Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Russia's view on revolutions spreading across the Arab world
MOSCOW—In his direst comments on the uprisings yet, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that the revolutions spreading across the Arab world could lead to "decades" of turmoil and the rise of Islamism.
"In some cases, we could be talking about the disintegration of big, densely populated countries," Mr. Medvedev told top security officials. "Fanatics" could come to power, he warned. "That would mean fires for decades and the further spread of extremism." He didn't mention any specific countries.
Since popular uprisings began sweeping across the region last month, the Kremlin's cool response to demonstrators and their calls for ousting long-serving leaders has contrasted to the much more supportive reaction from the U.S. and Europe.
"It annoys the Kremlin that the West seems to support any revolution," said Sergei Markov, a senior legislator from the ruling United Russia Party. "We in Russia have seen revolutions, and they often start out like the February one and end like the one in October," he added, referring to the 1917 revolutions in Russia which first brought a parliamentary government, followed by the Bolsheviks.
Opposition leaders say the Kremlin's caution actually reflects deep-seated fears about the possibility an Egyptian scenario could be played out in Russia. They dismiss Russian officials' claims that upheaval inevitably brings extremists to power as a self-serving justification for continued authoritarianism.
Kremlin officials brush off those criticisms, as well as comparisons to countries like Egypt. "The Kremlin doesn't se much danger of it being repeated here," said Mr. Markov.
Moscow's fears of unrest at home peaked in 2005, officials and analysts said, when a wave of so-called color revolutions swept pro-Western governments into power in several countries in the former Soviet Union. The Kremlin protected itself by cracking down on opponents and the western groups it believed were seeking to foment instability. Many of the pro-Western governments have since been replaced, reducing Moscow's sense of alarm.
Some in the Russian leadership believe the current string of revolutions in the Mideast also is the result of western instigation. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, seen as one of the country's most powerful officials and a top hardliner, hinted in an interview that Google Inc. executives played a role in "manipulating the energy of the people" in Egypt.
Others in the Russian leadership take a less conspiratorial view. Yevgeny Primakov, a former prime minister and prominent expert on the region, told state television Tuesday that "these are purely internal events." He noted how surprised Washington seemed by the sudden "social explosion," as he described it.
In his comments to security officials Tuesday, Mr. Medvedev warned that the instability in the middle east could complicate the situation in Russia's own Muslim regions. He was speaking in Vladikavkaz, a city in the heart of the volatile North Caucasus region, where Islamist terrorist attacks are almost-daily events.
At least in the short term, the Middle East instability could benefit Russia's economic interests. Officials said Tuesday higher oil prices could lead the country's sovereign wealth fund to more than double this year, to about $50 billion. State-controlled gas giant OAO Gazprom, meanwhile, said this week that the turmoil should lead its European customers, who had increasingly been shifting to suppliers in North Africa, to take another look at Russian gas.
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