The Radicals are Firmly Entrenched
The Muslim radical infiltration of the Volga region of central Russia started in the early 1990s. The withering away of Soviet institutions left a vacuum exploited by a flood of foreign Islamic “charities” and foundations. Their penetration was facilitated by the opening of Arab diplomatic missions in Moscow.
Most notably, in September 1990, Saudi Arabia established a diplomatic mission in Moscow for the first time since 1938. Its Islamic Affairs department, supported by the World Islamic League, was one of the main conduits for nurturing subversive Islamic elements in the Russian Federation.
It placed emphasis on spreading the austere national Saudi Wahhabi creed and building an all-Russian Wahhabi movement.
Riyadh was ably assisted by such allies as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Pakistan.
Saudi “charitable” organizations established ties with practically all prominent Muslim leaders in the FSU, pledging hefty funding for rebuilding the mosques and schools suppressed under Soviet rulers.
In 1991-1992, Saudi agents were actively involved in the so-called “nationalist movements” in many of the regions of Russia, including Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. They were instrumental in orchestrating the split in the TsDUM (Central Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Russia and the European part of the FSU) and playing favorites among Muslim clerics vying for top posts on the regional religious boards.
In this way, many regions of Russia came under dual clerical government: some remaining loyal to the TsDUM; others defecting to the newly formed regional boards.
In early 1990, the Moscow Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin established a direct relationship with the Saudi embassy in Moscow.
Dream of Arabstan on the Volga
After pocketing large sums of Saudi cash, Gaynutdin embraced the Wahhabist creed. He arranged for several hundred children between 12 and 16 years of age to be sent to the Islamic schools in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait. Islamic colleges staffed with teachers from Saudi Arabia were set up in practically every large Russian community which followed Gaynutdin.
He publicly named the foundations that financed and still finance CMR projects: The Russian Foundation Ibrahim Bin Abdulaziz Al Ibrahim; the International Humanitarian Appeal; the Commission on Scientific Elements in the Koran and the Sunna; the Islamic Agency for Relief and Rescue; Islamic Relief; World Islamic League; the Global Assembly of Islamic Youth; and the Asian Muslim Committee.
Finally, the International Islamic Rescue Organization (Al-Qawsar) was founded for the express purpose of setting up in the Volga and Ural regions the independent state of
Arabstan aligned with Saudi Arabia.
Gaynutdin and the Saudis further imported to Russia a long roster of the most violent Muslim terrorist groups. They included –
The Muslim Brotherhood (under the aegis of the Kuwaiti charitable “Society for Social Reform”, or SSR)
The Islamic Appeal Committee (Daava Islamiya)
Al-Igasa (closely coordinating its Russian work with Daava Islamiya),
The Russian Muslim Committee (sponsored by the Islamic Labban Foundation),
Palestinian Hamas (for areas heavily populated with Muslims)
Charitable Foundation Al Harramein,
The Pakistani Lashkar Toyba
The Benevolent International Foundation (BIF),
Jamaat Ihya At-Turas Al-Islami,
The foundations and organizations directly or indirectly connected to Saudi Arabia were among the most active.
Among prominent personalities with whom the Saudis forged strong ties is Geydar Jemal, the leading advocate of the foundation of a Caliphate in Russia, whose ideas deeply influenced the authors of the Russian Islam Project (as described in the first article in this series.)
Another figure that has enjoyed close and long-standing ties with the Saudis is Abdul-Wahed Niyazov (b. Vadim Medvedev, a Russian convert to Islam). He used Saudi money to organize a Moscow Islamic Cultural Center, then traveled all over the Islamic world establishing contacts with such fundamentalist organizations as the Refakh [political] party (Turkey), Islamic Movement (Yemen), Islamic Revival Party (Algeria), and Jamaat Polami (Pakistan).
Promoting a Worldwide Caliphate
It is worth noting that at the very moment that the Russian Islam Project was being developed in the 2000s, Niyazov tried to set up an official Islamist political party. He met stiff resistance from the Russian Orthodox Church and the government, but came out of the battle with a compromise: in May 2002, the Eurasian Party of Russia (EPR) was established in Moscow under Niyazov’s leadership.
Geydar Jemal’s son, Orchan Jemal, became the press secretary of the party.
In the words of a party congress participant: “The Islamic ideology of the Eurasian Party of Russia may stop Russia dissolving in immorality… We must give special attention to our young people so that in the future Russia will be in the hands of a generation of true owners.”
Here, again, are the thoughts of Geydar Jemal and Sergey Gradirovsky, co-founder of the Islamic Project set up in the Volga Region to block the advance of radical Islam.
At the founding congress of his EPR, Niyazov proposed creating a Vice-Presidency in Russia for a Muslim to represent the federation’s second largest population group of some 20 million. This notion was first bruited by the Center for Strategic Research of the Volga District by the founders of the Russian Islamic Project, Gradirovsky and Maxim Shevchenko. It was no coincidence that both were present at the EPR Congress as guests of honor.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Islamic experts say that the federal government in Moscow, by failing to shut the door to Saudi Islamic foundations and centers in Russia, permitted the encroachment of fundamentalist elements bent on promoting a worldwide Caliphate. The radical Wahhabites thus established themselves in Russia’s European heartland – and not only in Chechnya and the Muslim republics – and are active there up to the present day.
Drugs and Alcohol for the Infidels
Their recruiting agents exploited the transition from the Soviet era to home in on target groups, refugees from the old Soviet elites, the press, army and security forces. They subverted the Orthodox Church, while promoting the Christian fringe sects that proliferated with the disappearance of Soviet restraints. The next stage in their campaign was to disseminate drugs and encourage alcoholism among non-Muslims.
Finally, Saudi agents whipped up and backed nationalist separatist movements in restive regions like Chechnya.
In short, the Muslim radicals made every effort to destabilize federal and local authorities and undermine the country’s social structure, while handing out generous rewards to the new Wahhabite converts. Former communists, deprived of their livelihood by the disappearance of the communist regime often preferred the new faith to starving – especially when treated as guests of honor in Arab capitals and paid handsomely to spread the true religion far and wide.
These candidates for conversion were trained in Wahhabi centers and seminaries in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan, and taught martial arts, tricks of psychological warfare and Arabic.
Upon their return to Russia, the neophytes were sent to open businesses or engage in crime. One of the most profitable pursuits open to them is the drug trade in their territories. As a result, radical Islam has spread across Russia – not only to the North Caucasian Muslim republics and the Volga region, but penetrated the once exclusive Orthodox domains of Western and Central Siberia, northern Russia and parts south of Moscow.
So, by the time Kirienko’s Islamic Project team presented their program in Moscow and introduced it to the Volga region, it was too late. Radical Islamist groups were solidly entrenched.
Iranian penetration vies with the Wahhabist drive
In the Penza district, they have taken over the entire Muslim community and wield a powerful influence in local government.
In Tatarstan and the Saratov and Orenburg districts, they are less powerful but still in control of Muslim institutions.
The Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Povolzhye located in Saratov is now a branch of the Anglo-Pakistani organization Jamaat at-Tablig, based on the al-Afghani doctrine that advocates strangling Russia with an Islamic belt.
The head of the Buguruslan Muftiate (Orenburg oblast) Ismahil Shangareev was a disciple of Sheik ibn-Bossa, long an arbiter of Saudi religious policy.
In Mordovia, Udmurtia, and Bashkiria the extremists achieved strong positions.
The Volga region has also been targeted by alternative radical Islamic structures, all violently anti-government.
One is led by Ayub Astrakhansky (A. Omarov), who belongs to the same Chechen group as Khattab, Shamil Basayev and Osama bin Laden‘s al Qaeda.
One of the most dangerous centers of Wahhabite terrorism today is Astrakhan, a mainly Russian city situated at the mouth of the Volga River on the Caspian Sea.
In conclusion, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Russian sources are of one mind: the Islamic Project has done nothing to contain the spread of religious extremism in the Volga region. Indeed, its architects are showing their true radical colors. Under cover of the project, underground cells are allowed to proliferate, converging increasingly with the drug trade and local crime gangs. Russians in rundown areas are easily tempted to convert to Islam, unchecked by any counter-force.
A federal official Oleg Klochenok was recently granted a local government subsidy to make a Soviet-style propaganda film Russians in Islam portraying the happiness of converts to Wahhabism in Karelia.
Anti-Semites in the Volga region now use the Arabic term for Jews, the Zionist enemy.
But what most troubles Kremlin watchers in the Bush administration is Vladimir Putin’s choice of a top team with a radical Muslim orientation to handle one of the most sensitive issues confronting Washington today – Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations.
By promoting Kirienko and his Muslim advisers, the Russian president appears to be telling Washington that his sympathies lie with Tehran rather than with the West. They ask where Putin is going from here. He too is in possession of credible intelligence reporting a strong Iranian Shiite penetration of the same Volga region as the Saudi Wahhabists.
Volga Fact box
The longest river in Europe, the Volga rises northwest of Moscow and flows 3,700 km to the southeast, emptying in the Caspian Sea near Astrakhan. An economically and culturally important waterway, the Volga River and its tributaries occupy a watershed area of 1,450,000 sq. km – 40% of European Russia. Half of Russia’s farmers and more than half its industry are situated in the Volga region, known as Povolzhye. In the national consciousness, this river, called Mother Volga, is perceived as the country’s lifeblood. It figures in many stories and songs as the quintessence of historic Russia.
It is also situated in the heart of the country, along a line of a potential rift that could break Russia apart into European and Asian segments.