30.05.2024 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

The Geopolitics of the “KazanForum”: Countering Isolation with Expansion

The Geopolitics of the “KazanForum”: Countering Isolation with Expansion

Even though the recently held “Russia-Islamic World” meeting, also known as the “Kazan Forum”, was a big hit with over 20 thousand participants from across 87 countries, this event received little to no coverage in the mainstream Western media. Establishing this fact takes little more than a few Google searches and clicks. The absence is conspicuous. But the more important question is not the absence itself, but its actual reason. Was this event too insignificant for the mainstream Western media to cover?

The facts speak for themselves. Participants from 87 countries, including 40 diplomatic missions, attended this event, leading to 120 different agreements, covering trade, technology, finance, energy, and security. Secondly, this event was not privately organised. It is one of the flagship events that the Russian government has been organising for the last 15 years. Last year, the “Kazan Forum” hosted more than 16 thousand visitors from 80 countries, out of which 57 were/are members of the OIC. Why has it been systematically ignored then?

KazanForum’s Global Impact

The reason for this is that the success of this event contrasts too sharply with the Western notion of ‘isolating’ Russia to merit any significant media coverage. Whereas the West has been weary of Russia for decades, Russophobia reached new levels in 2021 when the West, led by the US, began to aggressively push for NATO’s expansion to include Ukraine. Subsequently, Russia’s special military operations in Ukraine – which are still going on – led the West to start a global campaign of geopolitically and economically “isolating” Russia. This has obviously not happened. But, because forcing ‘isolation’ on Russia remains a key policy goal, events like the “Kazan Forum” debunk it. Hence, the concerted effort to avoid any reporting of the event. While not reporting the event doesn’t affect Russia, it does allow the West to maintain a smoke screen around the grand failure of its strategy vis-à-vis Russia.

The Forum’s support for a multipolar world order made it even more problematic for the West – not only because it shows more and more countries from across the world coming round to the idea of re-centring the global order away from the US to multiple centres of power, including Russia. This is not simply a preference for another system. In fact, this support also shows a growing disaffection with the US-led world order – a system that, for instance, has completely failed to prevent a genocide of the Palestinians at the hands of Israel.

More importantly, this growing disaffection with the US being the sole superpower is coming at the hands of Russia itself. Just when this event was taking place showcasing Russia’s connection with, rather than isolation from, the world, the West was facing heat in, and from, Ukraine.

Despite various efforts and pledges of military aid worth multi-billion dollars, the US and its NATO allies have not been able to push Russia back in Ukraine. In fact, Ukraine’s Zelenskyy heavily chastised the West for being too slow in processing and sending military aid. Problems were always going to occur, as I recently wrote for NEO regarding the fresh military aid package. Attesting to the ongoing failure of NATO, he also confirmed that the situation on the ground was the worst ever since February 2022. Surely, it doesn’t sound like NATO making any leaps, let alone big ones. His demands for more aid and his push for the Western countries to get more “directly” involved – which basically means sending their troops and fighter jets – all show Russia’s success. This success is hardly reported in the mainstream Western media. At least, it is mostly framed in terms of the “difficulties” and “risks” associated with weapons delivery and more direct involvement causing all problems. Russian success is not acknowledged.

Contradicting Isolation: Russia’s Growing Trade with Muslim Nations

In this context, it was not surprising to see the same media paying no attention to the 2024 “Kazan Forum”. Like the battlefield successes in Ukraine, this event is a major diplomatic success that goes unacknowledged.

To a very significant extent, the success of this event was necessary for Russia. In the wake of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and Europe’s “boycott” of Russian oil and gas, it has become all the more important for Moscow to strengthen alternative geographies of trade. These geographies include trade ties with Muslim countries.

The UAE is, for instance, one such country. Despite sanctions on Russia and the Western pressure to crack down on trade with Russia, Russia’s bilateral trade with the UAE increased by a whopping 63 per cent in 2023 between January and September, reaching an all-time high of US$9 billion.

The UAE is not an exceptional case. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin told his guests at the “Kazan Forum” that his country’s trade with members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) – which was also a major presence in the Forum – grew by 30 per cent in 2023, beating US sanctions, or the threat thereof, by a significant margin. This trend of trade will still see a major boost in the wake of the International North-South Transport Corridor becoming operational in the future – a geography of trade that will connect Russia, via land and rail routes through Iran and Azerbaijan, to the rest of the world, including key corridors of trade, such as the Persian Gulf.

The West’s Strategic Oversight 

None of this sounds great from the Western perspective because it shows a remarkable failure of their favourite policy of sanctions. Not only is Russia still standing too firm for the West to break, but, more importantly, the threat of sanctions is not working on other countries, such as the UAE, too that are otherwise very close to Washington. Sanctions and the politics of imposing ‘isolation’ on Russia are turning out to be little more than a house of cards that is already shaking before its eventual collapse sooner than later.


Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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