Russia’s Relationships with the Muslim World

Foreign Policy Brief #134 | By: Avery Roe | October 5, 2021

Header photo taken from: The Moscow Times




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Photo taken from: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation

Policy Summary

As President Biden is reinventing American foreign policy, particularly with regards to the Muslim world, Russia has been able to further establish itself as a viable alternative for those unhappy with President Biden’s plans and stances. Russia has befriended the Taliban, particularly after their takeover of Afghanistan. Despite being on Russia’s list of terrorist and banned organizations since 2003, the Taliban has been going to Moscow for talks since 2018 and maintained friendly relations in the aftermath of the takeover. Recently the Russian state news agency has replaced the term “terrorist” with the term “radical” in its reports on the Taliban signifying Russia’s desire to work together with the Taliban, largely with the goal of regional stability in mind.

On August 24th at the International Military-Technical Forum in Moscow Russia and Saudi Arabia signed a military cooperation agreement. While the specific terms of the agreement remain unclear, the goal is to develop “joint military cooperation between the two countries” according to Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman. Given the traditionally close military ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia, this is being seen as a clear sign that the Saudis do not feel that they can fully rely on the United States, and they are willing to turn to Moscow for the support they need.

After recent talks between President Erdogan of Turkey and President Biden did not go well, Erdogan was open regarding his plans to form a closer relationship with Russia. That began last Wednesday with in-person talks between Putin and Erdogan regarding the situation in Syria. Neither party has made a detailed statement but both have indicated that the talks went well. Ties between the United States and Turkey have been tense for several years, especially in the aftermath of Turkey purchasing a Russian missile defense system two years ago. While Russia is the largest ally of the Syrian government and Turkey supports groups that have tried to unseat President Assad, troops from both sides have cooperated regarding rebel forces and in seeking a political solution.

Policy Analysis

The rest of the world continues to react to the Biden Administration’s redefining of American foreign policy in the aftermath of the Trump Administration. After such a high-profile blunder in Afghanistan, most of the Muslim world is looking to redefine how things will look moving forward, and Russia has successfully established itself as an alternative powerful ally for those who are unhappy with the United States.

The Biden Administration’s choices will inevitably alienate some while drawing others closer. The next big decision that the administration will need to make is if it is ok with the countries that they are distancing from and the exchange of who they are drawing closer to.

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Photo taken from: The BBC

With the mistakes being made in Afghanistan the Administration risks alienating most of the Muslim world as countries such as Russia capitalize on the errors. While the United States needs to relate to countries on its own terms and with its own values, it is vital to maintain a relationship with the Muslim countries that have turned to Russia. Maintaining relationships with a wide variety of countries and cultures will allow the United States to maintain its security and power on the world stage.

Engagement Resources​

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  • Syrian American Medical Society is a medical relief organization working on the front lines of crisis relief in Syria.
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