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Yevgeny Primakov: the outcome of the confrontation between moderate Islamists and radicals will affect the future of not only Middle East but also the rest of the world
Material posted: Publication date: 08-08-2012

For many months the world's attention riveted on the violent events that occur in the middle East. What are the roots and causes of the protests of the Arab spring that led to fundamental changes in a number of countries?

What awaits this strategically important region tomorrow? About this and many other browser "RG" talks with one of the most respected experts in the Arab world by academician Yevgeny Primakov.

Mr. Primakov, if you don't mind, let's first talk about Syria. A few days ago, I was at the Turkish-Syrian border, chatted with people from the armed opposition. In addition, I still have reliable sources after a recent trip to Damascus. Apparently, the situation is becoming more alarming. In the capital the first signs of panic, what was another three or four months ago. How would you comment on this?

Yevgeny Primakov: Syria is In a full-scale civil war, and with the participation of external forces. Versus mode together with by the Syrians themselves are fighting all sorts of mercenaries and volunteers from other countries. Here's the latest news: President Obama gave a direct command to the CIA to support the Syrian opposition.

And this is blatant interference in the internal Affairs of a sovereign nation that in no way threatens neither the United States nor anyone else. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding militants. Turkey provides them with active support.

Is, I repeat, a full-scale civil war with all its horrors afflicting the civilian population.

Russia continues to occupy a consistent position on the Syrian issue. Personally I think it is absolutely fair, and even moral. Working in Syria, I own eyes saw, what the current government are the millions of supporters that any external interference in the internal Affairs of this state threatens with escalation of violence and new victims. But, alas, all that is happening shows that politics and morality are incompatible things. Is that so?

Evgeny Primakov: I think that Russia's position, which in this situation can be called the only correct. If I now led the government or was on a post of the Minister of foreign Affairs, we would support that line, which is now being implemented. Yes, this is not necessarily a winning position. I am very impressed that we do not put in the forefront any ways to benefit from the conflict. But we have an ethical approach based on concern for the lives and security of millions of people, concern for the future stability of a huge and important region. And this is the only possible approach in this situation. And what the result is, again, unknown. No one knows if we will be able to seek justice.

This position is heavy in the sense that we spoil relations with several Arab countries.

Now all wondering what to expect if the regime of Bashar al-Assad will not stand. The disintegration of the country? Civil war? Bloody terror against supporters of the current President?

Yevgeny Primakov: Why a significant portion of member States of the Arab League supports the Syrian opposition? They do not want the victory of Assad, believing that this will create conditions for the formation of a Shiite belt - Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon. In Lebanon, the Shiite population is growing faster than the rest. Hizbullah is a Shiite organization. Syrian alawites are also very close to Shiites. In Iraq at the helm of the Central authority after the us got Shiite power. Arab countries fear that, in their actions, undoubtedly, there is a Sunni emphasis.

If the armed opposition will be able to unseat Assad, in Damascus wants to adopt Sunni regime, which will automatically lead to persecution against the Alawis, who make up a significant part of the population. Repression would be not only activists of the ruling Baath party, as some think, but all who do not share the religious beliefs of the opposition. Why is al-Qaeda involved in the fighting on the side of the opponents of the regime? Because al-Qaeda is also a Sunni organization.

All the talk about the fact that the West is supporting the opposition in Syria wants democracy and stability, is absolutely untenable. There will be neither stability nor democracy.

The war in Syria was a continuation of what is now called the "Arab spring". Tell me, for you as an Arabist, became the unexpected all these revolutions?

Yevgeny Primakov: Yes, it was a complete surprise. And not just for me but for all: for Americans, for Europeans, to the Arabs themselves... speaking out against the authoritarian regime in one country was possible. Coup somewhere could be expected. But that's it - wave swept across the region, no one could have imagined.

At the time, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser lived with the dream of Arab unity, did much in this direction. Then, especially after his death, prevailed country-nationalism...

Maybe the fragmentation was affected by the oil factor? Appeared super-rich country, and they have their vision of the world. But I have to say that the Islamic world is not a monolith, but a mosaic.

Yevgeny Primakov: Possible this factor. You can talk about the traditions and antitrade. For example, the literary language of all General and historical roots are the same not all. As for your comment about mosaic... She's is usually multi-colored, and it still rocks the same color.

With regard to the scale of the protest wave, it was unexpected mainly because they underestimated the power of modern communications, particularly the Internet. This was particularly true for Egypt, where social networks instantly rallied the youth brought to the streets millions of demonstrators. Egypt, "contracted from Tunisia", became the core of the "Arab spring", from there, the wave went on in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain. This scale was, again, unexpected for all.

You can pay attention to the fact that in almost all countries at the helm stood a person actually usurping the power: Gaddafi, Mubarak, Ben Ali... Assad got his powers from his father, who ruled for thirty years. People are tired of dictators, wanted a change.

Yevgeny Primakov: Technical achievements of modernity, especially television, has made it possible for Arabs to compare their lives and life in other countries. I want to emphasize that initially the direct participants of the protest actions were not Islamic organizations. "Muslim brotherhood", a political structure, intensified later. But she is the most organized force in Egypt.

The youth began to protest, because did not see for themselves prospects: unemployment is high, education is expensive, officials are corrupt, democratic freedoms are absent. And the rulers clearly has sat on their thrones. When any person, no matter how great their merits may have been in the past, so long are in power, it always causes irritation.

For many and for me in particular, was a big surprise a total success of the Islamic radicals who seized the commanding heights in Tunisia and Egypt, and obviously democratic way. On the one hand, it appears to be, it should be taken for granted, it is the choice of the people. But on the other... the Radicalization of vast and strategically important region - whether it does not inspire fear?

Yevgeny Primakov: to Argue that the main outcome of these revolutions was the strengthening of positions of radical Islamists, from my point of view it would be wrong. The Egyptian "Muslim brotherhood" is a fairly reasonable organization. Syrian "Brothers" differ from Egyptian, they are more radical.

Now in Egypt the main attention should be paid to how will the relations between the "Muslim brotherhood" and a truly radical Salafis. That is, between the party of "Freedom and justice" (she had to have in the Parliament, which ceased to exist by decision of the constitutional court on cancellation of results of elections, about 50 per cent of seats) and party "Light" (she was almost 30 percent). If these two Islamic forces will merge to some base, although I don't think this probability is high, that can be a very serious problem.

Newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi announced his withdrawal from the organization "Muslim brotherhood" promised to become "father of all Egyptians". His recent statements and actions in the sphere of foreign and internal policy allow us to hope that Egypt will remain a secular state. Salafis categorically in favour of the state, which should be based on Sharia law.

You know, Evgenie Maksimovich, I had in Egypt many meetings with different people, and often heard from them is: you cannot trust the rhetoric of "Brothers" because they, say, are genetically programmed for radicalism. And then it's not national but supranational structure, they always dreamt about some unified political structure for Muslims, like the Caliphate.

Yevgeny Primakov: If your interlocutors were representatives of other parties, it is clear why they said so. These are the rules of political struggle. But the world is changing, and it is very important to be adequate to these changes. I believe that, for example, the Americans behave smarter in relation to those forces that are now in power in Egypt. Trying to find a common language with them. And find. That's right - at least in order to keep the Islamists at reasonable positions.

On the other hand, let's not forget that in Egypt the significant role it continues to play army. Yes, she left in the shadow, its position somewhat shaken, but at the same time, it is corporatism army officers who own substantial sector of the Egyptian economy. It is obvious that the U.S. continues to rely on the generals. They can be guarantors of the conservation of the existing status quo between Egypt and Israel. Egyptian armed forces is still largely dependent on U.S. supplies: each year States give a half billion dollars for their maintenance, and grants.

Do you think these investments are not in vain?

Yevgeny Primakov: Yes. The army leadership is now clearly advocates that all international obligations of Egypt were carried out in the same volume. This is no one talking about the camp David agreement, but while all previous commitments remain in force.

Still, I another. The Taliban in Afghanistan, Salafists in Egypt, the Wahhabis in the North Caucasus... what do you see as the reasons for this growing popularity of extreme Islamic currents?

Evgeny Primakov: I met many times with the king of Saudi Arabia when he was crown Prince, and when he became monarch. He told me about the Wahhabis: this course is completely wrong to associate only with a sharp radicalization of Islam. The main thesis and the main focus of the sermons of Abdul Wahhab, who lived in the XVIII century, was a return to the origins of Islam. The only authority for the Wahhabis is Allah. There are no saints except Allah.

Yes, the Islamic world is heterogeneous, there are those who profess moderate Islam, there are radicals. And, of course, much will depend on how the confrontation between representatives of these currents. Moreover, the outcome of this confrontation will affect not only the future of the Middle East but in the rest of the world.

How do you feel about the version about "the American trace" in the stormy processes of the "Arab spring"? We meet clever men, who insist that if all the events planned over the ocean and is part of a strategy to destabilize the situation in the middle East?

Yevgeny Primakov: This is ridiculous. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak suited the Americans and, incidentally, us too. Washington, by contrast, was at first very alarmed. But then, pretty soon, the Americans decided that there is no way back, need to form their relationship with those new people who will come to replace the previous. First they put on the army, specifically to the former head of military intelligence General Omar Suleiman. But he so very much was related to Mubarak.

Do you think that the demonization of States is a false and dangerous path. To see everything - from the events of the "Arab spring" to the rallies on Bolotnaya square - the hand of Washington, then to close eyes to cause real problems...

Evgeny Primakov: I agree with you. To demonize Americans don't. If they are to blame, that they have little understanding of the real situation. When there was change in Egypt, all ambassadors of the United States from Arab countries are meeting in Washington and Hillary Clinton were criticized the most severely. As you say, all their reports are from the comfort of ambassadorial offices. Your reports is one thing, reality is another.

What about the vaunted intelligence community of States, their giant machine analysts, all their research centres, foundations, universities? They where looked?

Yevgeny Primakov: Information intelligence is often not taken into account by policy-makers. As for analytical geniuses, "over the ocean" with them too not all is well, they are clearly not enough.

What do you think about the prospects of the revolutionary process in the region? Or the "Arab spring" has fizzled?

Evgeny Primakov: I think that in the near future will not be any new revolutionary waves.

Among the many unresolved issues that excite the middle East, there are two particularly explosive are the problems of Kurds and Palestinians. For various reasons, they seem to be "frozen", did not respond to the decision. Maybe now is the time to tackle them?

Yevgeny Primakov: the Kurdish problem I first encountered in the mid 1960s when he was a correspondent of "Pravda". In 1966, commissioned by the editors went to Iraqi Kurdistan, where then only just ended, the fighting between the Kurds and government forces. I was asked to meet with the Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani. By the way, I'll tell you that in the next four years I was the sole Soviet representative, who regularly met with Barzani. So then the question arose, how to get to a secret asylum to the Kurdish leader, which was far away in the mountains. The President of Iraq, whom I interviewed, promised the support of the chief of counterintelligence. Remember that time in Baghdad was a football match between a local and a Soviet team. And I'm probably the only one rooting against her, so I wanted the head of counterintelligence, who was also at the stadium, were in a good mood.

We headed North toward the Kirkuk - a car escorted by an armoured personnel carrier. With me were Sasha Zotov, who later was Ambassador to Syria, and two Iraqi officers. When we on the way we stopped Zotov began telling me a rather dirty joke, and suddenly one of the officers laughed. Once it became clear that he knows Russian, and knows well.

It was a pretty difficult journey. The Kurds kept the armored soldiers, and two Iraqi officers were transplanted to the mules, I had some way to ride on mountain trails. Eventually made it safely to the residence of Barzani and fulfilled his mission.

Now, about solving the Kurdish problem. Remember that Barzani then said, "I want autonomy in Iraq, want to be able to influence Iraqi politics. Here is my two tasks." Millions of Kurds living in neighbouring countries, out of the question. Barzani said: "If I am to insist on the creation of a separate Kurdish state, against me will unite all Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria. Why do I need such complications."

The same thing was said Massoud Barzani, son of Mustafa Barzani, the current President of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, whom I met at his residence in may 2008. The Kurds in Iraq gained its autonomy, but we can't say that solved all the issues. There are disputes with the Arabs on the issue of accession to the autonomy of oil-rich Kirkuk area. In Northern Iraq there are bases of Turkish Kurds-militants who are subjected to regular bombing raids from Turkey.

As indicated in your question of the Palestinian problem, there is need to wait with the forecasts, much will depend on who will be President of the United States. If Barack Obama, I think, possible positive developments.

Judging by the story one of my friends, these difficult trips to the Kurds were not the only one when you really risked your life. He said that in Lebanon your car have fired from machine guns...

Yevgeny Primakov: In 1975 I was given the task: to send a letter from our leadership the former President of Lebanon Camille to Shamoon, whose residence was outside Beirut. There was a civil war. I worked then in Academy of Sciences, was Deputy Director of the Institute of world economy and international relations. The problem was how to get to the Shamoon, because many of the streets were constantly fired to ride on them was dangerous. Eventually went two machines, one I, the other employees of our intelligence. First, we were lucky: it was a short truce, no one was shot. During the meeting with Shamoon that the phone rang, he picked up the phone and immediately turned white. It turns out that in response to the murder of five young Christians, the Phalangists at the port just shot one hundred and sixty-Muslims. It became clear that the fighting in the town here-here will flash with new force. Car support no luck: Robert Martirosyan was severely wounded and Volodya Zaytsev (he later became a Lieutenant General) of the bullets grazed on a tangent.

Last year the U.S. troops left Iraq: "with a proudly raised head and consciousness of the executed debt", as reported to the world American leaders. In the near future they are going to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. Most likely, they will report about the complete victory and brilliant results of his mission. But what awaits Afghanistan after that? The return of the Taliban? A new round of civil war? The disintegration of the country into Tajik-Uzbek North and the Pashtun South?

Evgeny Primakov: I don't think Americans by 2014 will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan. Most likely, there will be a fairly significant contingent. It's not bad.

Afghanistan cannot be left unattended. In the past we have stepped on the same rake, when in the early 1990-ies stopped helping President Najibullah. Kabul then was captured by the Mujahideen began internecine skirmishes, soon the whole country was in chaos, and this benefited the Taliban.

If the Taliban again come to power, it can hit hard and in the former Soviet space. The Taliban will come to the borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where radical Islamic elements.

You can't not to ask: how probable is the scenario, when Israel with the support of the States or without it, will strike on Iranian nuclear facilities?

Yevgeny Primakov: the States don't want that to happen now, before the presidential election. They constrain Israel. But here we must understand that the Israeli government and the US administration different forces exist, there are a number of different positions. It is hard to tell who will prevail.

Remember the conflict in South Ossetia in August 2008. Immediate U.S. policy makers wanted to ensure that Georgia started the war. Condoleezza rice came to Mikheil Saakashvili and directly told him: "don't do that, we ask you". However, the Georgian President came out in those days and on other Americans, in particular, to the Vice-President. And he had the belief that NATO will intervene, will support. Saakashvili thought that I would reach the Roki tunnel, will block it, and then Russia will not be able to move its tanks through the pass. In the meantime, the Americans will intervene.

In the same way the Israelis are. They're not only on Obama. Someone may say: if you hit, the States, even if they don't want, you still will support.

That is, the probability of such a strike remains? And it is dangerous for the entire vast region?

Yevgeny Primakov: it is Very dangerous. Despite the fact that the results of the air strike and ground operation of the question - may be negligible. In two years Iran will completely recover, walked out of the Treaty on the non-proliferation of WMD and it is then just create your weapons of mass destruction.


"In my eyes in the middle East proceeded the events, many of which have spread rumors. And some either do not know or have forgotten. Meanwhile, these events played a major role in the development of the region as he is today: mixed, assorted, complicated, dangerously obstinate, sometimes naive and repeatedly deceived".

(From the book by E. M. Primakov "the middle East on stage and behind the scenes").

Vladimir Snegirev


Tags: Iran , Syria , Libya , Africa

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