THE HAGUE, June 28 (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) - On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will attend a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) as a guest.
The OIC countries are expected to decide when Russia will receive observer status in the organization, which comprises more than 50 Muslim countries with an aggregate population of a billion people.
When paying an official visit to Malaysia in August 2003, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was interested in rapprochement with the OIC. The OIC heard the message and invited the Russian leader to attend a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in October the same year. Moscow also signaled its readiness to become an observer in the OIC, but then a difficulty arose. Observer status had never ever been granted to a country that was not seeking to join the organization as an equal member in the future, which meant that the organization's charter would have to be amended.
A special commission to determine a new format of observer status was set up a year ago. Russia was to have attended the OIC tomorrow's meeting in Yemen in its new capacity, but the relevant formalities had not been settled. However, Russian diplomats have repeatedly stated that it is not that important for Russia in what capacity it conducts dialogue with the Muslim world, because constructive dialogue is what matters.
"By maintaining close contacts, we have reached understanding on the Chechnya problem, and closed many financial channels for terrorist organizations active in Russia," diplomats said. Therefore, establishing close relationships with the Muslim world is, above all, an internal policy issue for Russia.
Russia is becoming increasingly engaged in Muslim affairs, which is only natural. In fact, the country is home to about 20 million Muslims, and the Muslim community is developing dynamically. Russia's religious revival was followed by the emergence of Muslims as an independent and influential political force on the country's political scene.
Dialogue between Moscow and the OIC is undoubtedly useful for both parties, as the Muslim world and the Muslim community in Russia face largely the same problems, radicalized Islam and a distorted image of the religion being the most acute.
Russia was one of the first countries to highlight Muslims' role in countering terrorism and counteracting those who use Islam as a cover for sowing death and fear, which is one of the biggest problems facing OIC countries today.
More intense economic cooperation with the OIC also interests Russia and projects in this sphere might be discussed at the meeting in Yemen.