Foreign Policy Blogs

Putin in The Middle East

Putin and Ahmadinejad (ITAR-TASS)Today brought the shocking and completely unexpected news that Vladimir Putin has agreed to become the Prime Minister of Russia when his term ends next year.  That isn't the only news to come out of Russia today- though I know the reader may want to take a few seconds to recover from that twist- and much of the news involves topics on this blog.   Russia today also helped solidify its ties with Iran, completing its first fuel delivery to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant.   The Times  reports that it is “unclear when the controversial station would begin operating.”  But Iran News Daily previously reported “According to Russian forecasts, the first reactor at the Bushehr plant could be started up in 2008 and nuclear fuel would have to be shipped to Bushehr six months ahead of time.”   So, with that timetable, Bushehr can be online by June.

The Times also reports that Putin has helped open a pipeline for Russian Muslims to make it to Mecca for the hajj- a huge turnaround from the Soviet days, when only 18 pilgrims a year were granted visas.   As Russia tries to expand its influence, it would like to be a broker in the Middle East, establishing ties with both Iran and Saudi Arabia.   Though the war in Chechnya has left Putin considered an enemy, he has recently made a lot of moves to restore relations with Muslims in Russia.   Here is a transcript of a November meeting between Putin and Muslim leaders in Russia.   Most of it is boilerplate speeches, but the point is Putin is at least making gestures.   He thanks them for “your important contribution to the moral education of our citizens, for your actions in the fight against all forms of extreme currents of thought, and for what you do in the fight against extremism. This certainly strengthens the unity of Russian society.”     There are of course internal Russian reasons for reaching out to its restive Muslim population, but it would also be difficult to expand relations with powerful countries in the Middle East if the Muslims in his control were all revolting.



Brian O'Neill

Brian O'Neill is a freelance writer currently based out of Chicago. He has lived in Egypt and in Yemen, and worked as a writer and editor for the Yemen Observer publishing company. He currently is an analyst with the Jamestown Foundation.