Fabian addresses the Westminster Russia Forum

On Tuesday 15th October 2013, Fabian was invited to speak on Middle Eastern Affairs at a meeting of the Westminster Russia Forum (WRF). This organisation was created by a number of people based in the UK who were involved in the politics and business world, and had a personal interest in Russia. It has grown to gain significant popularity and the involvement of a wide range of people from a variety of backgrounds. Members of the WRF wanted to gain an insight from Fabian stemming from his work as a former Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and his long standing interest in the political affairs of the Middle East. Current WRF members are drawn from all walks of political, commercial, academic and cultural life who share an interest in the history, politics and culture of Russia.

Fabian spoke for about 20 minutes and then took questions for about one hour. The following summarises some the points that he made:

Syria: Reflecting on the current desperate situation with a civil war that is tearing the country apart and displacing millions of citizens, Fabian expressed his fear that the outcome of the conflict could be a fragmented country. A rump of the Ba'ath Party - Assad regime supporters - might remain in power in one or two localised areas such as the capital Damascus, but elsewhere the country would be at the mercy of competing warlords focussed only on power, or the pursuit of Islamic jihad to spread acts of terror around the Middle East and the World. Fabian pointed out that Russia had two preoccupations in Syria: firstly, its concern to protect access and use of its naval base in the Mediterranean at the port of Tartus which is one of the two major Syrian cities on the coast. The second preoccupation is with allowing President Putin of Russia a platform on which to grow his personal prestige by challenging Western powers and obstructing action at the United Nations.

Iran: Fabian welcomed the wish by the newly elected President Hassan Rouhani to open dialogue with the West over enriched uranium production and trade sanctions. Dialogue, Fabian argued, is always important but he advised caution and that the sanctions should only start to end when the true intentions of Iran were clear from any political decisions and actions that the new regime takes. All elected politicians in Iran are subject to being first vetted and approved by the religious authorities and the clerical class is determined to remain in absolute authority. The ayatollahs operate in political obscurity, complicating accepted normal channels for negotiation and agreement. Support for Iran, like Syria, enables Russia to assert its role on the world stage by backing the religious regime to oppose Western influence on its defence and uranium production policy. Having Iran as an ally also gives Russia a larger role in influencing the world energy market and thus protecting its own dominant position as the major European energy supplier.

Terrorism: The audience at the WRF, meeting at the Morpeth Arms in London, were reminded by Fabian of the swathe of Muslims who live either in Russia itself or neighboring states along Russia's southern border. Sensitised by the Islamic terrorism that took place in Chechnya, Russia is very conscious of the potential threat from Islamic militants and has itself suffered at their hands. Therefore protecting dubious regimes in the Middle East opposed to Al Quaeda and allied factions has become a consideration over-riding such niceties as using foreign policy to promote democracy and fighting corruption. Given the joint interest of both Russia and the West of combatting jihadists, Fabian was saddened that protecting Putin's image and prestige appeared to be more important than progressing international diplomacy.

A two-state solution for Israel: Fabian explained how he had long advocated a two state solution in Israel with the West Bank being designated for the creation of a State of Palestine. A project complicated, if not totally compromised already by the illegal construction of Jewish settlements on occupied land, Fabian pointed out the exploding time bomb of the burgeoning Arab birth rate in the lands controlled by Israel. Muslim Arabs, are projected to outnumber Jews within ten to twenty years and Fabian fears that the political window which currently exists for a lasting agreement may soon be about to close.

To find out more about the Westminster Russia Forum - Click here