BEIRUT, Lebanon – As tension between Islamist militants and Russian security forces in portions of the North Caucasus continues to build, Moscow is making an effort to work with Islamists in Chechnya, which has been the scene of two wars against elements there that sought an independent Islamic state, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Rather than continue fighting with them, Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to turn Chechnya into a propaganda tool to reshape Russia’s image in the Muslim world.
Putin appears to be undertaking this approach in response to calls from Islamists in the region to separate from southern Russia to form their own Caucasus Emirate.
At the same time, Putin has begun policies that tend to be more tolerant of Islamization in the region, using the Russian Republic of Chechnya as a start. One approach is to allow public broadcasting on television and on the Internet of Islamic teaching and prayer.
The intent is to take away from the insurgents who are Salafists their argument that freedom of religion in Russia doesn’t exist.
Separately, Salafists, who are the more radical form of Sunnis backed by Saudi Arabia, have sought to establish a Caucasus Emirate and separate the republics which are predominantly Islamic from the main part of the country of Russia.
In addition to Chechnya, the principal Russian republics that are predominantly Islamic include Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachevo-Cherkessia and North Ossetia.
While Muslims comprise some 14 percent of the entire Russian population, the Russian Orthodox Church is concerned with the prospect that Muslims could become a majority in Russia by 2050.
Nevertheless, Moscow wants the Chechens especially to know that the war between them and Moscow is over. It also wants Muslims in Russia to know that they can develop within the Russian state, according to analysts with the Washington-based think-tank Jamestown Foundation.
“The primary goal of the Kremlin is to use Russian Islam in Chechnya as a bridge to reconnect the outside Islamic world at a time when its image in the Arab world has been severely tarnished by its continued military and political support for the regime in Syria,” according to Mairbek Vatchagaev of the Jamestown Foundation.
But Putin will have to cope with a growing problem by nationalists within Russia as they demand to separate the predominantly Muslim republics from the rest of Russia.
While he backs the nationalists in most respects, analysts say that he will continue to resist calls to separate the Muslim republics from the rest of Russia out of concern that other minorities then will clamor to do the same thing until Russia basically becomes a shell of itself.
Putin also has undertaken a policy initiative since returning to the Russian presidency earlier this year to establish a customs-free union of countries that ultimately will include the now independent Central Asian countries which have secular governments but Muslim population majorities.
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