Exactly 15 years ago, on June 30, 2005, the Russian Federation acquired a new status and joined the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as an observer country. This process was launched by President of Russia Vladimir Putin in Malaysia in 2003, where he delivered a speech at the OIC summit. At that time, he noted that Muslims were an integral part of the people of Russia, also stressing that inter-religious harmony was one of the strengths of the country, its legacy, wealth and advantage. Two years later the OIC made an important decision for Russia and OIC members, granting the Russian Federation the observer status to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (then – Organization of Islamic Conference) and announcing years of fruitful and close cooperation.
And today, in 2020, in the framework of the online conference “15 Years of Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation” organized with the support of the Strategic Vision Group “Russia – Islamic World”, the participants of the meeting have managed not only to sum up the work done, but also to outline further areas of cooperation and mutually beneficial joint work. Russia acquired the observer status at the 32nd Council of Foreign Ministers Conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Russia promotes convergence of peoples through its foreign policy
According to Ramazan Abdulatipov, Permanent Representative of Russia to the OIC, Russia and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have great potential for cooperation in various areas. He believes that granting the observer status to Russia in 2005 is an important milestone in the restoration of traditional relations between the country and the Islamic world.
“Today we are witnessing a great level of cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Signing of framework agreements between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and OIC General Secretariat stimulated development of political consultations on numerous topical world agenda issues, as well as discussion of further areas of mutually beneficial cooperation. The work to counter the spread of terrorist manifestations and extremist ideology is a separate area. The positive experience of Russia in establishing and strengthening inter-religious dialogue in the country plays a special role here. For our part, we have to use the significant potential for cooperation, including the implementation of the events aimed at establishing an inter-religious and inter-civilizational dialogue”.
According to Abdulatipov, Russia is an authoritative and reliable mediator in resolving many issues that make up the current agenda of world politics. The Strategic Vision Group “Russia – Islamic World”, established on the initiative of MIntimer Shaimiev and Evgeny Primakov, has a special merit in this, and the annual KazanSummit has become an authoritative platform for the cooperation between Russia and the Islamic world.
Abdulatipov’s opinion was supported by Foreign Ministry’s Undersecretary for International Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Abdulrahman bin Ibrahim Al-Rassi. According to him, the goals pursued by all the members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation include consolidating the ties of solidarity between Muslim nations and member countries, counteracting extremism and violence, respecting national sovereignty of all the member countries and developing relations with friendly countries.
“The historical and strategic relations between the states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Russian Federation are manifested in their approaches to many problems, first and foremost the Palestinian problem, countering terrorism and extremism, as well as the spread of Islamophobia. The Russian Federation’s participation in the work of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has served to bring peoples closer together in intellectual, cultural and information fields. Besides, it should be taken into account that there are over 20 million Muslims in Russia who have long lived in conditions of diversity and tolerance”.
Al-Rassi believes that the political, economic and social transformations that the modern world is experiencing encourage continuing working on the issues of cooperation between civilizations and cultures, dissemination of the culture of peace and society values, consolidation of humanitarian cooperation based on respect for human dignity and preservation of the existing social structure in different countries.
In his turn, Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Iliyas Umakhanov emphasized in his speech that the openness of the Muslim world became a positive background for the relations between the OIC and Russia.
“All requests and aspirations of the Muslim world are clear for Russia. This is connected with the fact that Islam is not something alien or introduced to the Russian population, which made it possible to establish a cultural and political bridge between Russia and the Islamic world”.
“Russia and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have a special status of cooperation”
Taking part in the conference dedicated to the 15th anniversary of Russia’s accession to the OIC as an observer country, Konstantin Shuvalov, Special Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation for Cooperation with Organizations of Muslim States, Ambassador-at-Large, drew special attention of the audience to the fact that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation was the only association that had been established on the basis of religious community and at its level ranked second after the UN. According to the speaker, Russia, in its turn, is distinguished by its centuries-long history of close interaction with the Islamic world.
“Our relations with the Muslim world have always had a special character – peaceful coexistence and interaction. Our cooperation is based on inter-civilizational partnership that includes democracy, polycentrism and search for a single solution that can guarantee peace and harmony. The proximity of our positions on inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue also plays its own role here”.
It should be recalled that the Palestinian issue is at the heart of the work of the OIC and the main reason for its emergence. It is the clear position of the Russian Federation on this issue that served as a solid basis for the cooperation between Russia and the OIC. This also includes Russia’s openness in the field of possible options and formats for practical cooperation and the field of countering terrorism and the spread of extremist ideology.
“Separately, I would like to note the successful and high-quality work of the Strategic Vision Group “Russia – Islamic World”, which aims to familiarize the Muslim world with the peculiarities of Russian Muslims and Muslim regions of the Russian Federation. The annual KazanSummit has become a unique platform for the heads of the regions of Russia and representatives of the Muslim world, in the framework of which there has been presented the potential and a number of agreements on further active cooperation have been concluded. We should not forget about the titanic work of Russia’s permanent representatives to the OIC, who work tirelessly to realize the huge potential of cooperation between the Russian Federation and the OIC”.
For its part, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation pays much attention to the cooperation with Russia and hopes looks forward to continued dialogue, as stated by Secretary General of the OIC Yousef Al-Othaimeen. He assured that Russia was an important partner of the Organization and made a significant contribution to the consolidation of regional and international security.
“We value the legal space of Muslims in Russia, who are able to perform their religious rites without any obstacles in the practice of their religion. Islam is an important historical element of the cultural legacy of Russia, where over 20 million Muslims live. In addition to it, the Russian Federation has long borders with many Muslim countries. All this contributes to the development of intellectual potential of both sides and becomes a solid basis for closer and more productive interaction”.
Unfortunately, in recent years the Islamic world has faced a number of difficulties, including terrorism, social and economic upheavals, which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. All these issues are raised through regular consultations at various levels. Secretary General Yousef Al-Othaimeen expressed his hope that the next consultation would be held at the OIC headquarters in Jeddah. For his part, he expressed readiness to support Russia’s initiative to consolidate moderate Islam, which rejects any form of violence.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu: over the past 15 years, there have been qualitative changes in Russia's relations with the Islamic world
Speaking at the video conference "15 years of partnership between the Russian Federation and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation", former Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu noted the importance of the Russian Federation joining the OIC as an observer: "15 years ago, I considered it my duty and was very proud, as the newly elected Secretary-General of the OIC, to be able to help the Russian Federation join this organization. You remember the meeting of Foreign Ministers in Sana'a in 2005, a few months after I began my duties as the ninth Secretary-General of the OIC."
Speaking about the importance of Russia's joining the OIC, Mr. Ihsanoglu said the following: "By joining the family of OIC countries and paying due attention to the Muslim world, the Russian Federation is undoubtedly opening a new page in its relations with the Muslim world. As yesterday, so today, we appreciate the efforts made by the Russian Federation and its government in maintaining good relations with the Muslim world. Such efforts can benefit all parties and, of course, they must be continued. There is no doubt that these efforts will produce appropriate results and contribute to the maintenance of peace and stability, security and prosperity."
“The potential for cooperation between Russia and the OIC has not been fully revealed yet”
According to Deputy Chairman of the Strategic Vision Group “Russia – Islamic World” Farit Mukhametshin, the potential for cooperation between Russia and the OIC has not been fully revealed yet. It is necessary to take the cooperation to a new level, which will help to consolidate the cooperation even more and make it more constructive. And the center of cooperation should become countering modern global threats.
Mukhametshin also read out a greeting on behalf of Rustam Minnikhanov, the President of the Republic of Tatarstan and Chairman of the Strategic Vision Group “Russia – Islamic World”.
“Tatarstan is proud of its contribution to the development of relations between Russian and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Muslim countries are traditional partners of Russia in promoting interfaith and inter-civilizational dialogue. The Russian Federation and the OIC join their efforts to ensure stability and security at regional and international levels. Tatarstan, in its turn, maintains the dialogue both with the OIC headquarters and its structures. The modern world faces a lot of challenges that can be overcome only together. Fulfilling this task will bring the relations between Russia and the OIC to a qualitatively new level”, the Chairman of the Group’s message says.
Speaking about the prospects of the cooperation, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Sergey Kozlov drew attention of the audience to the special role of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in granting Russia the status of observer at the OIC, noting the durability of relations between Moscow and Riyadh. Andrey Baklanov, the Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Association of Russian Diplomats, agreed with the speaker’s words, highlighting the fact that Saudi friends played a key role in supporting Russia’s accession to the OIC as an observer: “During a special meeting, our colleagues from Saudi Arabia convinced the rest of the OIC members of the expediency of accepting Russia”.
In his turn, Assistant to the President of the Republic of Tatarstan and Chairman of the Strategic Vision Group “Russia – Islamic World” Kamil Iskhakov suggested addressing the origins of such a fruitful 15-year work for the benefit of the Muslim community and the world.
According to his words, the importance of this alliance is only growing with each year and moving to a qualitatively new level. This is due, among other things, to the fact that the Islamic World is growing and the interest in it is getting higher, and therefore the attitude to it is transforming as well. In this regard, it is of great importance to use the existing, but not yet realized, potential and direct it to consolidating ties and expanding areas of cooperation.
“In order to get to know Russia, you should go there”
Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, the Chairman of the Word Council of Muslim Communities (the UAE) also highlighted in his speech the historical fact that Islam was not a new element for Russia.
“In order to learn more about the Russian people, I advise everybody to visit Russia. I have learned a number of lessons from my own visits to this country. For instance, in this country everybody is involved in the activities of society, regardless of national and religious affiliation. They also counteract extremism and terrorism together, shoulder to shoulder. They are kind, open and show respect for everyone despite existing cultural or historical differences. More than 8 000 mosques can be found here, with their own unique style. For Russians, Islam is a part of culture, which is very important, especially for the further development of relations between our countries and organizations. We should learn this and promote this kind of thinking in Islamic countries by working together”.
Undoubtedly, the partnership relations between the Russian Federation and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation which are the result of fruitful 15 years of work deserve a separate study and close attention in the context of the development of international relations. This was stated by Director General of IRCICA, International Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture Halit Eren.
Not just coexistence, but also recognition of each other’s specificities and differences, desire for peaceful dialogue aimed at consolidating harmony in the world have been good tools for establishing such strong relationships and further developing them. According to Halit Eren, now it is possible to observe close exchange with the Muslim community of Russia, which is manifested, among other things, in the economic and trade spheres.
As far as a cultural component of any relations is concerned, Director General of IRCICA told his colleagues in more detail about the work being done by the Organization to study the history, culture and art of Islam.
“Over many years of fruitful work both with the OIC and the Russian Federation, as well as the Strategic Vision Group “Russia – Islamic World”, we have managed to organize a great number of mutual visits, hold a number of lectures and scientific conferences and initiate major research projects. We have been taking part in the events organized by the Group – the Aitmatov Readings and the Group’s meetings. In this regard, we are planning to maintain contacts, using the experience we have already gained”.
Video messages from the heads of regions, including the Republic of Bashkortostan Radiy Khabirov, the Republic of Ingushetia Mahmud-Ali Kalimatov, the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania Vyacheslav Bitarov, the Republic of Crimea Sergey Aksenov, as well as the state and political figure of Malaysia, former Prime Minister Mahatkhir Mohammad, were also a part of the conference.
During the online conference there was a presentation of the booklet dedicated to the significant date. According to Farit Mukhametshin, the booklet consists of 120 pages and is more intended for diplomats, public and religious figures who are interested in the origins and achievements of close cooperation between Russia and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In addition, a film was shown to all the participants, telling about the formation of relations between Russia and the OIC, including the peculiarities of the work in this area of the Strategic Vision Group “Russia – Islamic World” and the potential that has yet to be realized in this direction.
It should be recalled that the conference “15 Years of Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation” is organized with the support of the Strategic Vision Group “Russia – Islamic World” and was held online. It was attended by Secretary General of the OIC Yousef Al-Othaimeen, Permanent Representative of Russia to the OIC Ramazan Abdulatipov, Deputy Chairman of the Strategic Vision Group “Russia – Islamic World” Farit Mukhametshin, the Chairman of the Word Council of Muslim Communities Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, Director of the Centre for the Partnership of Civilizations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) Veniamin Popov, Special Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation for Cooperation with Organizations of Muslim States, Ambassador-at-Large Konstantin Shuvalov, Undersecretary for International Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Abdulrahman bin Ibrahim Al-Rassi and others.