For the first time in history Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will take part in the session of the foreign ministers of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). He will join his counterparts on the last day of the session, held in Istanbul from June 14 to 16, as a guest of the Turkish Government.
Relations between Moscow and the OIC are getting increasingly intensive. The dialogue received a fresh impetus after President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia intended to promote its dialogue with that organization. Soon after that, Putin was invited, also as a guest of the host country, to the OIC summit held in Malaysia. Today we see a continuation of this process.
Russia is interested in greater cooperation with the OIC for several reasons. It will help Russia to defend more effectively its political and economic interests in Central Asia, Transcaucasia and the Middle East, and will promote Russia's bilateral relations with many OIC countries. It will also give Russia yet another channel of influencing the situation in the zone of the Arab-Israeli conflict and in Iraq. All these issues are always in the focus of OIC's attention, and the present session is not an exception. One should not expect the OIC to take practical actions to resolve some or other problems in the region - it is more like a political club, where tendencies originate and contacts are made. And it is exactly what interests Russian diplomats.
During the session the Russian foreign minister will have an opportunity to get acquainted with all the key players in the region and personally to relate Russia's view on the Iraqi and Palestinian problems to them. It may even be said that at the OIC session Lavrov will represent not only Russia but also the quartet of international mediators on Palestinian-Israeli settlement and the UN Security Council permanent members. Consequently Moscow acts as an intermediary between the Islamic countries and the rest of the world. This Russia's role is extremely important for the OIC.
In fact, Russia repeats the functions of the host country, Turkey, which, being a member of NATO and the OIC, tries to express the views of the East in the West. However, not all OIC member states are ready to entrust such an important function to Ankara, primarily because of its ties with the U.S. and Israel. Meanwhile, Moscow's friendly relations with these countries evoke no questions in the OIC and are an advantage for Russia.
If Russia does not hesitate to establish closer relations with the Islamic world, possibly its example will be followed by Western countries, for today one of the main goals of the OIC is to make the West stop associating Islam with terrorism. It is by no means an easy task. The problem lies not in religion, and not even in a conflict of civilizations - ever more often bombs are exploding in Muslim countries, and Muslims die in terrorist acts.
One of the causes behind the instability in the region is that most of the Islamic states have not endured the burden of modernization. It is largely the fault of the West, which was introducing its values in an alien world too aggressively. But the fault also lies with the Eastern leaders who failed to adapt their countries to the present-day realities. A clear example is Saudi Arabia, where formally terrorist acts are directed against foreigners, but in fact they threaten the stability of the Saudi monarchy.
It is believed in Moscow that the countries of the region should seek ways out of the crisis themselves, and the best help the West can provide is not to provoke extremists. The West should become a partner of the East, and not act as a "strict elder brother," which will only aggravate the situation.
Russia is directly interested in the earliest stabilization in the Islamic world, as the problems confronted by the OIC countries are reflected in Russia as well. Orthodox Christianity and Islam have been living peacefully side by side in this country for over a thousand years. But the processes outside Russia influence the situation in the country.
The activities of the so-called charity organizations in Russia, which in fact financed the activities of terrorists, posed a big problem for this country. Today it is obvious that these organizations threaten also the countries where they are based. This is what made Saudi Arabia tighten control over the activities of its public charity organizations. Earlier Er Riad and other Gulf capitals responded to Moscow's apprehensions to the effect that terrorist organizations were often disguised as charity funds by saying that the state does not interfere in the activities of private funds. Now the situation has changed and many states wonder what the money of the organizations based on their territory is spent on - is it spent on charity, terrorism or provocation of inter-religious strife? If it is charity in the true meaning of this word, it is only welcomed, also by Russia.
During the session of the OIC foreign ministers Lavrov is going to discuss the possibilities of Russia's cooperation with the members of this organization in recovering the economy, culture, education and other spheres of life in the Chechen Republic. All the more so, since the examples of such cooperation already exist.
Thus, aid rendered to Chechnya by the United Arab Emirates is regarded with great respect in Moscow. Beginning with 2000 the Emirates has provided aid to Chechnya to the tune of 2 million dirhams ($550,000) and extends the same sum for various projects to be carried out in the near future. One of them is the construction of an orphanage for Chechen children.
The assistance extended by Muslim charity organizations will be accepted with gratitude not only in Chechnya. Moscow believes that broader cooperation with the OIC will really be useful and will help Muslims to distance themselves from the labels of terrorism unfairly attached to Islam, both in Russia and in the rest of the world.