Russia’s Policy Towards Arab World

Russia’s Policy Towards Arab World

In early August Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made a trip to Qatar. It was not an ordinary visit. In a short space of time he met Emir of the State of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Foreign Minister of Qatar Khalid bin Muhammad al-Atiyah, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Adil al-Ahmad al-Jubayr and US State Secretary John Kerry. 

The agenda included the prospects for peaceful management of conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya, the situation in Palestine, the agreement on Iranian nuclear program and fight against terrorism. Lavrov discussed the trade and economic relations between Russia and Qatar. The Lavrov’s visit and the recent meeting in Moscow between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister, were important events to mark a milestone in the development of Russia-Arab states relationship in general and Russia-Saudi Arabia relationship in particular.

Perhaps the visit of Russian Foreign Minister put an end to the period of tension between Russia and Qatar that ensued after Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko suffered a thuggish assault by customs staff at Doha Airport in November 2011. 

Being a tiny country (it occupies only 11,437 km2) with small population (around 2 million people), the emirate plays a leading role in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf along with Saudi Arabia. It’s an influential OPEC member and a leading world gas exporter. The country holds the third largest natural gas reserves in the world being the sixth largest world natural gas exporter. Qatar uses its financial resources for intensive investment policy in Arab and Muslim countries, as well as Europe. For instance, the citizens of Qatar have invested few billion euros into the economy of France, the country the emirate enjoys a close relationship with (emir Tamim Al Thani studied at Sorbonne).

Playing a visible role on the Middle East political arena, Qatar adopts a «multi-directional» approach in foreign policy. The emirate supports the Palestine national movement and Syrian opposition groups. The country is a member of US-led coalition formed to fight the Islamic State. It also takes part in the coalition headed by Saudi Arabia to support Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in his fight against the Shia Houthi movement called Ansar Allah (Partisans of God).

Some issues caused controversy, but Sergey Lavrov said the talks were fruitful.

The crisis in Syria was an issue on the agenda during the Doha talks. The Syria's conflict has entered its fifth year. The death toll among Syrians is measured in dozens of thousands. Millions of refugees have fled the conflict. People leave areas seized by terrorist groups. No way can they lead normal life there without water, electricity and food. They run to the areas under the control of government troops (85% of Syrians stay in the territory controlled by the government). Many of them settle down in Damascus. The population of the capital has grown up to 7 million people.

The four-year-old confrontation between the Syrian government and the opposition showed that the majority of population supports President Assad. The conflict is a result of planned aggression committed by outside forces with the participation of the West, Turkey and the monarchies of Persian Gulf supporting extremists who pursue the goal of toppling the ruling regime in Syria. They adopt cruel attitude towards the people of other confessions. Foreign mercenaries account for the majority of those who take part in the terrorist activities. They come from 80 countries of the world, including the United States, Europe, China (the Uyghur Muslim minority) and Russia.

The Syrian army has gained ground from opposition recently. In late July 2015 the government forces encircled over 500 terrorists in Zabadani – a border area at the Lebanon’s border. The formation was eliminated. At the same time army units defeated groups of militants near the border with Turkey to free Al-Hasakah, the capital city of the Al-Hasakah Governorate. The government forces simultaneously fought battles in two areas located at large distance from each other. It proves the fact that the Syrian army has high combat capability. There is a fierce fight raging on. Up to 500 jihadists from Turkey and Jordan come to Syria daily. Turkey shoulders the brunt of the effort. It accounts for 75% of militants, weapons and other types of support.

Sergey Lavrov said at the conference devoted to the results of the Doha talks that the Russian position is irreversible. Moscow stands for a dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition to find a peaceful solution to the conflict on the basis of Geneva accords. In Doha Lavrov held a meeting with Ahmad Mouath Al-Khatib, former leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, one of the most influential opposition groups based abroad.

Russia has provided «Moscow platform» for two inter-Syrian meetings. The preparations for the third one are on the way. The recent decision of US President to permit US Air Force strikes against the Syrian government forces in case they «attack» the formations of «moderate opposition» was also in focus of the Doha talks. «Moderate opposition» is the term used by US government for Syrian combat units trained by the United States against the Syria’s government forces and, allegedly, the Islamic State. According to Lavrov, the decision taken by US President is «counterproductive». The Minister believes it complicates the fight against the Islamic State. He stressed that «the so-called moderate opposition, on the territory of neighboring countries, resulted in the vast majority of those militants ending up on the extremists' side».

The negotiations in Qatar were complicated enough, but the very fact they were held is a success of Russian diplomacy.

Tags: Middle East  Qatar  Russia  Syria  Lavrov