Fear of Muslims Drives Russian Opposition to War

The Washington Post headlines this story “Russia’s Putin Calls Iraq War A ‘Mistake’,” but the subtitle is more revealing: “Moscow Wary of Unrest Among Muslim Population.” In my opinion, both Russia’s and France’s opposition to the Iraq war is fueled less by craven self-interest–although that is surely a factor–than by fear of their own Muslim populations. The Post says: “Russian officials have expressed concern that a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq could trigger unrest among Russia’s Muslims, who make up more than 13 percent of the population.” The comments by Vladimir Putin quoted by the Post took place at a meeting with Russian Muslim leaders which concerned, among other things, “an upcoming referendum in Russia’s predominantly Muslim breakaway republic of Chechnya.” The chief thorn in the side of the old U.S.S.R. was its Muslim minority, and the problem has been inherited by Russia even though several predominantly Muslim areas of the U.S.S.R. have now formed their own states. At the most basic level, France and Russia have both opposed America’s determination to topple Saddam because they perceived such opposition as an easy way to appease their Muslim minorities, of which they are frightened. An understandable, but hardly noble, motive.