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Russia shows interest in Western Sahara

Russia's desire to play an active role in the Middle East extends beyond Cairo and Damascus to longstanding issues further south.
Sahrawis shout slogans for the freedom of Western Sahara before a demonstration organised by officials from the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) to show the hazards of mined territory near Tifariti, in the Sahara desert in southwestern Algeria, February 28, 2011. Over 150,000 Sahrawis live in several refugee camps dispersed in the Algerian desert 35 years after Morocco annexed the disputed territory of Western Sahara. REUTERS/Juan Medina (ALGERIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY) - RTR2J9HB
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One would expect that the dramatic events taking place in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Libya and now in Yemen would monopolize the attention of Russian politicians and diplomats involved in the Arab East. However, this has not been the case. Among the old yet unsolved and "dormant" conflicts in the region is that of Western Sahara. But as recent events demonstrate, long-standing conflicts can flare up unexpectedly, causing outbreaks of violence, in particular where the interests of influential external actors — often guided by economic considerations — clash.

The international media, fully absorbed with "hot" conflicts, overlooked the recent first visit to Moscow of a delegation of the Polisario Front (Western Sahara). The delegation was headed by a member of Polisario’s Secretariat and by M’hamed Khaddad, Polisario’s coordinator with the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Although the visit was not official — the delegation arrived in Moscow at the invitation of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences — it was received by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as well as by members of the Council of the Federation, the upper chamber of the Federal Assembly. It also held a meeting with a group of Russian experts on the region.

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