Thursday, April 11, 2013

al-Akhbar on the Orthodox Dimension of Russian Policy in Lebanon

Read the entire article here.

“Orthodox Revival” in Russia’s Lebanon Policy

 by Nasser Charara


Moscow is averse to Saudi involvement in Lebanon, as well as Saudi attempts to use the country as a staging ground for the armed Syrian opposition. Furthermore, Moscow has qualms about Russian radical Islamic groups using Lebanon as a safe haven to plan acts that undermine Russian national security.

With Chechen Islamic movements fighting in Syria, particularly in the Homs countryside, Russia would like to see Lebanon monitoring these groups more strictly, especially as they have ties with Salafis in north Lebanon. Protecting Christians in the Levant is one of the key themes of Russia’s renewed engagement in Lebanon, especially in the wake of the conflict in Syria. In particular, an Orthodox Christian “dimension” has returned vigorously to Russian policy in the Middle East.
Moscow is keen to express this in a number of ways. For instance, the Russian embassy in Beirut was supposed to be relocated from Corniche al-Mazraa to elsewhere in the capital. However, the decision has since been cancelled. One explanation is that Russia wants to maintain the Orthodox symbolism of its embassy’s premises. The Russian embassy building dates back to the early 20th century, when it was acquired from Russian missionaries.

With the start of WWI, the educational mission was closed, as Russia and the Ottoman Empire, which occupied Beirut at the time, were on opposite sides of the conflict. Today, the Russians are proud of the origins of their diplomatic mission’s building.

The Russians also like to draw attention to the fact that the Russian missionaries, unlike their Western peers, did not seek to gain political influence in Lebanon, but only to contribute to education. For this reason, they say, they only taught in Arabic, rather than in their native Russian.

Naturally, the “Orthodox revival” seen in official Russian discourse on Lebanon has political undertones. Russia wants to emphasize a certain moral aspect in its stances in order to counter, among other things, allegations of opportunism in its attitudes in support of the Syrian regime.


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