Russia: Most Arab regimes ‘overstayed their luck’

Russia, a traditional ally of many Arab regimes that are being ousted by democratic revolutions, claims its diplomats "saw the changes coming" and that most of the autocratic regimes had in fact "overstayed their luck".

In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV, Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's ambassador to the EU, said Russia had certainly not been taken by surprise by recent developments. He stressed the differences between each individual case and spoke with irony about Western stereotypes.

As an example, he said that many in the West were quick to label recent events 'Facebook' or 'Twitter' revolutions, but only 4% of the population in Egypt owns a computer. In Bahrain, the proportion is 88%, he added.

According to the diplomat, the ethnicity factor is not a common feature either. In Bahrain, the stand-off took place in response to a split between the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority. But in Libya, all the population are Sunnis and there is no conflict of this kind, he said. Using a similar logic regarding the economic situation, he said that per capita GDP in Libya had been several times higher than in Egypt.

Chizhov said his country had pursued a policy similar to Germany by abstaining from voting on the UN resolution authorising the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya on 26 February. But he said his country had reservations with regard to some of the Western coalition's actions, such as an attack against a compound in which one of Muammar Gaddafi's sons was killed.

"I personally believe that it has very little to do with establishing the no-fly zone and protecting the civilian population. So some of the actions of the coalition are quite questionable," he said.

Chizhov also made plain that if the EU wanted to put in place a military operation to provide humanitarian assistance in Libya, the consent of Russia as permanent member of the UN Security Council would be required.

"I want to make one thing clear, and I want to put emphasis on it: a request by the UN should not be a request by certain officials at the UN secretariat or even a request from OCHA [the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]. A 'request from the UN', strictly speaking, is a request from the Security Council," Chizhov said.

The Russian diplomat called the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden a "successful operation on the part of the American special forces". He added that the links between Al-Qaeda and terrorists who operate in Russia were "quite evident".

As for the fact that US forces had operated inside Pakistan without the knowledge of the country's authorities, he said he would leave it to the Pakistani authorities to make a judgement.

Chizhov also spoke at length about EU-Russia bilateral relations, including the "protracted conflict" following the brief Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 and the unilateral declarations of independence by South Ossetia and Abkahzia. He also answered questions on human rights in Russia.

To read the interview in full, please click here.