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Russia Is Impotent When It Comes To Influencing Events In Egypt, But It Doesn't Care

"It's obvious that the only outside force that can influence the course of events is the United States," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor in chief of "Russia In Global Politics."
"It's obvious that the only outside force that can influence the course of events is the United States," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor in chief of "Russia In Global Politics."
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union wielded considerable influence in the Middle East. But Russia made no official statement about the current uprising in Egypt until its sixth day. RFE/RL's Gregory Feifer spoke to Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine "Russia In Global Affairs," about whether Russia has any role to play in the events.

RFE/RL: The Kremlin has said very little about the events in Egypt. Is that because it doesn’t know how to react or that it just doesn't care?

Fyodr Lukyanov:
Mainly, it's that the Kremlin doesn’t care. It's absolutely obvious Russia has no leverage to influence developments there, at least not the kind that can change the situation. Russian diplomats don’t think it's necessary to say something just for the sake of saying it.

Deputy Foreign Minister [and special Middle East envoy] Alexander Sultanov is in Egypt to have consultations, but probably more for the sake of understanding the situation than trying to influence it. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia ceased to be a major player in the Middle East. It's obvious that the only outside force that can influence the course of events is the United States.

RFE/RL: Egypt's neighbors have pressured Washington to support the Egyptian regime. Could Russia do anything to support Mubarak or a military regime if it wanted?

I don’t think Egypt would expect anything concrete from Russia. Maybe only a political endorsement, which by the way Sultanov made [on February 9] when he said Russia doesn’t believe any outside interference would be helpful now in Egypt. That's what Mubarak and the generals want, but it's just a statement.

As for more substantial help, the Egyptian military is extremely closely connected to the American military, so they would not think they can replace cooperation with American generals and security services by strengthening cooperation with Russian security services. Beyond political support, I don’t see a lot of opportunities for Russia to help.

Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of parliament, said a few days ago that Russia should send some humanitarian aid such as wheat. One of the minor reasons for the Egyptian crisis was a food shortage, and one of the reasons for the food shortage was a Russian embargo on agricultural products imposed last summer after a wave of drought and fires in Russia. So maybe Russia could help a little that way, but not much more.

RFE/RL: Do you see any signs the Kremlin is at all worried about the Egyptian uprising's symbolism among the Russian population? Some opposition leaders have raised Egypt as an example for change, but does anyone really care? After all, this isn’t a color revolution in a former Soviet republic.

Exactly. That's why it's perceived as happening pretty far away from Russia. The situation in Egypt is very difficult to compare to Russia's because it has different preconditions. There's no parallel. Of course, opposition members have tried to draw attention to the developments, comparing the unchangeable rule in Tunisia and Egypt with the Russian situation, but it's not very convincing because even if we have problems with the stagnation with our ruling elite, it's not similar to what happened in Egypt, Libya, or other Arab states.

RFE/RL: Can what's going on in Egypt and other Arab countries today be compared to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991?

To a certain extent, yes, because the Middle East -- strangely enough and despite many [global] events since the late 1980s and early 1990s -- didn't change its political design at all until now. Unlike other regions from East Asia to Latin America, the political situation never changed. So in that regard, what's happening now is the prolonged consequence of developments in Europe in 1989 and the Soviet Union in 1991. It's the same process of the stormy democratization of the world.

But, of course, that's a very general comparison. In terms of mechanisms and consequences, it's very far from what happened in Russia in 1991.