Russia’s role as a preeminent power broker in the Middle East is all but solidified.
By Adam Garrie –
The Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani is in Moscow where he held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the continuing crisis between Qatar and its neighbours Saudi Arabia and the UAE who have been joined by other Arab states, notably Egypt, in cutting off all ties with the small Gulf state.
The Qatari Foreign Minister who is keenly aware that Russia has normal relations with both Doha and Riyadh told RT,
“Qatar and Russia – which is the main player on the international arena – have friendly relations”.
This statement carries far larger implications than a kind diplomatic salutatory remark. The statement implies that it is not America, a long time ally of Qatar, but Russia whom the Qatari regime seeks counsel from in an attempt to mitigate the crisis which has seen Qatar effectively blockaded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in addition to de-facto sanctions on Qatari businesses and media imposed in a rapid 24 hour period.
Donald Trump has made it clear that he has taken the Saudi side in the row, although Rex Tillerson has stressed a neutral position that has emphasised a desire to de-escalate of the conflict. To this end, reports have recently broken that Mr. Tillerson phoned Sergey Lavrov shortly after the Russian Foreign Minister concluded his meeting with his Qatari counterpart.
This is the clearest indication yet that the Trump administration is beginning to view Russia as a responsible super-power that can be consulted by the US in times of wider diplomatic and geo-political crisis. The phone call represents a clear departure from an Obama administration that either discarded Russia or openly showed content for and distrust towards Russia.
The result of the arrogant, ideologically driven Obama years has had the effect of making Russia a much sought after international player while isolating America, in this case even from its ally Qatar.
The Qatari Foreign Minister had only positive things to say about his meeting with Lavrov.
Sergey Lavrov stated that Russia would do all that it could do to bring about a peaceful solution to the crisis. He emphasised however that much though it is important to amicably resolve the crisis, that it is imperative that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is the first body who attempt to solve the crisis. The GCC includes the rowing parties, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar as well as Kuwait and Oman who have taken something of an agnostic position yet one which seeks to help reduce tensions in the region.
“For reasons of principle, we don’t interfere in the internal affairs of other states or in their bilateral relations with each other.
However, we cannot enjoy the situation where relations between our partners are deteriorating”.
Unlike Turkey whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has jumped head-long into the crisis as a kind of pro-Qatar cheerleader, Russia has been careful to maintain a neutral stance.
In this sense, Russia is the clear winner and insofar as Russia is, Moscow is helping to shield Turkey from being isolated in the event of the tide of the conflict turning against Doha.
By Russia acting as a responsible neutral power, America has in effect become geo-politically reliant on Russia as a country whose neutrality is legitimate. The US could have attained a similar position as a country with deep connections with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar. However, Donald Trump’s Tweets suggesting that Qatar is a sponsor of terrorism (which of course it is), have not exactly allowed America to consequently act as an impartial jurist in the dispute. This has left Russia as the de-facto responsible non-Arab power that is clearly capable of mediating in the crisis due to its ability to maintain normal diplomatic relations with countries who are not generally aligned with Moscow’s position in the world.
Iran’s offer to send aid to Qatar has also helped to send a clear messaged that America is slowly but surely losing its grip on her closest allies. Qatar has the biggest US military base in the Middle East, even bigger than those in Iraq and yet Iran extended an offer to a Qatari regime that has engaged in discussions with Tehran. When one thinks that the phone that the Emir of Qatar used to congratulate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on his recent victory in Iran’s democratic Presidential election was only a stone’s throw away from a base full of US forces, it puts into perspective the increasingly limited political influence the US can realistically achieve in the region.
In all of this, a knock-on effect has been America holding back its jihadist forces in southern Syria and allowing the Syrian Arab Army and its allies to advance further towards Deir ez-Zor. Reports have simultaneously surfaced of a secret deal between Russia and the US to allow Syrian forces to proceed with their war without any further attacks from the United States.
The timing of all of this is almost certainly not coincidental. Deadlock in the Gulf may have helped America to realise that the Gulfi proxies in Syria who have done America and Turkey’s heavy fighting against Syrian and allied forces, are beginning to crumble; a fortunate knock-on effect from the crisis in the Gulf.
The biggest question that remains in this is as follows: If Donald Trump has orchestrated this by design, he may be something of a genius. In allowing himself to use the power of Twitter to meddle in the Gulf, he may have set the stage for a jihadist exit from Syria all while forcing one Gulf aggressor, in this case Qatar, to seriously reconsider its loyalties to terrorists.
By keeping Saudi Arabia busy in its own back yard, its ability to use its considerable wealth to dictate events outside of the Gulf may be constrained.
If Donald Trump has accomplished all of this by accident, he is simply the right man in the right place at the right time, even if for the wrong reasons.
Either way, Russia’s dominant role in the region has now been confirmed by a series of related events.