Staunton, Jan. 9 – Until the pandemic, the Saudi authorities who control access to the Muslim holy places in Mecca and Medina allotted 20,400 haj slots to Russia on the basis of the principle that every country should get one slot each year for every 1,000 Muslims. Then during the coronavirus pandemic, Riyadh cut everyone back, limiting Russia to only 12,500 last year.
Now, the Saudis have announced the number of slots for this year’s haj. Almost all countries have seen their numbers restored to what they were before the coronavirus hit. Some have gotten even more than they did before. One of those is the Russian Federation which has been given 25,000 slots (milliard.tatar/news/saudovskaya-araviya-uvelicila-kvotu-na-xadz-dlya-rossii-25-tys-palomnikov-2700).
The Russian authorities, together with the Muslim spiritual directorates, had long sought that figure without success arguing that because so many Muslims were unable to make the haj during the Soviet period, Riyadh should give Russia special dispensation in this regard. But the Saudis always said no.
Moscow almost certainly will trumpet this as a Russian diplomatic breakthrough. But the real reason for the shift by the Saudis is that they appear to have concluded that there are more Muslims inside the current borders of the Russian Federation than they had counted before, 25 million and not 20.4 million.