Yemen & Russia: Deep-rooted Relationship [Archives:2001/33/Law & Diplomacy]

August 13 2001

Mohammad Ali Al-Dailami
Saba News Agency
A reliable source in the Islah Party indicates that Yemeni-Russian relations have a historical continuity which dates back to the first half of the twentieth century, when Yemen was still ruled by the monarchy of the Imams. The source adds that the principal factor of interest is the ideological one, since this took an extraordinary turn in the 1970s and 1980s, after the creation of the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen. Because of the new ideological ties between Aden and Moscow before Yemen’s unification, the relationship between Sana’a and Moscow did not deteriorate. Rather, it fluctuated between coolness and prosperity according to the political regimes which ruled Sana’a during the last three decades. Relations between the two countries increasingly improved, particularly as Moscow controlled about 80% of the arms trade with Sana’a. This stability in relations between the Soviet Union and the Arab Republic of north Yemen can be attributed to the latter’s marginalization by the Western alliance. Similarly, Saudia Arabia’s relations with AR Yemen have been largely determined by its Western proteges, and also by the Saudi preoccupation with annexing more of Yemen’s territory and the aim of isolating Yemen from the rest of the world. With the exception of arms imports to Yemen, at an estimated cost of 3000000 Saudi Rials (after Sana’a had lost control over the leftist forces of the former British Protectorate of Aden) most of AR Yemen’s military arsenals came from the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries like Poland. But the official relationship between Yemen and Russia had been greatly affected by two kinds of forces, the rightists and the leftists forces. The rightist forces was supported by the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh. This approach was deeply influenced by the prevailing conflict in Aden, and represented a great, ideological threat to the Capitalist system, and manifested in Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. This inevitably agitated Saudi Arabia in its policy towards Yemen, since it was greatly disturbed by the communist presence in Aden.
However, the situation has become radically different nowadays, after the disintegration of the communist state system and ideology, together with the unrivaled supremacy of the USA. Consequently, he ideological dimension in Yemeni-Russian relations have gradually disappeared while other indications have emerged. These relations are based on the Yemeni indebtedness to Russian economic development aid and its ambition to restore its role as a superpower. Russia’s enthusiasm for establishing new relations with Yemen have been relatively unproductive and lacking even any sense of credibility or flexibility, despite the signing of a reconciliation agreement in 1999 between the two states. In this respect, Sana’a has recently shown great interest in building up its armed forces but has displayed greater enthusiasm for strengthening its relations with Washington, although the latter has imposed strict conditions on Yemen before going ahead with this program.
In April of this year Yemeni-Russian relations received the attention of the media. Some sources had indicated that President Saleh was due to pay a visit to Moscow, while observers expected that the visit would be made after a preparatory one by the Foreign Minister, Dr. Abu Bakr Al-Kerbi to Moscow on the 21st of the same month, in which economic cooperation was to be given priority but has not yet been accomplished. Encouraging and protecting investment, commerce, scientific, tourist and cultural cooperation was the main objectives of this prospective agreement. In addition to this, there has been established a Joint Committee for Economical and Technical Cooperation between the Republic of Yemen and the Russian Federation.
New indications have emerged that stronger Yemeni-Russian relations are being cultivated by the Islamic movement in Yemen, which feels threatened by the negative affects of the US-Yemeni relations that have persisted for almost three decades. An appeal was made by Islamic scholars to reconsider and revise the basis of relations between Yemen and the US. In a detailed study by the Editor-in-chief of al-Sahwa weekly newspaper, the mouth-piece of the Islah Party, Naser Yahya said” It is wrong to change relations with the US into a democratic chaos. The US claims that it disseminates democracy, human rights and other freedoms in Yemen.” Although, the article doesn’t openly state the obligation to strengthen relations with Russia there is a strong indication that absolute support for the Western alliance is on the decline. This has resulted in a national unanimity which can pave the way for an alteration in relations with Russia. The US aims to aggravate the discrepancies between the ruling party (PGC) and the Islah Party, while various (mainly Islamic) institutes foster anti-American aggression. The Islah Party has strongly condemned some of the ruling party for being loyal to the US and aiming to shrink the role of opposition parties.
It is noticeable that Islamists in Yemen emphasize the general skepticism of Yemeni-US relations, claiming that Washington doesn’t really care about the future of Yemen but merely aims at gaining political and strategic influence at the expense of the national interests of Yemen. Ultimately, the Islamists fear US interference in the authority they exercise, insinuated by Washington under the pretext of cooperation with the government to get rid of terrorism. Thus, Yemen has witnessed a mutual affinity between two parties, that of the YSP and the Islah Party, in an attempt to form a political front against any measures which may be adopted by the ruling party to put an end to the Islamic activists in Yemen. We emphasize that Islamists have at length reached a political convention to realize their mistakes and carefully review international relations which benefit Yemen. Consequently, the strengthening of Yemeni-Russian relations has recently received support from the national and Islamic opposition in particular, as well as the time-honored position of Moscow.