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Expert says Mideast problems directly affect Caucasus and Central Asia

March 09, 2017, 20:28 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The Islamic State terrorists are seeking to expand their territory, an expert warns

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MOSCOW, March 9. /TASS/. The developments in the Middle East directly concern Eurasia and the states in the continent’s southern belt, a leading Russian expert told TASS on Thursday.

Vitaly Naumkin, scientific head of Russia’s Institute of Oriental Studies and senior counsellor for UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, spoke on the eve of a guest session of the Valdai international discussion club titled: "Time of Change: World in the Epoch of Global Unpredictability" that will be held in Yerevan on March 11.

The discussion will be devoted to the events taking place in Eurasia in the context of challenges coming from the Middle East.

"Indeed, the developments in the Middle East closely relate to Eurasia and the countries lying in the Eurasian southern belt, our allies, our direct neighbors," the expert said.

"It will suffice to say that the problem for Central Asia is the problem of the security of its borders as terrorist organizations are advancing to the borders of Central Asia," he added.

Syrian crisis danger for Caucasian countries

Also, many Central Asia citizens are drawn into recruiters’ networks and leave for Syria, Iraq and some other places, where Islamists are active, to fight for terrorists, the expert said.

"First of all, these are citizens of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and even Kazakhstan," the expert said.

"According to available data, there are about 5,000 of such people," he added.

The same relates to South Caucasus, Naumkin said.

Specifically, the Syrian crisis has affected Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, he added.

"For instance, if we speak about Armenia, this is the problem of the Armenian population in countries of the Levant. It is well-known that there is a large Armenian community in Syria, about 150,000 people. It was especially numerous in the city of Aleppo," the expert said.

"Naturally, during the latest events, when the terrorists seized control of eastern Aleppo, all those who had a possibility started leaving that place," he noted.

The problems of terrorism in Syria cannot buy affect Azerbaijan as well, the expert said.

"In Azerbaijan, there is, even if, a small number of persons who have been drawn into the recruiters’ networks and left to fight - these are basically those who followed Sunnism, not Shi’ism," the expert went on to say.

"Also, it is well-known that Azeris have relatives in Iran. About a third of the population in Iran is of Azerbaijani origin and Iran, as is well-known, is closely involved in the conflict in the Middle East. That is, from this side, there is also direct impact on the situation," Mistura’s counsellor said.

"If we take all these circumstances, and also the influence of economic factors, then the events in the Middle East are directly affecting the Caucasus and, of course, Central Asia," Naumkin said.

Cooperation for routing Islamic State

Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai International Discussion Club Andrey Bystritskiy told TASS that one of the basic goals of the upcoming discussion in Yerevan was to understand the prospects of the development of the Eurasian space.

"The talk is about interaction and understanding of the development strategy," he explained.

"This is the basic point that is discussed," he said.

Thus, the first panel of the forum’s session has been titled: "How to Preserve Stability and Ensure Development in a Rapidly Changing World," the expert said. "These are the issues of development and understanding of what is happening."

No doubt, the forum will also focus on the struggle against terrorism in the Middle East. When asked about the prospects of routing the Islamic State terrorist grouping by the end of this year, Bystritskiy noted that the probability of the quick completion of this operation existed but this would depend on the degree of cooperation of the countries engaged in the anti-terroir struggle.

"I’m not sure that someone will be able to guarantee a final success by the end of the year but there is no doubt that the dynamics is positive," the expert of the Valdai club said.

"We see quite a successful offensive in Syria and there are options that certain changes may take place in Iraq as well," he noted.

"This largely depends on cooperation among participants, including Russia in alliance with the United States."

"This cooperation is not evident but is possible and no one rules it out. The Islamic State is reducing its influence both in Syria and Iraq," the expert added.

At the same time, the expert said the threat of the penetration of terrorists from Syria and Iraq into Caucasian and Central Asian countries is "not so great."

"They have very few chances both in the Caucasus and in Central Asia within the strategy they abide by," he noted.

"Moreover, the regimes that are now in power in Central Asia are the categorical opponents of the IS and in the Caucasus they [terrorists] will also be unable to stand off against security structures," the expert said.

Nevertheless, the expert pointed out that Islamic State terrorists were seeking to expand their territory and find new bridgeheads.

"For example, in North Africa," he noted.

"There are no doubts that they will make such attempts but as it seems to me they don't have too many chances for success. Besides, an impression is being created that the attitude to them in the Islamic world and among Muslims as a whole is increasingly negative," the expert said.

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