Source: Tatar-Inform, Rustam Kilsinbayev. Credit: Tatarstan President's Press Service.
"As head of the Russia - Islamic World strategic vision group, Minnikhanov represents not just Tatarstan but the whole of Russia. The group has been in place since 2006 but was suspended during the Arab spring. In 2014 when it resumed its work the Russian President appointed Rustam Minnikhanov as its chairman," said Mr Beloglazov.
"I think Mr Minnikhanov went there with a specific purpose and that was to improve ties on behalf of Russia. Vladimir Putin cannot directly reach out to Riyadh because Saudi Arabia and Iran are sworn enemies. And so Mr Minnikhanov acted as messanger of peace on behalf of Russia. It's a symbolic visit, it signifies that we are focused on making relations better.
Our alliance with Turkey and Iran does not mean we want to break our contacts with Saudi Arabia. We do have points of convergence, our Islamic regions with a population up to 20 million, and they do the hajj regularly. I think the king also understands that the country needs to take part in all political processes and realizes the fact that Russia has become a very strong player. The Kingdom viewed Minnikhanov as Russia's envoy who is taking the first step towards improving the relationship," the expert goes on to say.
“First of all, it’s grain and dairy products. Last year, Saudi Arabia said it would no longer grow wheat and other grain species and switched to imports. In 2016, Russia became the world leader in grain exports but so far we have not worked with Saudi Arabia. Ideologically, it would be an appropriate deal to buy grain and dairy products from a Muslim region, these are Halal products, they are more pure,” he added.
Islamic financing and banking is high on the agenda for the sides. “We ran a pilot project in March 2016 with the first Islamic bank called the Center for Partnership Banking. It was located on the property of Tatfondbank. But since the Tatfondbank is struggling and has virtually stopped its operations, the Islamic banking center ceased its work. Today the Republic is looking to its foreign partners to establish a dedicated institution. The issue is that Russian laws do not allow all of the instruments of Islamic banking… Globally, the sector is worth 2 trillion, with more than 500 banks working in line with Sharia laws. So hopefully foreign banks would open there Islamic banking branches here in Russia. The more banking models there are, the more stable the system will be. Again, if there are Islamic banks, Islamic investors would be more eager to invest into our economy,” said Mr Beloglazov.
He also spoke about more intense cooperation with OIC. “We’ve had very good relations with the organization right since the start. OIC sponsors the annual KazanSummit in Tatarstan. In other words, OIC is a window into 57 states. Saudi Arabia is a leader in the body and its HQ is located here, and the current General Secretary is also a Saudi citizen,” says the expert.
During the meeting with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Tatarstan’s leader gave him an invitation from the Russian president to visit Russia. Mr Beloglazov believes that such a visit “would have an enormous importance for bolstering Russia’s position in the Middle East and in the Arabian Peninsula because plays a systemic role in the Arab League and in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.
Despite the geopolitical turbulence, the two countries were able to find common ground last year including on oil production cuts.