Vladimir Putin's popularity among Russian Muslims has been slipping of late
Vladimir Putin has been losing his popularity among Muslims during recent months. Muslim women have recently been given the right to wear traditional hijab kerchiefs for their passport photographs. It is rumored that it was President Putin who personally ordered Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov to make a decision in their favor on this issue. However, the incident is gradually being pushed into the background.
One of the leaders of the Russian oil business - the giant company Lukoil - has been deprived of lucrative contracts in Iraq. People had all reasons to believe that the highest authorities were not willing to support large-scale projects. Lukoil is not just an oil company; it is chaired by an ethnic Muslim, Vagit Alekperov (born in the republic of Azerbaijan). He does not go to mosques often, and, most likely, he is a Shiite Muslim, but he is a Russian Muslim in the end. People think that Putin has betrayed Alekperov.
One has to mention Vladimir Putin's manner of communication with VIP guests at the St. Petersburg 300th anniversary celebrations. According to Russian television channels, Putin was so-so with Chirac, the Russian president "did not talk much" to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, he hardly spoke with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and showed the same style of conduct with other presidents and prime ministers. However, when George W. Bush arrived in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin set his emotions free: he personally welcomed the American president, he smiled to Bush all the time and spoke much. To top it all of, Putin said that George W. Bush was his friend.
This might seem to be absolutely fine for a lot of people, but Russian Muslims have a very negative attitude to the American president, especially against the background of the latest events in the Middle East. Muslims will never forgive Bush for the war in Iraq. Russian Muslims comprise a part of the global Muslim society. Therefore, the things that happen in the field of religion and politics will be directly reflected in the sentiments of the faithful. The American president said that Syria was not good for Americans for certain reasons, and Muslims perceived that statement very negatively. Bush believes that terrorists may be hiding in Syria, but a Muslim will never consider another Muslim a terrorist, even if he always carries a Kalashnikov gun in his hands. The situation is the same as far as Iran is concerned. No "Road Map" can make Russian Muslims change their minds.
As soon as George W. Bush left for Egypt's Red Sea resort at Sharm el-Sheikh to take part in a summit with Arab leaders, Russian Muslims started thinking, "hy did Putin did not travel to the Middle East with Bush, taking into consideration that Bush was going to meet Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers in Jordan? Russia has had a strong role in the development of the 'Road Map,'and Putin has had meetings with Arab leaders in the Kremlin. In addition, the Russian president believes that Arab countries have always been potential partners both economically and geopolitically. Since there are 20 million Muslims in Russia, this means that Russia has a lot in common with the Arab world."
One can assume that either Bush gave Putin to understand that Russia could not be a part of the Road Map discussion, or Putin did not want to or could not go. Most likely, there is something else involved as well. Russian Muslims already think that the American president may play a cruel trick on Arab countries if Russia is not in the picture, asking for Syria and Iran in return for the "Road Map." If this really happens, it will mean that Russian authorities do not have any regard for Muslim society at all.
Russian orientalists and religious figures, not to mention Muslim leaders, have of late been trying to make the Kremlin realize that one should develop a special attitude to the Muslim world. The Muslim world is becoming a real political force capable of showing resistance to isolation or inattention. They have been trying to prove that Vladimir Putin has to express his official support for the people of one of Russia's traditional religions.