In addition to Putin’s repeated propaganda that Ukraine must be “denazified,” the Kremlin has also come up with the thesis that the West is controlled by Satan.
This religious motive is now one of the main arguments used by the Russian government when it comes to justifying the Kremlin’s imperialism: In an article, an official of the Russian Security Council also proclaimed “de-Satanization” as an “urgent” goal in the Ukraine war. The “Church of Satan” is spreading throughout Ukraine, he claimed on the aif.ru website. In line with Putin’s arguments, he referred to the roots of the supposed phenomenon in the US: Satanism is “one of the officially recognized religions” there, he says, Ukrainian authorities support the tendencies, he explained.
According to the US think tank “Institute for the Study of War” (ISW), Putin’s government could specifically address “religious minorities” in the Russian armed forces. Officials tried to link the war to religious concepts – ones that are accessible to both Christians and Muslims.
According to reports, Russia had recently forcibly recruited a disproportionate number of minorities for the army, also and especially in the Muslim-dominated republics of the huge country. According to information from the ISW, there had now been “eruptions of violence” between members of different religions in the troops. The Kremlin could now have identified the supposed fight against evil as the cement for these cracks. The Kremlin has not only referred to “cults” in Ukraine, but has also stated that Ukrainian society is characterized by “fanatics” who oppose Christian, Muslim and also Jewish “values”. The ruler by Putin’s grace in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, addressed Muslims directly: He spoke of a “jihad” against Ukrainian “Satanism”.
But the Chechen leader also went one step further. He attacked the west and “Europe”. “Satanism acts openly against Russia,” he said in a statement published on his Telegram account. The rights of atheists would be protected, those of “believers” violated.
Kadyrov further claimed that children were taken away from “traditional” couples and “deliberately” given to same-sex couples – a narrative that had caused horror and incomprehension in the Swedish election campaign, among other things. The hardliner linked his theses to a barely concealed threat: participants in a demonstration against Mohammed cartoons in Chechnya’s capital Grozny had threatened to “go to Europe” to fight.
Apparently, not only through the instigation of the Moscow patriarch Cyril, Putin discovered religion as a vehicle for using faith as a propaganda weapon. And not only for the recruitment of new soldiers in Russia itself, but also as a factor for possible social destabilization in Europe and the idea of drawing the Muslim-dominated states to Moscow’s side.
The Kremlin’s timely decision to hold the “Russian-Islamic Forum” earlier this month in Kazan came: the capital of Tatarstan, which lies some 800 km east of Moscow, is recognized by the Russian state as a successful example of multiculturalism and peaceful religious considered coexistence. The forum in Kazan aims to strengthen economic, cultural and intellectual ties between Russia and the 57 member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), established in 1969 to provide the “collective voice of the Muslim world”.
Although Russia is not a full member of the OIC, President Vladimir Putin was the first head of state invited to address an OIC summit in 2003. Two years later, Putin scored a diplomatic victory when Russia was admitted to the OIC as an observer state.
It also allowed Russia to claim a sense of belonging in the Muslim world, a position Putin has always aspired to. The president has in the past promoted Russia’s religious and ethnic diversity as a tool to position the country as a key mediator between West and East. To maintain influence within Muslim countries, Russia created a “strategic vision” in 2006, now led by Rustam Minnikhanov.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has also taken an active role in building ties with Gulf countries where a shared religious identity is key. In 2018 and 2022 he made pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia and met with the Saudi leadership during his visits.
The summit in Kazan should therefore set several signals. In Moscow there is a clear intention to focus on the Islamic world. In March, the Kremlin released a new foreign policy doctrine, which used the word “Islamic” for the first time and aims to deepen relations with Muslim countries as well as countries in Africa. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has repeatedly denounced Western “colonial” attitudes toward the rest of the world, and in particular the West’s rotting role as a stronghold of evil.
But the Kremlin is also trying to use Muslim communities for its propaganda in Europe itself. His goal is the social division. The connection to the “European Muslim Forum” (EMF) based in Spain is particularly interesting here. It is closely linked to the Turkish regime and is headed by a Russian, Abdul-Wahed Niyazov. The EMF President, who was born in Omsk, Siberia, published his vision on Facebook: “Islam is the salvation of Europe!”
He has already been to Ukraine, MENA Research Center reported about it: He was photographed in Mariupol alongside Chechen fighters. Niyazov, who founded a “Muslims for Putin” movement in 2007, makes no secret of his closeness to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. Niyazov is also close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As early as 1995, he celebrated the anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453 with the then mayor of Istanbul. Last year, Niyazov met Erdogan’s son Bilal and the religious authority Diyanet in Istanbul. Together they are said to have talked about strategies and tactics for Muslim communities that are to be brought to new strength in a “Greater Europe”. Samir Falah, ex-president of the German Muslim Society (DMG), was also present at this meeting. The association is described by the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a sub-organization of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood.
The EMF is also trying to influence political parties in the EU. At the beginning of June, Niyazov celebrated the appearance of the Bosnian politician Bakir Izetbegovic at the congress of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Rotterdam. “We support our brother in opening up a European future for his country,” Niyazov wrote on Facebook under a photo from a meeting with Izetbegovic in July 2021, at which he is said to have agreed to join the EMF Board of Trustees.
More Muslims could also mean more influence for Islamist organizations and thus potential for conflict for the EU. That would be entirely in the spirit of Putin. Cooperation between Putin and Islamist groups in Europe is part of his hybrid warfare against the West. The Kremlin is concerned with strengthening organizations that pursue anti-democratic goals. So it was quickly understood that Islamists also serve this purpose. Now the only question that remains is whether European politicians also recognize this as a danger.
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