtered a sheep to celebrate, according to Kamoludin Abdullaev, a Tajik researcher who was present.

Naumkin's role in the talks was to make sure the opposition's views were heard.

"He was very assertive. The ... negotiations ended successfully," said Mars Sariyev, a former Kyrgyz diplomat who took part on the talks.



Naumkin has already played a back-room role in Syria negotiations, coordinating two rounds of talks in Moscow, backed by the Russian foreign ministry, to try to unite some of Syria's disparate opposition.

Those talks produced no major breakthrough, though not through any fault of Naumkin's, according to Nikolai Sukhov, an Arabist scholar and former student of Naumkin.

People who know Naumkin said he would be unflagging in his efforts to broker a solution in Geneva, would be on good terms with both sides and would not let emotion or frustration get in the way, even if the talks falter.

Western diplomats say it may be useful to have Naumkin in the room at the talks. One said it would encourage the Syrian government delegation to stay at the table despite its reluctance to sit down with its opponents.

Another said it could also be reassuring to the opposition, since the Kremlin has leverage over Damascus: “If the hypothesis is that the Russians will be putting pressure on the regime, maybe it is good to have this guy there.”


(Additional reporting by Olga Dzubenko in BISHKEK, Jack Stubbs and Dmitry Solovyov in MOSCOW, Olzhas Auyezov in ALMATY and Tom Miles and Suleiman Al-Khalidi in GENEVA; writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Peter Graff)

Although Riyadh and Ankara are independent players whose interests are not always aligned with those of Washington, they will most likely support the deal promoted by the United States and Russia.
Earlier this week, Russia and the United States agreed on a new ceasefire for Syria that would take effect Saturday. Valdai Club expert Irina Zvyagelskaya believes the deal can seriously change the situation on the ground.

“This agreement is the only option for Syria that can de-escalate the conflict or at least lay the groundwork for de-escalation,” Zvyagelskaya, senior fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told Valdaiclub.comin a telephone interview Wednesday.

“The deal has demonstrated once again that Russia and the US have common political interests. Both Russia and the United States recognize that the Syrian conflict has no military solution and a political mechanism must be launched,” she pointed out.

“It is important that Moscow and Washington, as they are trying to broker a peace deal, can rely on a broad group of countries, which share their goals,” she said referring to the International Syria Support Group (ISSG).

Zvyagelskaya singled out several problems she believes will arise during the deal implementation. “First of all, it will be hard to establish who observes the deal and who does not,” she said. “It means that those parties to the conflict which are ready to cease fire must explicitly claim that,” the scholar pointed out.

Russia has played a significant role by persuading the Syrian government to start negotiating with those opposition forces, which are ready for peace, Zvyagelskaya said. “Now it is crucial that the United States uses its clout to mitigate the positions of the forces it supports,” she added.

Asked if other countries of the region, which are known to support opposition forces in Syria, could prevent implementation of the deal, the scholar said she did not expect Turkey or Saudi Arabia to disrupt the agreement. “Although Riyadh and Ankara are independent players whose interests are not always aligned with those of Washington, they will most likely support the deal promoted by the United States and Russia,” Zvyagelskaya said.
Initially published by Valdai Club
Many experts believe a new government can sanction and coordinate a new western military operation in Libya aimed at destroying ISIS. Mustapha Tlili, Founder and Director of the New York University Center for Dialogues: Islamic World-U.S.-The West, told what dangers such an operation could pose.
This week, Libya's internationally backed presidency council proposed a new unity cabinet aimed at ending severe divisions in the country engulfed in a civil war since 2014 and targeted by the ISIS terrorist group. Many experts believe a new government can sanction and coordinate a new western military operation in Libya aimed at destroying ISIS. Mustapha Tlili, Founder and Director of the New York University Center for Dialogues: Islamic World-U.S.-The West, told what dangers such an operation could pose.

“Right now, we have a very dangerous situation, as ISIS is gradually shifting its power and bases from Syria and Iraq,” Tlili said in a telephone interview. 

“There should be an intervention to put an end to this cancer, which is ISIS, but it cannot be done without taking into account the aftermath,” the scholar pointed out. 

First of all, any decision on a military operation must be authorized by the United Nations. “If it does not have the legitimacy of the Security Council, this would open the door to all the dire consequences that we have seen in interventions of this kind, particularly when the Bush administration decided to go without the approval of the Security Council to get rid of Saddam Hussein and when the West began to pursue its policy with regard to Syria and Bashar Assad,” Tlili said.

Also, any decision on a military operation must take into account the particular problems of the neighbouring countries, he added. “Tunisia, for instance, is the most exposed of Libya’s neighbours with regard to ISIS, because the border is not secured. So it is not clear if it can stop completely the infiltration of jihadists from Libya to Tunisia. Second, there are almost two million Libyan refugees in Tunisia. If NATO attacks Libya, more refugees will flee to Tunisia. We know now that the flow of refugees can be an occasion for jihadists coming under the guise of refugees to strike,” the scholar elaborated.
“In a few words, it is necessary to get rid of ISIS in Libya, because it is a very big potential danger to everyone: not only to the neighbouring countries, the West and even to Russia,” Tlili said. “But we now know that you can start something which seems to be logical, that is attacking some source of evil, but then you end up with more evil than what you started with. This is exactly what happened when NATO bombed Libya to get rid of Gaddafi,” the expert concluded.
Initially published by Valdai Club

Vice-President of IMESClub has shared his analysis on the Syrian crisis and the Russia's involvement in a fight with ISIS.

Discussion was held in arabic by Al Jazeera TV.موسكو-وواشنطن-وطهران-حدود-التنافس-والتنسيق-بسوريا 

Mustapha Tlili, novelist, Director of the UN information Center for 30 years and columnist for the New York Times carries an optimistic and confident outlook on Tunisia and its ability “to meet the challenges of democracy and modernity”.

However, he is more cautious about the development of the situation in other countries of the region (Syria and Lybia).  “We opened the Pandora's box”, says Mustapha Tlili.


S'agit-il vraiment de l'accord historique attendu par tous ?

Oui, s'il aboutit effectivement à un accord définitif le 30 juin. Il mettra fin à trente-cinq ans de relations conflictuelles entre Téhéran et Washington, réintégrant l'Iran dans le concert des nations et assurant le renoncement à l'arme nucléaire de ce dernier. Les protocoles de contrôle, pour éviter des tricheries de Téhéran, comme celles qui lui avaient permis de construire le site souterrain de Fordow, me semblent très sérieux, très précis. 

Le calendrier de la levée des sanctions fait-il question ?

Le texte est ambigu sur ce point, car il ne précise pas clairement quand elles seraient levées, hormis une mention du respect par l'Iran de ses engagements. En outre, il parle de  « sanctions », indéterminées, et non pas  « des sanctions » dans leur ensemble. Il s'agit de ce que les diplomates appellent des « ambiguïtés constructives », volontaires, qui permettent de ne pas bloquer la dynamique de l'accord, à charge ensuite d'être dissipées en juin. A noter au passage que les Etats-Unis maintiennent quoi qu'il arrive les sanctions qui ont été prises au nom de la lutte contre le terrorisme ou pour les droits de l'homme. Les rivalités demeurent. D'ailleurs, l'Iran ne renonce pas à sa politique d'influence au Moyen-Orient, notamment en Syrie ou au Liban. On est encore très loin du « grand bargain » que certains pronostiquent entre Washington et Téhéran ou d'un renversement d'alliances. Les Saoudiens n'ont d'ailleurs pas réagi de manière critique à l'annonce de l'accord. 


Les tenants d'une ligne dure peuvent-ils encore faire échouer les négociations ?

Ca leur sera difficile, même s'ils disposent toujours d'une capacité de nuisance. A Téhéran on entend à peine les adversaires du compromis et le ministre des Affaires étrangères, Javad Zarif, a reçu un accueil triomphal. Aux Etats-Unis, les républicains alliés aux faucons parmi les démocrates auront du mal à faire voter de nouvelles sanctions contre l'Iran à la majorité des deux tiers du Congrès nécessaire pour surmonter le veto présidentiel. Le gouvernement israélien n'a pas renoncé à faire échouer l'accord, mais ne dispose pas de beaucoup de leviers pour cela. 


Propos recueillis par Y. B., Les Echos

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I would like to start our conversation with an interesting and important question - the future of political Islam. This topic has been discussed in our conversation with Mustafa Tlili. Examples of Tunisia and Egypt, where Islamists coming into power had a short time in office then faced a complete defeat, let us raise this question. Many experts beleive that political Islam is not able to gain a foothold in power for a long time and will inevitably give way to secular forces soon. Some experts think that after this failure, both in Egypt and Tunisia, the political Islam is on the brink of complete decomposition. What do you think of the future of political Islam in the Middle East?

 It’s a difficult question. It needs excursion into history to understand, firstly, what the political Islam is. Secondly we need an excursion into the history in order to understand why it has acquired such strength. It is difficult to answer unequivocally, what will happen to political Islam. A whole lecture is required.


But if not to take this question in a historical perspective, its formation, its development? What if to talk about the future of political Islam taking the Arab Spring as a starting point, which in turn was quite a unique phenomenon, given its absolutely secular slogans and then the subsequent arrival of the Islamists? And then these Islamists’ rule did not last long. At the current moment in history and in the foreseeable future, after this failure, in your opinion is  it also difficult to make predictions about the future of political Islam?

 Well, I would say that it is still very difficult to give an answer. Firstly, because there is no clear definition of what the political Islam is. The arrival into power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Ennahda in Tunisia has shown the two things: on the one hand, that the people wanted a change and rejected the autocratic regimes that did not give them the freedom and security, that they could not withstand the omnipotence of the elites, unemployment, corruption etc. any longer. On the other hand, political vacuum has been created, and it turned out that the most organised political force was Muslim Brotherhood that had carried out much work with the population in the social field and had a good position. As a result, the Islamists have won the elections, both in Egypt and in Tunisia. But in the future, indeed, they have failed as they did not have any adequate program, because all their slogans were designed to overthrow the existing regimes, there were no constructive, positive action programs: how to withdraw their countries out of the crisis, how to proved people with work. And so they have not existed for long. This is on the one hand. On the other hand, this failure of relatively moderate political Islamists led to a dramatic rise of the radical Islamists, who took advantage of the situation and have considerably strengthened their positions in many areas. Today they spread their influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya and in several African countries. And there is no understanding how the other events in the region of the Middle East will develop. The fact to be admitted is that the radical methods of struggle, barbaric, savage cruelty, are quite effective. The young people who are in a state of frustration, who were disappointed, because of being jobless with no perspectives, with no chances to live a decent life, more and more of them join these radical Islamists because they do not see another way. After all, all they want is to have everything they want here and now, as soon as possible.

All phenomena have a dialectical side. I think that the Muslim Brotherhood suffered a big blow, and it is unlikely that they will resurrect as a phoenix, at least in Egypt. But many of their supporters and fans now join the ranks of radical Islamists.

I would like to stress once again the fact that political Islam should be correctly identified - what do we mean by this term. Because those theocratic regimes that exist in the Gulf States may fall under the definition of political Islam too. And they do a lot to put the struggle, which is now underway, in the mainstream of the Shiite and Sunni Islam etc. I would not jump to conclusions that political Islam disappears or is weakened. It is transforming, taking new forms. I think that now we see the strengthening of radical Islam against the background of the moderate Islam weakening. 

 The future of political Islam depends on how the rulers will be able to solve the problems of social development. First of all:  to get rid of the terrible poverty, to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, to deal with unemployment, corruption, etc. Anyway, in my opinion, we witness now if not a victorious march of radical Islam, then something like that. Boko Haram militants have sworn allegiance to ISIS. In Libya ISIS rebels are quite successful, having manifested themselves through the execution of the 22 Copts. And more and more Islamist movements swear allegiance to the Caliphate led by Caliph Ibrahim. So I think that these processes are far from being completed. We see them in the dynamics. What will the outcome of this process be depends, firstly, on foreign intervention, which always determines a lot. And secondly, it depends on how successful the Assad’s Syrian Army actions against militants of ISIS will be and how successfully the Iraqis will be able to press the ISIS. In any case, now even the US, who actually provoked the rise of these radicals, begins to realize that it’s impossible to defeat this terrible evil without cooperation with the Iraqi and Syrian authorities.


Despite the bombardments of the coalition forces the ISIS still augments its influence, which has already expanded beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria and even the Middle Eastern region as in case with Boko Haram in Africa, and according to some sources the ISIS is already entering Afghanistan. The efficiency of the measures taken by the coalition is debated.  What do you think that the international community should undertake in order to stop and abolish ISIS? What should be revised in the current approach to this problem resolution? And what are the prospects of the struggle against the Islamic state in the current situation?

We should be ready for the new victories of ISIS and new complications, tensions, new conflicts. Why? The support of these radicals among the Muslim youth that does not want to wait is increasing. And despite its cruelty ISIS is considered efficient. The main thing attractive for the new recruits is the injustice of current conditions. Aspiration for justice is natural. The willingness to see this justice during one’s life makes many young people enter the ranks of these fighters. They believe that in such a way they will be able to deracinate the root of evil of the injustice. 

New turmoil should be expected.

I always say that the Americans are interested in the instability in the Middle East. The do not depend on the Middle Eastern oil anymore. These conflicts allow them to control their allies – Europe and Asia as they depend on this oil much more.

The shortsighted position of Europe that depends much on these resources and moreover supplies many new recruits to these Islamist groups is unclear. In fact, by such position it sets fire in its own home. During the execution of the Copts the leader of this gang pointed his knife in the direction of Rome по тексту что-то другое было  and said: “Wait for us”. The Europeans do not make proper conclusions from the latest terrorist acts.

They have focused all their efforts to cut Ukraine form Russia. This is a very shortsighted policy. And while it goes on there will be no progress in fight against ISIS. The so-called coalition with the US in head is active for a year and nothing has changed. The Iraqi are even unable to take Tikrit. They say they need help from coalition. Additional forces are required.

The international efforts should be combined. Not only in the military sphere but also the fight against this ideology, education measures for this Muslim youth, cutting the funding channels. But it is virtually impossible in the conditions of international tensions and ongoing Ukrainian crisis. The understanding that the international efforts should be united to fight this cancer tumor is coming to the Middle East. The efforts are fruitful only if the international community is united.

This was the same in the Syrian case. A big war – the US bombardments, was averted then. We have agreed on the chemical weapons destruction with the Americans. And now we are on the verge of a new turn of tension.

For example the Saudi already voice their intentions to get the nuclear weapons as they are not content with the US agreements with Iran. Egypt is considering nuclear programs. Turkey as well. That will be the result. The situation is difficult and explosive.

However our Western partners believe that they will manage to avert new terrorist acts – that is not the case. Western Europe is unable to elaborate an adequate program to integrate 30 millions of Muslims. They do not have an understanding of how to pacify their own Muslims, not speaking about the efforts to suppress radical Islamists in the Middle East. If they do not change their approach – the situation will not change and will severely deteriorate. I do not share the optimism that the bombardments will help to stop ISIS and vanquish them. I think that further everything will be worse and more complicated.

In the conditions of crisis with the West Russia has declared its turn to the East now. And the first step was an important strengthening of relations with Egypt. Moreover, Russia was among the first countries to declare support for Egypt after the execution of Copts. And that provoked some assumptions in the international community that Russia may even join the international coalition.


How Russia is important for the Middle East now? And is there possibility of its joining the international coalition?

Russia is a great power. And it has such potential that nothing can be done without it. All the more it concerns the Middle East, where we have rather strong positions. It is not only regarding the Syrian crisis. It is also about Turkey. Though there are some differences with Turkey on the Syrian crisis, the cooperation between our countries is increasing and Russian-Turkish cooperation is strengthening in all the spheres. There is also an intensive cooperation with Egypt. There is an active exchange of delegations. Many of them are not covered in media. We exchange information. There is an ongoing military cooperation. And all this will continue. Russia is awaited in Iraq. The Iraqi warmly recall their cooperation with Moscow in all the spheres, and mainly in the weaponry.

There is the same for Libya. I was an Ambassador there. Two Libyans from opposition have come saying that all the parties of the Libyan conflict, including the Islamists believe that Russian participation is essential to preserve a united Libya. They do not trust others. Even the Islamists! The Italian Prime Minister has recently arrived here and besides the discussion of the Ukrainian crisis he asked to help with Libya as the crisis there is the direct threat for the Italians. And this is really so. They are not so far away: the Libyan shore is close enough to Sicily. How to resolve the Libyan crisis? Only with the participation of Moscow.

The Eastern turn does exist and it will go on. The second meeting with Syrian opposition and representatives of the Syrian government will take place in April. Russia does much effort to achieve a real settlement. Russia sticks to a position that no conflict can be resolved from the position of force in the 21st century. Everybody should make agreements. This position is becoming increasingly attractive for the Arab capitals. Everybody is positive towards Russia.

And there are more and more examples. We have wonderful relations with Sudan, there are traditionally admirable relations with Algeria. In the Persian Gulf they also say that Russia is a trusted partner. And I believe that it will be soon reflected in the figures of trade and economic cooperation. But it requires some time.

 The main idea is that there are so many issues today that they should be resolved exclusively by the political means and only on the basis of collective cooperation and efforts. There are some elements of understanding now. There were some attempts before to resolve the Syrian crisis by the “Friends of Syria”. There were constant meetings. And now Kerry says that this problem cannot be resolved without the dialogue with the government of Assad. And the CIA director says, “You take out Assad and what will happen? The thugs will come?” The signs of understanding are visible. But they are just the first ones.

As far as joining the international coalition is concerned – we have already voiced our position that we condemn this format. We believe that the struggle with ISIS should be complex. And it should be multifunctional: not only the military one by supplying arms, but by cutting the financial influxes, serious educational measures for the youth, not to make it susceptible to the blandishment of these wild preachers that say that one should live as in the 7th century. It is essential to cope with this evil. But as currently the West is focused on arguing with Russia over the Ukrainian issues, we are unable to speak about any real political, efficient cooperation now. It is an incorrect choice of priories.

The Europeans should understand that taking into consideration their problems with migration policy and successful recruitment of Europeans by the ISIS, they are able to resolve them only in cooperation with Russia. We coexist more than a millennium: the Christians of the Eastern and Western Churches. Of course we have misunderstandings. But we coexist perfectly. We have created our own system. But we should fight the extremism together. And the particular attention should be paid to the system of education so that it does not produce partisans of barbaric extremists.


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