Russia’s Islamic outreach became more visible, at least in the Middle East, in 2016, precisely when anti-Muslim sentiments in Western countries appeared on the rise, and Russian trolls and bots were spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric on American political forums.
“Russia is generally investing in the idea that it is not America, it is not against Islam, it is offering a moderate alternative, and their tool in this is Ramzan Kadyrov [head of the Chechen Republic] and the Chechen model,” says a political analyst of Chechen origins. “Chechnya is known … to people in the region.”
On the Arab side, governments are willing to partner with Russia in part because they see value in Kadyrov.
“Ramzan Kadyrov has made it one of his top priorities in recent years to build friendships throughout the Middle East, in particular the Gulf. Kadyrov portrays Chechnya as essentially an independent Islamic state,” says Neil Hauer, a Georgia-based political analyst on Syria, Russia, and the Caucasus. “Kadyrov also offers Arab and Gulf leaders … his experience in crushing a domestic Islamist insurgency.” [Continue reading…]