Russian president Vladimir Putin got more than he bargained for during his first-ever trip to Malaysia on August 5, as part of his effort to increase the sales of Russian arms in this part of the world. Putin’s hosts not only agreed to purchase US$900 million-worth of fighter aircraft from Russia, but also praised the Russian state’s terrorism in Chechnya.
"We consider Chechnya an internal matter of Russia. We are very happy they have conducted the referendum and they are going to hold presidential elections in October," said Malaysian foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar, adding that the Malaysian government considers Chechnya "part of the Federation of Russia", and that the Russians had "done everything possible" to bring peace to the region.
Last year prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said that Russia and Israel were guilty of state terrorism. "Russia ... is a terrorist state as it has killed thousands of Chechens," he was quoted as saying on January 29 last year when calling for a new definition of terrorism which includes state terrorism. Now panicky Malaysia is forced into a state of denial after reports that the family of Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov lives in Kuala Lumpur with his son, having established a business or business links in the country. The Russian media, however, could not help linking his son’s business activities with ‘terrorism’, claiming that his profits are used to fund ‘guerrillas’ in Chechnya and hinting that Putin should ask Malaysia to curb his activities.
The Malaysian government was clearly in a dilemma, especially now that the outgoing prime minister would like to retire basking in the glory of being the "spokesman of the Muslim world" and a "critic of western domination". Mahathir’s government could not afford any cancellation of arms-purchases from Russia, should the latter be angered by any support for the Chechens. On the other hand, the next summit of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) is due in Kuala Lumpur this October, and the Malaysian government does not want to miss any opportunity to display its "Islamicity" on issues such as Iraq, Chechnya and Afghanistan.
Thus the local media downplayed the possible presence of Maskhadov’s family, and instead pointed out that Putin is the third leader from major European powers that were opposed to the Anglo-American attack on Iraq to have traveled to Malaysia in recent months. The other two were German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French president Jacques Chirac.
Putin’s visit was spurred by American pressure on Russia to halt its sales of arms and nuclear technology to Iran, forcing it to concentrate instead on the East Asian market, where several countries are in a silent arms-race because of many unresolved tensions and disputes. Putin cannot afford to be seen as anti-American by going to Iran, which is one of Russia’s largest buyers.
"Russia wants to get a piece of the high technology market, but the West doesn’t let us," said Moscow-based Viktor Kremenyuk. "They have chased us out of Eastern Europe and out of Iraq." Cash-strapped Russia has little or nothing else to offer and must resort to reviving its once-lucrative arms market. Last year alone it sold a record US$4.8 billion-worth of arms, to help fund its genocidal operations in Chechnya, whose mujahideen are humiliating the Russian army by their guerrilla tactics.
During his visit to Malaysia – the first by a Russian president –Putin managed to secure a contract to supply 18 Sukhoi warplanes. It is the second largest arms-purchase by Kuala Lumpur; last year it bought US$972 million-worth of submarines from France, in addition to British and Polish missiles and tanks whose total price came to more than half a billion dollars.
Russia’s attempt to subjugate the Muslims in Chechnya began five centuries ago when the northern Caucasus was on the southern edge of the expanding Russian empire. Thus the conflict has always been a war of independence, and continues so to this day. This aspect is either ignored by Muslim governments or downplayed to accommodate their "strategic alliances" with Moscow. The Iranian foreign minister’s remarks not long ago about Chechnya drew criticisms from Muslims, especially when many would like to see a stronger line coming from Iran than from anyone else.
Islamic Iran has a duty at least to ensure that it will in no way contribute to Moscow’s state terrorism, by finding alternative suppliers of arms, such as North Korea. At the moment it is not doing so. Such paucity of vision and understanding is very disappointing in the first Islamic State of the modern era, especially as it is supposed to be guided, if not led, by its ulama.
It is very unfortunate that the bulk of Moscow’s finance is coming from Muslim governments, Iran and Malaysia being Russia’s best customers. They provide the much-needed finance for Moscow to carry on deploying its war-machines against the Chechen Muslims.