InterRegional for Strategic Analysis hosted the first event in its Authors’ Corner series to discuss Dr. Diana Galeeva’s book, Russia and the GCC: The Case of Tatarstan’s Paradiplomacy. Galeeva is a non-resident fellow with the Gulf International Forum and was formerly an academic visitor at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and scholar-in-residence at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. The event was held on 9 November 2022 and the discussion focused on the book’s key points and methodology.
Dr. Galeeva began by discussing the book’s methodology and contents, including the following:
1. Initial idea based on Russia-Gulf exchange of visits: Dr. Galeeva indicated that she had thought about writing the book for three years, and that the impetus for the project was the evolving relationship between Russia and the Gulf, including high-level meetings between the two sides. These visits included various discussions between the Gulf and Moscow, especially regarding the economy and Russia’s re-engagement with the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Libya.
2. Focus on ties between Gulf and Tatarstan: The author noted that although Russian-Gulf relations have gained momentum in recent years, not much has been written on the role of Russian republics in recent decades, especially those which engage with the Gulf though shared Islamic identity. The author explained that she is from one of these republics and wanted to shed light on the ties between the Republic of Tatarstan and the Gulf.
3. Islamic identity and Tatarstan-Gulf relations: The author stated that during the preliminary stages of her research, she became interested in how Gulf ties with Russia today had shifted as compared to with the former Soviet Union. She added that this led her to wonder to what extent Islamic linkages between Tatarstan and the Gulf had shaped bilateral relations. How did these relations change after the fall of the Soviet Union?
4. Multilingual sources and field research: The author stated that she utilized Tatar, Arabic, Russian, Turkish, and Bashkir sources in her research for the book. She added that these sources came from repositories including the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies and the National Library of the Republic of Tatarstan. Dr. Galeeva said she had conducted field research in Tatarstan and met with other interlocutors in Moscow, including members of the Russia-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group.
5. Rethinking constructivism through the lens of identity: The author noted that the book was grounded in the constructivist school of international relations theory, especially since the book examined social ties between countries using three main categories of analysis: norms, strategic cultures, and identities, with a special focus on the last of these.
6. Analysis of Moscow’s impacts on Gulf-Tatarstan relations: The author’s second research question was how Moscow-Tatarstan and Moscow-Gulf ties had shaped Tatarstan-Gulf bilateral relations. In answering this question, the author drew upon various points in constructivist literature. She contended that shared identities provide impetus for cooperation between the "Self" and minority "Self" in another country, if the "Self" and "Other" have common interests, as is the case with Tatarstan and the Gulf.
Dr. Galeeva described what she called "limited" ties between Tatarstan and Gulf countries between 1917 and 1990, as discussed in the first part of the book. This includes the following points:
1. Tatar involvement in Soviet-Gulf relations: The author indicated that after the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, the Bolshevik government began to take significant steps to attract Muslim populations from various other countries to join in building the new government. Starting in the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviet Union used Islamic identity as a political tool and appointed many Muslim diplomats, most notably Karim Khakimov, the first Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The Soviet Union utilized this diplomatic approach alongside hajj and umrah pilgrimage diplomacy and traditional gift-giving.
2. Saudi ire following Soviet execution of Karim Khakimov: The author noted that as a result of these policies, relations between the Soviet leadership and Gulf improved, especially with Saudi Arabia. However, Khakimov was executed during the Great Purge and when the Saudi king learned of this, relations were immediately frozen between Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union.
3. Lack of direct ties between Tatarstan and the Gulf: The author stated that various factors led to a lack of direct ties between Tatarstan and the Gulf between 1917 and 1990, particularly Tatarstan’s political status, since there were concerns about Kazan (the capital of Tatarstan)’s growing power.
Dr. Galeeva spoke about "emerging" relations between the Gulf and Tatarstan between 1990 and 2020, as she outlines in the book, including with regard to:
1. Limited economic cooperation in the 1990s: The author indicated that there was limited economic cooperation between Tatarstan and the Gulf in the 1990s, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and an urgent need to ensure that Tatarstan could survive economically. The author spoke to Tatarstani officials from that era who indicated that they had coordinated with all possible entities to help the country economically.
2. Multifaceted religious cooperation in the early 2000s: According to the author, religious cooperation began to include hajj and umrah diplomacy during this period. Religious associations and academies were also established in the early 2000s, in addition to scholarly exchange with Gulf countries.
3. Bolstering economic cooperation after the Arab Spring: The author discussed Putin’s 2007 speech on the importance of a multipolar world order and the emergence of the GCC as as an important economic power. She added that the GCC’s role continued to expand after the Arab Spring. According to the author, the Kremlin began to become aware of the growing importance of the GCC and consequently started to pursue new bilateral ties. Tatarstan likewise began to strengthen economic cooperation with Gulf countries during this period.
4. Institutionalization of Tatarstan-Gulf relations: According to the author, Tatarstan-Gulf relations became more institutionalized. For example, if the head of Tatarstan went to visit one of the GCC countries, he would be joined by a various other ministers and officials who would hold bilateral meetings with their GCC counterparts.
5. Developing bilateral relations through paradiplomacy: According to the author, the Russian-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group is a very important component of Tatarstan’s paradiplomacy. When this group was established, the head of Tatarstan at that time was appointed co-chairman of the group, but after 2014, the current head of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, was appointed chairman and plays an important role in the group.
According to the author, the Kazan Summit of 2019 was noteworthy as the first economic summit between Russia and the Gulf. Various agreements were signed during this summit and cooperation ramped up between the Gulf and Tatarstan with regard to Islamic finance and the Islamic banking sector. Ties also developed between religious organizations. In particular, the author indicated that Tatarstan had its own muftis and in Russia as a whole there were multiple Muslim spiritual boards rather than a single grand mufti. This meant that each of these boards and figures were able to develop cooperative relationships and ties with others countries, rather than one united policy on Russia’s part.
Dr. Galeeva stated that there were various challenges that Tatarstan-Gulf relations were facing. These include:
1. Necessity of obtaining Russian government’s approval for cooperation: Russian law prevents regions or republics within Russia from having their own diplomatic representation. As a result, individual republics can only pursue economic cooperation with Gulf countries. The author also noted that Gulf investments do not flow directly into Tatarstan or any subregion of Russia, but instead through the central government.
2. Legal constraints on economic cooperation: The author noted that there have been various initiatives to bolster cooperation between the Gulf and Tatarstan in the Islamic banking sector and Islamic finance. However, legal constraints have prevented this from developing further. The author indicated the foundations for broader ties between the Gulf and Tatarstan have been established and that many bilateral agreements have been made, in addition to significant cooperation in the field of Islamic banking. There is no law governing Islamic banking, so the challenge lies in integrating Islamic law (shari‘a) within the Russian legal system.
3. Limited research on development of Tatarstan-Gulf relations: The author indicated that little research has been done on Tatarstan-Gulf relations but that these initiatives are constantly developing. The author noted that it is not sufficient for the two sides to develop ties via Zoom. She suggested that virtual engagement can lead to misunderstandings and that in-person meetings are more meaningful.
The author explained that the sixth chapter of the book focuses on Gulf relations with other Russian Muslim republics, such as Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Bashkortostan. The most important elements of these relations include:
1. Direct ties between leader of Chechnya and the Gulf: The author noted that Chechnya has direct ties with other countries via its leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov’s father had been a chief mufti and had many connections in the Islamic world, which helped Kadyrov to develop relations with the Gulf.
2. Dagestan-Gulf relations focus on diaspora communities: The author noted that it had become clear to her during a conversation with an official that relations between Dagestan and the Gulf centered on diaspora communities. Although there were also official channels for strengthening bilateral cooperation, that had not proved to be as practical an avenue for developing ties.
3. Significant institutionalization of Bashkortostan-Gulf relations: The author indicated that Karim Khakimov, the first Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was originally from Bashkortostan, before settling in Tatarstan, and that his legacy continued to be felt in the former republic. She added that various Saudi officials had visited Khakimov’s hometown during a meeting of the Russian-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group in the Bashkortostan’s capital. Khakimov clearly continues to play an important role. According to the author, there is a high level of institutionalization in bilateral relations between the Gulf and Bashkortostan, as is also true of Gulf relations with Tatarstan.
In conclusion, the author noted that most data for the book was gathered before the war in Ukraine but that she had added an update to the last chapter in light of recent events. She indicated that most Gulf and Middle Eastern countries had adopted a neutral position on the war, which she attributed to shared Islamic identity, rather than economic motives alone.