Russia doesn’t want the Middle East to be a source of conflicts

For many people, the Middle East is primarily associated with oil. But Russia has enough oil of its own – so what are its interests in the Middle East? To ensure lasting peace and stability in this problematic region, and develop mutually beneficial relations with all the countries there.

President Vladimir Putin has begun his first visit to the Middle East; he will go to Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, meeting with the key players in the Mideast arena. All this indicates the great significance that Russia’s leadership attaches to the strategically-located Middle East region.

For many people, the Middle East is primarily associated with oil. But Russia has enough oil of its own – so what are its interests in the Middle East? To ensure lasting peace and stability in this problematic region, and develop mutually beneficial relations with all the countries there.

We don’t want the Mideast region to be a source of conflicts, generating impulses of extremism and terrorism, or involved in WMD proliferation. All this directly affects Russia’s security, having a negative impact on the international situation, generating challenges to regional and general security. That is why we are aiming for closer cooperation with the states and peoples of that region, in a wide variety of areas. Our goal is to assist in the search for solutions to the complex problems of the Middle East.

Russia’s interests in the Middle East are not an overnight phenomenon. Russia has long-standing economic, cultural, religious, and other ties with the peoples of that region. President Putin’s visit to the Middle East also reflects the process of expanding cooperation between Russia and the Islamic world. This process has intensified since President Putin proposed to expand cooperation with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

In 2004, we officially requested observer status with the OIC. We particularly value the Islamic world’s growing understanding of our policies on regulating the Chechnya problem. This is indicated by the presence of OIC observers at elections in Chechnya, and the broader Muslim community’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid in rebuilding Chechnya.

Credit of confidence in Russia and its foreign policy has always been high in the Middle East. Lately, as a result of active development of mutually beneficial cooperation with Arab countries and Israel, it has grown further. Our country is taken as one of the key players on the Middle Eastern arena, opinion of which is heard during resolving of the key problems, first of all, Arab-Israeli conflict being the main conflict for the overall situation in the region.

It is especially valued that towards this conflict Moscow has objective and weighed stance and firmly advocates resolving of all conflicts in the Middle East and other regions on the basis of principles and norms of international law. We proceed from the assumption that comprehensive and just peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors is the only acceptable alternative for the Middle East.

We are convinced that peace and stability in the region can be achieved through restarting of a normal peaceful process on the basis of resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515 of UN Security Council. The final goal of this process is stopping of Israeli occupation of Arab lands that has started in 1967, creation of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living in peace and security with Israel and establishment of normal good neighborly relations of all peoples inhabiting the region. This goal is very close to us, that is why we consider the Middle East close to us and our interests.

Arabs and Israelis are destined to live together. They should negotiate on mutually acceptable principles about ways to structure relations with each other based on mutual respect of each group’s rights to freedom and independence. Our task is to help them in this.

There is a “road map” outlining a scheme of movement towards this common goal. Russia has actively participated in its working out together with other members of the “quarter” – US, European Union and UN. Now Russia is trying to ensure connection between certain steps of the warring parties including withdrawal of Israel from Gaza Strip and Western Bank of Jordan and normal implementation of the “road map.” Incidentally, a new meeting of the “quarter” may be held in May in Moscow.

Naturally, the problem of Middle Eastern regulation will be one of the central topics of the visit of the Russian leader to the region. We have some other things to discuss too like development of our economic, research, technical, humanitarian and other relations. For example, half a million of our tourists visit Egypt annually. In Israel there is almost half a million of our former compatriots who have preserved close contacts with Russia and CIS countries. The topic of pilgrimage to the Holy Land will not be forgotten too because it has always been an important factor of Russia’s peacekeeping presence in the Middle East since the times of the well-known Russian Palestinian Society, which is currently reviving its traditions and activities. Naturally, besides the prospects of the peaceful process President Putin will also talk to Palestinians about provision of assistance to Palestinian territories, for example, assistance in establishment of Palestinian state institutions.

Lately, bilateral relations of Russia with the countries of the region have been developing especially dynamically. The volume of trade with these countries reached a level of $6 billion a year. We believe that this is not the maximum possible level. Broadening of contacts in culture and education is on the agenda. A solid agreement and legal base was already built for our relations. New documents will be signed during the current visit too.

The general vector of Russia’s efforts is understandable, that is doing the best for strengthening of our relations with the Arab world and Israel. In turn, this should have positive influence on the weight and influence of our country in the region. We think that this process should be a street with two-way traffic. Russian business is interested in investments from this region and in creation of mixed companies. One of the most promising directions of cooperation is establishment of direct relations between Russian regions and Arab countries and Israel.

There is also another factor ensuring closeness of Russia and the Middle East. This region is a cradle of human civilization and three international monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. People of different religions and nationalities have been living in Russia for many centuries. Russian culture represents a unique and original blend of many civilization trends, that is why history and geographic location destines Russia not to unite but to bind countries and peoples. Rich traditions of the Orthodox-Islamic dialog in Russia may serve as a valuable capital for working out of the formula for interaction of different cultures and civilization of the Middle East.