Russia promised to mediate between Bahrain’s ruling Sunni Muslim royal family and the majority Shiite opposition in talks aimed at ending two years of unrest in the Gulf country neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Bahrain’s largest Shiite political group, Al-Wefaq, took part in a round of national dialogue with the authorities on Feb. 10 in the capital, Manama, two days after the group’s secretary-general, Ali Salman, held talks in Moscow with Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. Also on Feb. 8, Bogdanov met Bahrain’s ambassador to Russia, Hashim Hasan Al Bash.
“Russia will continue to hold contacts with the kingdom’s leaders as well as representatives of opposition groups, in firm support of efforts to resolve internal problems through a national consensus in the interests of all Bahrainis,” the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in an e-mailed statement today.
Russia is also seeking to help broker a settlement in Soviet-era ally Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is fighting an almost two-year insurgency. The mainly Sunni Syrian opposition, which had refused to negotiate with Assad’s government led by Alawites affiliated to Shiite Islam, is now offering dialogue.
“We are certain that it’s possible, with enough political will, to ease the tensions and resolve the causes of the conflict in Bahrain as well as in other countries in the region,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
Tensions have simmered in the island nation since the government cracked down on mass protests in 2011 by mostly Shiite demonstrators demanding democracy and equal rights. At least 35 people were killed between Feb. 14 and April 15, 2011, according to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which investigated the unrest.
Small-scale protests still take place daily in Shiite villages and sometimes spill over into Manama. Saudi Arabia and Gulf allies, which accuse Shiite-led Iran of seeking to foment unrest in Bahrain and elsewhere in the region, sent troops to help put down the 2011 protests.