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Analysis: Qatar boosts military, trade ties with Russia
March 26, 2018, 8:24 pm

This is the second visit of the Qatar Emir to Moscow in as many years [PPIO]

In a sign of Moscow’s growing influence in the Middle East, and for the second time in two years, the Emir of Qatar has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss bilateral cooperation and joint efforts to tackle crises around the world, as well as to look at ways to cooperate in energy markets.

The visit of Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to Moscow coincides with the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Qatari-Russian ties and also comes at a time when Qatar is trying to break out of its regional isolation following a severing of ties with Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen.

Sheikh Tamim highlighted the significant and strategic role which Russia plays in the Arab world and the Middle East

“You have historical relations with the countries of the Arab world … we note the role that you play in helping to resolve the problems of some of our countries,” Tamim said during his first meeting with Putin.

Ties between the two countries have significantly improved in the past two years; officials from different ministries have exchanged visits in both countries a number of times.

Prior to that, Qatar and Russia exchanged a bitter of wars over the conflict in Syria. Qatar has publically said it wants to remove Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, while Russia has backed the Syrian leader diplomatically, economically, and militarily.

It is expected that Putin will discuss a diplomatic end to the Syrian war with his Qatari counterpart.

Russia’s clout in the Persian Gulf is increasing. Qatar is finalizing talks to purchase advanced Russian S-400 anti-missile defense systems and the two countries have discussed military cooperation. This is a crucial move for Russia as Qatar hosts the biggest US military base outside its borders – Centcom.

While Russia may see in Qatar a partner that can help to end the Syrian war, Doha is likely looking to Moscow for help to end its Gulf isolation. Moscow has so far been neutral in the Arab spat, but maintains strong relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The two countries have also been working on a joint position regarding oil and gas markets in the wake of 2014’s drastic drop in oil prices.

Arab Embargo

Although the six Arab countries cited Qatar’s alleged links to terrorist networks for the diplomatic severance, each did so for different reasons.

The Saudi-backed Yemeni government said it decided to cut ties with Qatar because the latter had links with “groups” which backed the Shia Houthi rebels. Experts say the term “groups” refers to Iran’s backing of the Houthi rebels.

For its part, Egypt has long accused Qatar of supporting the outlawed and banned Muslim Brotherhood group, which it claims are behind many terrorist attacks in the country.

The UAE has also accused Qatar of backing the Muslim Brotherhood, which it classified as a security threat. In February 2014, fiery Islamic cleric Yusuf Al Qaradawi, a staple of Al Jazeera’s Arabic programming, launched a verbal attack on the United Arab Emirates for supporting the Egyptian government following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi.

The UAE called on Qatar to exile the cleric, but Doha refused.

In the same years, perhaps as a harbinger of things to come, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha after Qatar failed to honor a joint security agreement in November 2013 that included commitments to cease support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its hosting of Gulf opposition figures.

Russia’s Ace in the Hole

Qatar’s ambitions to become a regional and global player have in recent years been tamed.

Its ‘soft power’ approach to controlling the Middle East have backfired as it rushed head on against countries that have for centuries been well-versed in the art of Machiavellian empire-building and proxy manipulation.

At the same time, Russia’s aggressive immersion in the Middle East muddle has altered not only the narrative in the region but physical realities on the ground.

Anti-Assad forces have been losing significant territory to the Syrian military and its Hezbollah allies, and the areas held by Al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates have been reduced to less than six per cent of the country.

As Russia pounds and destroys the weapons bought by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the US appears to have retreated from the Syrian quagmire. despite Arab Sunni protestations.

As Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani himself likes to point out, Qatar is a peace-loving member of nations that will work with the US and Western allies to bring the Middle East back from the brink of chaos and collapse.

He has blamed the international community for not supporting Arab youth in their drive for democracy, justice and economic security. That is really a scolding of the US and the West for not doing more to bring the Assad regime down.

In the meantime, Qatar is hoping to lure Russia with lucrative energy deals. It has allowed Russian companies to bid for gas development tenders and wants Russian manufacturers to increasingly invest in Qatar.

By Firas Al-Atraqchi for The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies