Print Читать на русском
Rate this article
(votes: 5, rating: 5)
 (5 votes)
Share this article
Ildar Galeev

Head of the International Affairs Department at the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of the Russian Federation (DUM RF), Visiting Lecturer at the HSE University

Kirill Semenov

Political scientist, independent expert on Middle East conflicts, Islamic movements and terrorist organizations

Russia has successfully resisted attempts of the Collective West to drive a wedge between Moscow and the Islamic states, while the friendly attitude of Muslim countries towards Russia, even when purportedly isolated by the West, only confirms the need to cherish and foster these ties, highlighting the historical priorities of Russia’s collaboration with the Islamic world. The Eastern partners turned out to be great pragmatists and stood their ground despite Western pressure.

Notably, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is explicitly referred to in Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept 2023 as the “Islamic World” (Section 56 of the document). Without a strong emphasis on the geographical name per se, the document breathes respect for the predominant Muslim population and strong religious traditions in this region; the MENA nations are described as “the states of the friendly Islamic civilization.”

Islamic nations are also offered to strengthen their sovereignty and to become another pole in the multipolar world through the BRICS platform, after the accession of Egypt, Iran, the UAE and Saudi Arabia to BRICS starting on January 1, 2024. Russia strongly supported and facilitated the BRICS enlargement. It is indicative that four of the five new BRICS members (aside from Ethiopia) are Muslim. Undoubtedly, the economic potential of the OIC member states will be extremely useful for strengthening the Eurasian Partnership also through their expected involvement in another integration structure of the new multipolar world—the SCO.

It is quite remarkable that the active foreign policy season for the Russian President in 2023 was crowned by his visits to the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, two centers of power and influence in the MENA region and the Islamic world. The negotiations with the Crown Prince of the Sultanate of Oman and the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran on Russian platforms are also worth mentioning.

Muslim leaders at the forum were united in their support for the Kremlin’s positions and efforts to resolve the situation in the Gaza Strip. The global Muslim community highly appreciates the efforts and commends the Russian leadership for its consistent position in restoring the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. Russia’s Muslim community has not stayed aloof from the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the Middle East and is sending humanitarian aid to Gaza insofar as possible.

It is necessary to deepen the knowledge of each other within the cooperation framework. This is impossible without popularizing the history, traditions, religious values, humanitarian and social exchange, literature, and people-to-people diplomacy between Russia and Muslim states. The Russian Federation is well aware of this priority and does a lot to make its partners from Muslim countries feel as comfortable as possible. Thus, a public garden and a bust of the Algerian national hero, Emir Abdelkader al-Qadir al-Jazairi, were inaugurated in the heart of Moscow prior to the arrival of Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

The year of 2023 may well have been a year of further consolidation of Russia’s pivot to the East, especially in the Middle East and across the South, as well as to the Islamic world. Amid the pressure of Western sanctions, Moscow managed not only to retain its positions in the Islamic world but also to boost its bilateral ties with Muslim states, many of which are essentially becoming Russia’s non-alternative partners in the current environment. Ties with these nations can now be directly referred to as the Islamic focus in Russia’s foreign policy.

The development of multifaceted cooperation with the Islamic nations has an economic dimension, too, specifically given a dramatic surge in trade turnover. Cooperation with Turkey and Iran has reached an unprecedentedly high level. The same applies to the ties with Algeria, Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim states. Moscow is also intensifying its contacts with other countries that previously stayed “in the background” of Russia’s policy, such as the Sultanate of Oman, which is also turning into a significant partner for Russia both in foreign policy and in economy.

Throughout 2023, Russia has also maintained the status quo in conflict zones, primarily in Syria and Libya, despite the diversion of significant forces and resources to Ukraine. During the past year, Moscow managed to avoid a full-scale military action and prevent new military operations on the Syrian soil, which is also a positive trend contributing to a remarkable progress in building its relationship with those Muslim states whose interests overlap with Russia’s aspirations. First and foremost, we mean Iran and Turkey, as well as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq.

Time-proven cooperation

Russia has successfully resisted attempts of the Collective West to drive a wedge between Moscow and the Islamic states, while the friendly attitude of Muslim countries towards Russia, even when purportedly isolated by the West, only confirms the need to cherish and foster these ties, highlighting the historical priorities of Russia’s collaboration with the Islamic world.

The Eastern partners turned out to be great pragmatists and stood their ground despite Western pressure. The same cannot be said of some Western nations, which failed to say a firm national and sovereign “no” to pressure, to the detriment of their own interests, given the clear advantages of their engagement with Russia. Perhaps the notion of honor, support and assistance, historical contacts and ties turned out to be more important for the Eastern partners than for the so-called civilized Western nations, which, unfortunately, are moving further away from Christian values and precepts.

Russia’s ties with the Muslim world are a time-tested, trust-based cooperation, with the Islamic dimension always present in the country’s foreign policy. Suffice it to recall the repeated petitions of the Muslim Sultanate of Aceh in Sumatra (now part of Indonesia) to the Russian Empire in the late 19th century, as it aspired to become a subject of the Russian Empire. This clearly shows that many Muslims viewed the “Russian Padishah” as a ruler and defender of Muslims. This is exactly how Saint Petersburg tried to position itself in the eyes of Muslims the world over.

The first round of rapprochement with the Islamic world that marked the beginning of modern Russia’s pivot to the East, that far very cautious, occurred in the midst of the Second Chechen Campaign, when Moscow could convince the Islamic world that it was not opposed to it, being its integral part instead. This has laid a solid foundation for a mutually beneficial partnership, during the Special Military Operation (SMO) and the final consolidation of the pivot to the East in Russia’s foreign policy as one of the top priorities.

Russia and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – 20 years together

October 2023 marked, in fact, the 20-year milestone since the famous speech of President Vladimir Putin at the 10th Meeting of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now the Organization of Islamic Cooperation—OIC). At that point, the Russian leader stated: “We know that the overwhelming majority of the OIC member states supported our initiative to develop relations with the OIC. And we see this as not just a gesture, but a far-sighted and strategically oriented decision.” The participation of such a high-ranked delegation resulted in the granting of observer member status to Russia on June 30, 2005 at the OIC Foreign Ministers’ Conference in Sana’a. This event helped Moscow cement its own positions in the countries of the Islamic world, diversifying its contacts and relying on its Muslim partners in the current most challenging times.

From that moment, Russia could again be considered part of the Islamic world, as the Russian president, speaking at the OIC meeting and on behalf of Russian Muslims, said the following: “I am convinced that Russia’s participation [in the OIC] will not only complement the bright palette of this Organization; it will add new opportunities to its activity, bringing the weight and voice of the large Russian Muslim community. A community that no longer separates itself from the world community of Muslims and is ready for fruitful participation in its spiritual, cultural and political life.”

It is noteworthy that the strengthening of Russia’s position in the East is taking place in the midst of Western pressure, both then and now. At the time, it was the Chechen issue. Nevertheless, despite attempts by some of the most radical representatives of Islamic circles and local Western lobbyists to dilute the emerging partnership between Moscow and Islamic capitals by leveraging the Chechen issue, Muslim states remained committed to strengthening and developing relations with the Russian Federation, believing that private issues of disagreement should not outweigh the benefits that the Islamic world derives from its rapprochement with the Russian Federation.

The vigorous efforts of Russian Muslim organizations and representatives of the Russian Islamic community at that stage made it possible to change the minds of leading Islamic scholars in their assessment of the situation in the Russian Caucasus. In particular, there was an indicative change in the position of remarkable Islamic figures such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the founding president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. He initially supported the Ichkeria separatists, but during the International Peacemaking Forum “Islam: Religion of Peace and Creation”, held in Grozny in May 2010, in his video address to the participants of that event, Sheikh Al-Qaradawi called on Chechens (those who did not lay down their arms) to keep the peace and consider themselves an integral part of the Russian Federation.

After almost 20 years, our country’s unwavering course of strengthening relations with the states of the Islamic world is bearing fruit, whereas the role of the Muslim community, Muslim regions and Islamic organizations of the Russian Federation in building and upholding those relations has only grown since then.

In the meantime, the position of the countries in the Arab-Muslim world has remained unchanged—they continue to see Moscow as one of the centers in the multipolar world. Yet, the Muslim states have changed themselves, and they are now ready to distance themselves more boldly from certain actions of the Collective West, including those directed against Russia, and to look to Moscow as one of the pillars in building a new architecture of regional security.

The Islamic World as a Priority Area of Russian Foreign Policy

Notably, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is explicitly referred to in Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept 2023 as the “Islamic World” (Section 56 of the document). Without a strong emphasis on the geographical name per se, the document breathes respect for the predominant Muslim population and strong religious traditions in this region; the MENA nations are described as “the states of the friendly Islamic civilization.”

The Islamic focus can also be seen in other recent decisions of the Russian leadership. Thus, the international economic platform in Kazan that had been known as Kazan Summit was transformed into the International Economic Summit Russia—Islamic World: Kazan Summit by the decree of the Russian President and is now supervised by Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Marat Khusnullin. It is intended to become the main platform for economic interaction between Russia and nations of the Islamic world; this is especially important in the context of growing Russian exports, programs to support export potential and cover new markets not only with traditional resources but also with technologies and educational programs. In turn, the Islamic Forum is linked to the Russia—Islamic World Strategic Vision Group, which is led by Governor of the Republic of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov.

Separate mention should also be made of the adoption in July 2023 by the State Duma of the Russian Federation (in the first reading) of a draft law on the pilot implementation of Islamic banking, aimed at creating the necessary conditions for the implementation of partnership financing activities in certain constituent entities of the Russian Federation, with Dagestan, Chechnya, Bashkortostan and Tatarstan participating.

Islamic nations are also offered to strengthen their sovereignty and to become another pole in the multipolar world through the BRICS platform, after the accession of Egypt, Iran, the UAE and Saudi Arabia to BRICS starting on January 1, 2024. Russia strongly supported and facilitated the BRICS enlargement. It is indicative that four of the five new BRICS members (aside from Ethiopia) are Muslim. Undoubtedly, the economic potential of the OIC member states will be extremely useful for strengthening the Eurasian Partnership also through their expected involvement in another integration structure of the new multipolar world—the SCO.

It is quite remarkable that the active foreign policy season for the Russian President in 2023 was crowned by his visits to the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, two centers of power and influence in the MENA region and the Islamic world. The negotiations with the Crown Prince of the Sultanate of Oman and the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran on Russian platforms are also worth mentioning.

In this context, one cannot but pay attention to the fact that Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman are brought together by the Russian North-South project. This initiative that was launched as a Russian-Iranian endeavor is now attracting more and more participants, so in the future it may become a geopolitical project similar to China’s “One Belt, One Road.”

Thus, Russia’s geopolitical pivot to the South, towards the Islamic world and the Middle East, can be institutionalized within the framework of relevant geopolitical projects, whose sustainability should be buttressed by a solid economic platform.

The soft power of Russian Islam

A common feature in Vladimir Putin’s recent meetings with the leaders of Muslim nations was inviting them to the BRICS summit in Kazan. The capital of Tatarstan has already become Russia’s “window” to the Islamic world that turns it into the main hub for Moscow’s interaction with Islamic capitals. It is indicative that Kazan will also host the first BRICS summit in a renewed composition, where 4 out of 5 new members are Muslim nations.

The Chechen Republic is the region through which the networking between Russia and Middle Eastern states is being built. The personality of its head Ramzan Kadyrov, who accompanied Vladimir Putin in his trip to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, undoubtedly plays an important role here. The Chechen leader stayed in Saudi Arabia for at least another 24 hours. On December 6, he visited Mecca to perform the ritual of umrah—the small hajj. On December 7, he met with Saud bin Khalid bin Faisal, deputy governor of the region, in Medina.

A 3D view of Russia’s policy vis-a-vis the Islamic states is also an important task for those Russian regions whose residents and heads are Muslims. The interaction of these constituent entities of the Russian Federation with both the Islamic states and regions is of great importance. Hence Russia’s posturing as an integral part of the Islamic world, rather than some kind of a “foreign element.”

Therefore, close interaction at the top, contacts at the level of governments, heads of state and regions create fertile ground for the development of public diplomacy at all levels and in all manifestations. Religious diplomacy traditionally plays a special part in Russia. It received a new impetus after the Russian president’s speech at the OIC summit in 2003. Since then, the Russian Islamic clergy has risen to a new level of external contacts, close collaboration with other traditional denominations, the state and society.

Given the context of the SMO, such diplomacy is especially relevant and important. A demand for it among Russia’s Islamic partners, who have always shown interest in the Russian Muslim community, is also noteworthy. The implementation of various projects aimed at promoting inter-religious, intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding plays a very special role, consolidating the efforts to protect traditional spiritual and moral values and to fight Islamophobia, including through the OIC.

Besides, since the start of the SMO, there has been a trend for stronger relations between the state and religious Muslim institutions, so the role of the Muslim factor has increased as a whole, which has been reflected in the international activities of Russia’s Islamic bodies.

In particular, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation (DUM RF) and the Council of Muftis of Russia, chaired by Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, are both engaged in a wide range of international activities, building fruitful and mutually beneficial relations with partners in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South-East Asia, and Muslim communities around the world.

The Quran recitation competition held in the Russian capital puts Moscow on a par with other centers of Islamic civilization—Istanbul, Rabat, Algeria, Tunisia, Cairo—where this competition is also held at the state level. World-class reciters, winners of national competitions, reciters from royal courts and the largest mosques of the Islamic world come to Moscow for several days to present skillful recitation of the Quran. The International Quran recitation competition was held under the auspices of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, Chairman of the World Islamic League Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Al Isa, and on several occasions the UAE leaders became the main partners of the event.

The International Exhibition “Traditions of Islam in Russia”—organized under the auspices of the DUM of the Russian Federation in partnership with the Foreign Ministry of Russia, Rossotrudnichestvo and the Strategic Vision Group “Russia—Islamic World”—tours the Muslim capitals to let their residents get acquainted with the multi-confessional and multi-ethnic Russia. These countries include Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE.

In December 2023, the 19th International Muslim Forum was held in the Moscow Cathedral Mosque under the auspices of Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, Chairman of the DUM of the Russian Federation, which once again brought together prominent public, political and religious leaders, including Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt His Eminence Dr. Shawki Allam, Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs Youcef Belmehdi, Chairman of The World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought Ayatollah Hamid Shahriari, Chairman of The World Muslim Communities Council Dr. Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, high-ranking delegations from Qatar, Turkey, Azerbaijan and others.

Muslim leaders at the forum were united in their support for the Kremlin’s positions and efforts to resolve the situation in the Gaza Strip. The global Muslim community highly appreciates the efforts and commends the Russian leadership for its consistent position in restoring the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. From the very beginning of the conflict, Russia’s Muslim community has expressed full solidarity with the global Muslim Ummah in condemning crimes against Palestinian civilians. Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, like Mufti Shawki Allam of Egypt, the Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman Sheikh Ahmad bin Hamad Al-Khalili, and other prominent Islamic spiritual leaders spoke at all possible international platforms about the inadmissibility of war on the entire Palestinian people or their genocide.

Russia’s Muslim community has not stayed aloof from the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the Middle East and is sending humanitarian aid to Gaza insofar as possible. As a matter of fact, the Zakyat Charitable Foundation under the DUM is actively implementing humanitarian projects in the Middle East. Humanitarian Islamic organizations and foundations from other Muslim regions of Russia—from Tatarstan and the Chechen Republic—are also involved in this effort.

Constant meetings held by the leadership of the Russian DUM in the Moscow Cathedral Mosque also contribute to bringing Russia’s position to the Muslim public. Many delegations from the Arab-Muslim world, including the political leaders of Islamic nations, visit the Cathedral Mosque whenever they come to Moscow, to meet and talk with the spiritual leader.

In 2023, the Spiritual Administration signed several documents on the development of cooperation with a number of Muslim nations—UAE, Algeria, Syria—at the ministerial level, which, according to the parties, will contribute to the development of broad contacts in scientific, educational, cultural and other spheres. It is important that almost every Muslim member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation maintains contacts and implements certain joints projects with Muslims of Russia. This is undoubtedly a great work that bears fruit. It is important to note that virtually no remarkable Muslim event in the world takes place without the participation of Russian Muslims, which is particularly significant under the current circumstances.

In the meantime, it is necessary to deepen the knowledge of each other within the cooperation framework. This is impossible without popularizing the history, traditions, religious values, humanitarian and social exchange, literature, and people-to-people diplomacy between Russia and Muslim states. The Russian Federation is well aware of this priority and does a lot to make its partners from Muslim countries feel as comfortable as possible. Thus, a public garden and a bust of the Algerian national hero, Emir Abdelkader al-Qadir al-Jazairi, were inaugurated in the heart of Moscow prior to the arrival of Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.


(votes: 5, rating: 5)
 (5 votes)

Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
For business
For researchers
For students