Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Some of Russia’s Sunni Muslim Majority Angered by Putin’s Support of Shiite Syria and Iran

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 7 – There are growing indications that some of the overwhelmingly Sunni majority of Russia’s more than 20 million Muslims are upset about Vladimir Putin’s support of Bashar Asad’s Shiite government in Syria and the Kremlin leader’s increasingly close cooperation with Shiite Iran.

            On the one hand, there are complaints about the fact that the official Muslim hierarchy in Russia has fallen into line behind the Kremlin on Syria (, that Putin is helping the ayatollahs rather than the Sunnis (, and that what Syria reminds Muslims of the Afghan war which helped trigger the end of the USSR (

And on the other, there is growing evidence that Moscow’s position has allowed the overwhelmingly Sunni Islamic State to consolidate dominance over militants in the North Caucasus and to extend its influence deeper into other regions of the Russian Federation (

These feelings likely have been exacerbated by what some commentators have suggested is the mounting “anti-Islamic hysteria,” almost all of whose targets are Sunni rather than Shiia members of the faith now emanating from Russian officials and the Russian-government controlled media (

And they have been reinforced as well by the opposition of Sunni countries, including Saudi Arabia, to Putin’s campaign in support of Asad and Tehran, opposition that Muslim news outlets in Russia are devoting ever more attention to as can be seen at

If Putin is not yet worried about this development, others in Russia are. Artur Atayev, head of the Caucasus Sector of the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, says that it appears that Syria was designed by the West as a trap for Moscow to discredit Russia in the Muslim world and the Kremlin itself in the eyes of Russia’s Muslims (

And today, the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” argued that the Syrian operation entails “serious risks” for Moscow and none more serious than the possibility that it will make Russia a target for jihadists and generate terrorism within the borders of the Russian Federation (

As the Moscow paper’s editors note, “the USSR for a long time played an important role in the Middle East, and now Moscow is again counting on gaining levers of influence in the region. However,” they add, “the current military action in Syria brings with it serious risks.” And they proceed to enumerate them.

First of all, there is the likelihood that the West will react to Moscow’s moves with even tougher sanctions or other actions.  Second, Russia may get drawn into a land war as in Afghanistan. And third, Russia may find itself the target of jihad and thus of terrorism domestically.

Sunni religious figures in Saudi Arabia have already called for a holy war “against the government of Syria and its ‘Iranian and Russian protectors,” and no one should forget that the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan “also led to a declaration of jihad” against the USSR and that “many current terrorist groups” have their roots in that earlier conflict.

“But the most terrible thing of all,” the paper concludes, will be if the terrorists whom Russia is attacking from the air decide to deliver a response on Russian territory.  A representative of the Islamic State has already spoken about the creation of a Caucasus branch of the Islamic State and the possibility of unleashing a holy war in Russia.”

“Moscow,” “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says, “is seriously concerned about the return of terrorists from Syria and Iraq, and these fears have a real basis,” especially if those coming in to the Russian Federation came from there in the first place and find support for their ideas among Russia’s Muslims on their return.

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