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Tue 22 Feb 2011 09:40 PM

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Arab unrest inspires Russian insurgents - Kremlin

Arab unrest could affect Russian Muslims as the country is struggling to contain Islamist militants

Arab unrest inspires Russian insurgents - Kremlin
Medvedev said that some countries could fall apart due to unrest in Middle East and North Africa and this could affect Russia, home to some 20 million Muslims (Getty Images)

President Dmitry Medvedev conjured the spectre of decades of strife and
hardline rule in the Arab world on Tuesday to warn that Islamist insurgents
were trying to rip Russia apart.

In his first major comments on the unrest that has shaken authoritarian
rulers across North Africa and the Middle East, Medvedev said that some
countries could fall apart and this could affect Russia, home to some 20 million
Muslims.

"All that is happening there will have a direct impact on our situation.
This is a large, complex problem which requires serious effort over a very long
time," Medvedev told officials from the national anti-terror committee in
Vladikavkaz in the restive North Caucasus.

Russia is fighting a growing Islamist insurgency in its mainly Muslim North
Caucasus along its southern flank, underpinned by two separatist wars with
Chechnya since 1994, where rebels want to carve out a separate Islamic state.

"These (Arab) states are not simple and it is quite likely that
complicated developments may occur, including the rise of fanatics to power --
this would mean decades of flames and the spread of extremism, let's look the
truth in the eye," Medvedev said in comments posted on the official site
Kremlin.ru.

Analysts say last month's suicide bomb on Moscow's busiest airport, which
Islamist rebels said they instigated and which killed 36, shows the Kremlin has
failed to quell the violence.

Young people angry about poverty and fuelled by jihad (holy war) have
increased their attacks in the North Caucasus over the last year and exported
the insurgency from its traditional centres of violence, alarming officials and
ordinary Russians.

Medvedev said this discontent can be battled by developing the
poverty-wracked North Caucasus, though critics say billions of federal money
already poured into the North Caucasus has had little effect.

After years of communism oppressing religion, Russia's Muslim regions have
undergone an Islamic revival over the past two decades, enjoyed by regional
leaders and rebels alike.

But insiders and analysts say this overlap could prove dangerous for Russia,
which is home to some 20 million Muslims, or about a seventh of the population.

Rebels also took responsibility for shooting dead three Moscow tourists late
on Friday at the country's most popular ski resort, Mount Elbrus in the North
Caucasus.

The Kremlin chief, an ardent Twitter fan, said rather than blocking extreme
views, they can be combated on the Internet.

He said the Egyptian government's shutdown of the Internet during a popular
revolt "was a road to nowhere, moreover a crime", state-run RIA cited
him as saying at the same meeting.

He proposed that Russia should "create its own sites, give the
opportunity to address Muslim preachers and all those interested," Russian
media reported.

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