Despite a rhetoric of cooperation, Russia might constitute more of an impediment than a partner in the fight against Islamist terrorism and the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Igor Khrestin and John Elliott, Russian Studies researchers at the American Enterprise Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations respectively, argue that by placating Islamist regimes, Moscow hopes to avoid interference from Muslim countries in its approach to Chechnya.
Accordingly, during the Danish cartoon crisis Russian leaders—not the broad populace—severely condemned the Danish newspaper and even shut down a Russian magazine that printed the drawings. In a similar political vein, Russia has asked to join the Organization of the Islamic Conference and was granted observer status even though its Muslim population is statistically negligible. Russia has not officially listed Hamas and Hizbollah as terrorist groups and, in 2006, even invited a delegation of Hamas leaders to Moscow. Israel, an important economic partner for Russia, is eyeing these developments with concern.
While the Chechen conflict is paramount for shaping Russian foreign policy, business incentives also play a role in the new agenda. Russia has forged lucrative deals with oil-rich Iran, including arms sales and nuclear trade. These transactions run in opposition to U.S. and EU attempts to pressure Iran.
U.S. and Russian security cooperation had initially increased after 9/11, as both countries promoted a common anti-terrorist agenda. Failure to successfully eradicate Chechen terorrism at home, however, has led Russia to change its foreign policy tactics. Whether Moscow’s new strategy will prove successful remains to be seen.