(Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow December 13, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov)

Russia is concerned that the Arab Spring revolutions could sow further turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa by provoking a potentially catastrophic rift between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. In written answers to Reuters, Lavrov said the events in the region were still unfolding and cautioned that social, political and religious tensions showed signs of increasing.

“There are serious fears about the possible emergence of new zones of instability in the region that could become potential sources of challenges to international stability and security,” Lavrov said.

Such threats, he said, included the spread of terrorism, contraband weapons, the narcotics business, illegal immigration and especially the use of religion to ratchet up tensions.

“Attempts to bring the religious factor into regional confrontations are especially troubling,” said Lavrov, the longest serving Russian foreign minister since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. “If there were an open rift between Sunnis and Shi’ites – and such a threat is fully realistic – then the consequences could be catastrophic.”