THE ISLAMIC FACTOR AND UKRAINE’S STRATEGIC INTERESTS
Viacheslav Shved, Ph.D. (Hist.), sector head, National Institute of Strategic Research (Kiev, Ukraine)
One of the urgent problems the republic must resolve while carrying out its strategic goals is the growing influence of the following factors on its domestic life and foreign policy: of the Islamic factor, of the complex and tempestuous world of the Muslim civilization, and of the universal Islamic community (umma) with its major religious and moral principles and values, lifestyle, and socioeconomic, geopolitical, and political-legal demands and challenges.
Ukraine is located at the crossroads of two worlds between the Christian West and the Muslim East, and at the epicenter of the Great Silk Road, which has connected these worlds since ancient times. Due to Ukraine’s geopolitical position, it has developed close and rather deep-seated relations with these two worlds. Diverse and unequivocal pages have been “written” during the history of these relations. There was the expansionist thrust of the Ottoman Empire, but there was also significant assistance from the Crimean Khanate during the liberation struggle of our people in 1648-1654.
A new stage in the development of relations with the Islamic world began after Ukraine gained its state independence and made its entry onto the international arena as an equal entity in the historical process. The establishment and activation of the southern vector of its foreign policy expresses the republic’s recognition of its strategic interests in the Near and Middle East, the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and other regions of the Muslim East. The tragic events of 11 September, 2001 in the United States not only did nothing to change this policy, but also confirmed that Ukraine stepped up its activity in the Near and Middle East at an opportune time.
After the September events, Kiev joined the global antiterrorist campaign and took no time in applying all its forces and resources to effectively combating terrorists. At the same time, the republic states that Islam should not become identified with extremist and terrorist forces, and in the future, it intends, as before, to develop relations with Islamic countries, and contribute to establishing peace in the Near East.1 The specific manifestations of this policy are as follows: the post of plenipotentiary representative of Ukraine in the Near and Middle East has been instituted, the Ukrainian delegation headed by the republic’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Anatoli Zlenko made a successful trip to the Persian Gulf states, diplomatic and trade and economic relations with the countries of the Near and Middle East are expanding, and a proposal has been made to hold peace talks in Ukraine between Israel and Palestine. And finally, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s official visit to Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan is an important foreign policy step. According to Viktor Nagaichuk, Ukrainian representative in the Near and Middle East, although our country’s possibilities and resources cannot be compared with the potential of the United States, it still has its specific advantages which are recognized by all sides.
We are not encumbered by a colonial past and do not have geopolitical ambitions in this region, although we have our own interests there. Ukraine maintains good, well-balanced relations with both Israel and the Arab countries and is recognized by them as an equal partner with a genuine desire to help. All of this is creating a propitious background for our state to make a significant contribution to achieving peace in the Near East.2 This is confirmed by the development of the political dialog between Ukraine and the countries of the Near and Middle East, as well as the augmented role it is playing in the search for an optimal model for untying the Near East knot.
Our republic’s foreign policy regarding the Near East is becoming an important component of its European integration policy. This is convincingly shown by the documents and reports presented at the European Union-Ukraine summit held at the beginning of July 2002 in Copenhagen. The joint statement by President Leonid Kuchma and the leaders of the European Union, which in particular gave an assessment of the situation in the Near East, defines the general standpoint of both sides. It is emphasized that forceful methods for resolving the conflict are impermissible. The sides called on all interested states to draw up a comprehensive political solution based on the principles of the Madrid Convention of 1991, Resolutions 242 and 338 of the U.N. Security Council, and the formula “land in exchange for peace.” The need was emphasized for a peaceful solution to the conflict in the interests of Israel, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon. In addition, the tasks designated in the speech by U.S. President George Bush on 24 June, 2001 were supported, as well as U.N. Security Council Resolution 1397, which envisages that Israel and Palestine must live side by side within reliable and recognized borders.3
Stepping up Ukraine’s foreign policy activity in the Near and Middle East, as well as in other regions of the Islamic world, is entirely consistent with the country’s long-term economic interests and promotes the implementation of its strategy aimed at economic growth and integration into the European community. In the economic sphere, intensive cooperation with the states of the Islamic world will help our country to resolve the following tasks.
First, it will present the real possibility of diversifying the import of energy resources, since several countries of the Muslim East, Libya, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan, and others are the largest exporters of oil and gas in the world.
Second, it will ensure Ukraine an active role in forming a new communications system in Eurasia, in particular, international transportation corridors. Thanks to its unique geostrategic potential, our republic is capable of making an impressive contribution to the development of interrelations between East and West as a large transportation junction and part of the infrastructure on which the global world will rely throughout the entire 21st century. Today, Ukraine is already important as a reliable and safe transit country delivering energy to Europe, and with respect to infrastructure assimilation of the natural resource and economic potential of the Near and Middle East, as well as of the Black Sea-Caspian region. In this context, the striving of the country’s leadership to raise cooperation with the states of the Near and Middle East, Central Asia, and Maghrib to a qualitatively new level looks extremely logical.
In addition, cooperation with countries of the Islamic world will open up a sales market for many types of Ukrainian industrial, military-technical, and agricultural production, create conditions for attracting significant investments to the republic under extremely advantageous and essentially unique circumstances, and promote an increase in assistance from states and international organizations of the Muslim East, which should be directed toward resolving many tasks aimed at helping the Crimean Tatar people to adapt and integrate into Ukrainian society.
It should be noted that Ukraine’s access to the promising markets of the Near and Middle East, as well as to other strategically important regions of the Islamic world, will help the country to become stronger and compensate for the losses we have borne recently on the markets of Western and Central Europe and the United States. This will create much better conditions for implementing Ukraine’s European integration policy. What is more, broad prospects are opening up for efficient cooperation with the states of the Islamic East in the humanitarian sphere, in particular, with respect to training national personnel, developing medicine and health protection, exchanging cultural values and achievements, mutual enrichment of spiritual life, and developing a common information space.
The Islamic factor is also of great significance in Ukraine’s development strategy. The Muslim world is present to a great extent in our country and its share is growing. According to various estimates, the number of Muslims currently living in Ukraine amounts to 1.2 to 2 million people (approximately 4% of its population), and 13% in the Crimea. In the near future, our republic will be one of the top five European countries with the largest percentage of Muslims in their population. Ethnically, these are primarily representatives of the Turkic and Farsi- and Caucasian-Iberian linguistic groups (Volga and Crimean Tatars, Bashkirs, Turkmen, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Azeris, Chechens, Daghestanians, Ossetians, Abkhazians, and others), as well as Afghans and Arabs, the number of whom has significantly increased recently. As of 1 January, 2002, 386 communities were registered in the country, and another 30 communities functioned without registration, and five learning institutions are in operation, including two universities at which approximately 440 future Islamic clergymen are studying.4
The republic’s unique ties with the Islamic world are also expressed by the fact that the Crimean Tatars have returned to its territory, to the Crimea, who at one time formed as an ethnic group in Ukraine and, consequently, are its indigenous people. There is hardly one other European country with a significant percentage of Muslims in its population that has this special feature.
Everything mentioned above poses several problems for the state. First, ensuring sociopolitical stability in the Muslim environment, and intercepting attempts by certain internal and external circles to turn the Islamic factor into a destabilizing force in society. Second, a model for integrating the Crimean Tatars into Ukrainian society must be created which would ensure the optimal form of internal self-government for the Crimean Tatars within the framework of the Ukrainian state and promote fulfillment of their political-legal, socioeconomic and spiritual needs, on the one hand, and strengthen ethnic consent and peace on the Crimean Peninsula, on the other. Another task is to make efficient use of the possibilities, connections, and traditions of Ukraine’s Muslims in the market transformations, as well as in strengthening the republic’s foothold in the Islamic East. It should be noted that business in the countries of the Islamic world traditionally operates with the postulates of the Koran in mind and prefers to cooperate with those non-Muslim states in which a significant part of the population is made up of Muslims who have favorable opportunities and conditions for meeting their needs.
The tragic events of 11 September led to a certain increase in anti-Muslim sentiments not only in the United States, but also in many European and other countries. The military campaign conducted by America and its allies in Afghanistan, the new plans for subsequent forceful action by Washington in several Islamic regions, and the situation aggravated to the limit around the Palestinian question are all having a negative impact on the situation in the Muslim world as a whole and on the relations between the states of the Christian West and the Muslim East, in particular. So it stands to reason that the question of retaining sociopolitical stability among the Muslims of Ukraine is extremely urgent. The speeches made by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and other officials, the statements by the leaders of Muslim communities, and the thoughts expressed by well-known public officials and scientists which precisely defined the state’s standpoint on the inadmissibility of identifying Islam with terrorism and on the need for universal cooperation with the Islamic world were of immense positive significance.
In this respect, the work of outstanding Ukrainian scientist Ivan Dziuba entitled Ukraine before the Sphinx of the Future, which presents a profound and comprehensive analysis of the consequences of the 11 September events, aroused an immense public furor. The challenge presented to the world community on Black Tuesday not only requires a resolute fight against terrorism in all its forms. As Ivan Dziuba correctly notes, new mechanisms of cooperation between societies and civilizations released from the one-sidedness of globalization must be created, large-scale world programs to combat poverty and disease must be drawn up, a dialog must be established between the world’s religions on the problems of spiritual values and ethnic prohibitions, the Euro-American civilization is in need of profound self-criticism, and so on.5
Nevertheless, new negative trends have been designated lately which could have a destructive impact on sociopolitical stability in the Muslim environment. For example, during the last elections to the Ukrainian parliament (March 2002) and local self-government structures, some political forces tried to use the bugbear of the “Muslim threat” in the election campaign, which Ukraine must inevitably expect. For example, an association of candidates running for deputy in the Kiev city council called “Kievskaia krepost” (“The Kievan Fortress”) declared its main goal to be preventing an “invasion of Asian refugees” into the republic’s capital. At the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002, the city was inundated with leaflets from this organization which stated that the European Union, NATO, and the International Monetary Fund had supposedly persuaded Ukraine to accept refugees from Central Asia, 50% of whom want to settle in Kiev and the Kiev Region. Kiev residents were provocatively intimidated by statements that “Asians will come and tell the Ukrainians to go off into the deserts of the Near East.”6 Of course, these dirty techniques were also used on the Crimean Peninsula. Certain political forces, primarily the Crimean communists headed by their leader Leonid Grach, also tried to make active use of hackneyed myths about the danger of “Islamic extremism” from the Crimean Tatar movement, and tried with their slogans about Crimea joining Russia to provoke the Crimean Tatars into engaging in mass protest demonstrations.7
Anti-Muslim propaganda is also intensifying in some mass media disseminated in Ukraine. For example, the Russian newspaper Sekretnye materialy XX veka, which is published especially for Ukraine in more than 45,000 copies, published an article with the significant title of “The Koran Says—Kill! Dark Light of the Crescent Moon.” It interprets Islam as the “most aggressive of all the existing monotheist religions” and reduces the entire contents of the Koran to propagandizing the mass destruction of infidels. The history of the Muslim civilization itself is presented as the atrocious ongoing persecution by Muslims of the followers of other religions.8 The publications Stolichnye novosti and Stolichka, which are controlled by the chairman of the All-Ukraine Jewish Congress Vadim Rabinovich, have unleashed a particularly active anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian propaganda campaign. It is characteristic that this long-term information campaign reached its peak while preparations were being made for our president’s official visit to Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan and continued while this trip was going on, which threatened to thwart this important foreign policy undertaking. In addition, such publications could cause a spread in Israeli-Palestinian opposition in Ukraine. And this particularly jeopardizes the preservation of peace between confessions and nationalities in the republic.
Recently, the struggle for preeminence and a monopoly influence on believers has become aggravated among several main Muslim centers and groups. After the events of 11 September, most Muslims became increasingly dissatisfied with the fact that foreign Islamic centers are trying to establish control over the spiritual life of the country’s Muslim community. For example, the statement of the Fourth Kurultai of the Crimean Tatar people “On Reviving the Religious Life of the Crimean Tatars and Retaining Religious Tolerance in the Crimea” indicates that the Crimean Tatar community condemns the attempts by foreign missionaries to revise Islam in that form in which it has been preached in the Crimea for centuries, and make people reject their national traditions and review their spiritual values.9 The Muslims are extremely concerned about the fact that foreign missionaries and preachers who come to Ukraine on the invitation of corresponding Muslim religious organizations frequently transfer the problems occurring in relations between the religious structures of their countries onto Ukrainian ground. And this is leading to an aggravation of relations between the religious communities of our countries. This has given rise to the desire to create another Muslim center—the Supreme Coordination Center of Spiritual and Muslim Communities of Ukraine, which is to be headed by a citizen of the republic, a representative of so-called “soft” Islam or European Islam.
In this way, a strategy must be drawn up which is consistent with Ukraine’s national interests in light of the growing influence of the Islamic factor on the country’s domestic life and foreign policy. This is an essentially new problem for our state. And today, when the foundation of this political policy is being laid, it is very important not to allow mistakes, particularly those which have already been made by several states in recent years, carefully study the best experience of integrating the Muslim population into society accumulated by several West European countries and the Russian Federation, and erect a reliable obstacle to Islamic extremism. Particular attention must also be paid to forming efficient mechanisms for implementing the republic’s strategic interests in the states of the Near and Middle East, the Persian Gulf, Maghrib, Central and South Asia, and so on.
In this question, the state power agencies should learn to base their considerations on Ukraine’s precisely designated national interests, form a pro-Ukrainian policy toward the Islamic factor in general, and stop the republic and its state structures from turning into obedient executors of geostrategic and geo-economic goals of other countries against their own interests. The bitter, but edifying experience of the Bushehr contract, the consequences of the recent anti-Ukrainian operation Kolchuga, as well as the furor around the article in the British newspaper Financial Times on arms deliveries to Iraq convincingly show that when entering the Near Eastern, Central and South Asian expanses, Ukraine must be ready to overcome the resistance of influential geopolitical and geo-economic players, and be able to balance forces on the field of world and region centers, as well as staunchly defend its interests.
It is also important to ensure reliable coordination of the domestic and foreign aspects of policy regarding the Islamic factor. Consistent policy to ensure the rights and needs of the country’s Muslim community will help to raise Ukraine’s authority in the states of the Islamic East and create optimal conditions both for carrying out its tasks in this region, and in implementing a strategic policy aimed at integration into European structures.
1 See: L. Kuchma, “Building the State Together,” Pravitelstvenny kurer, 20 December, 2001 (in Ukrainian).
2 See: “Kiev ne vedet dvoinoi igry na Blizhnev Vostoke, zaveriaet Viktor Nagaichuk,”, Den, 18 December, 2001.
3 See: European Union-Ukraine Summit / Joint Statement by A. Fogh Rassmussen, President of the European Council, assisted by J. Solana, Secretary General of the Council / High Representative for EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, and R. Prodi, President of the Commission of the European Communities and L. Kuchma, President of Ukraine [www.kuchma.gov.ua/main/?zauva-1].
4 See: “In the State Committee for Religious Affairs. Ukraine’s religious organizations as of 1 January, 2002,” Chelovek i mir, No. 1, 2002, p. 37 (in Ukrainian).
5 See: I. Dziuba, Ukraine before the Sphinx of the Future, KM Akademia Publishers, Kiev, 2001, p. 6 (in Ukrainian).
6 Ukraine and the Islamic Radical Movement, or What the Ordinary Ukrainian Should Know about the Wahhabis [Kievport.com.ua.] (in Ukrainian).
7 See: Grach vykhodit na tropu voiny, ili Krym mozhet povtorit’ sud’bu Kosovo. Oleg Mitrofanov dlia Part.org.ua, 28 February, 2002 [www.part.org].
8 See: E. Matros, “Koran govorit—ubei! Cherniy svet polumesiatsa,” Sekretnye materialy XX veka, No. 2, 2002.
9 See: Statement of the Fourth Kurultai of the Crimean Tatar People of 10 November, 2001, Crimean Studios Information Bulletin, No. 5, 2001, p. 21 (in Ukrainian).