On March 25, 2018, head of the State of Qatar, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, arrived in Moscow on a short working visit. The next day he had a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. The previous meeting between the leaders of Russia and Qatar took place in 2016.
Contacts between the two countries intensified during the Qatari crisis, which began in May 2017, when four Arab states – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt – broke off diplomatic relations with Doha, accusing it of supporting terrorism, and imposed economic sanctions on Qatar.
This was an impetus for Qatar to intensify its foreign policy in order to obtain political support, as well as to advance economic relations to mitigate the consequences of sanctions. Russia took a neutral position on the crisis and proposed to mediate its settlement. Qatari authorities expressed satisfaction with Russia’s move.
One should consider the emir’s visit to Russia in the context of new Qatari foreign policy, aimed at expanding and strengthening relations with as many countries as possible. The Emir of Qatar has recently visited a number of states, and some of them have never been among his country's foreign policy partners.
During his visit to Moscow, some issues of mutual interest were discussed. Primarily it was the Syrian crisis, where the two parties seriously disagree: Qatar is one of the most active supporters of the Syrian opposition. It advocates the resignation of Syrian President Bashar Assad before the process of political settlement in Syria begins, while Russia believes that the political process in the country is a matter of the Syrian people. While understanding Russia’s growing role in the Middle East, the leaders of the Gulf Arab states nevertheless seek to change its position on Syria and make Assad leave. According to Qatari newspapers, the negotiations also covered the post-crisis reconstruction in Syria.
Talks between the leaders of Russia and Qatar also focused on the need to develop bilateral relations, increasing trade and mutual investments. However, no specific proposals to achieve these goals were made.
During the visit of the Emir of Qatar to Russia, an agreement was signed on cooperation in the field of science and education between Rosneft and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Social Development, which can be considered a very modest outcome of this visit. The Emir of Qatar told the Russian president that he considers “development of cultural cooperation between the two countries”, to be “very important”. The year 2018 was declared a year of Qatari culture in Russia and Russian culture in Qatar (it should be noted that the two countries’ interaction in the sphere of cultural exchanges and contacts remains insignificant). Finally, Qatar Airways held negotiations in order to buy stakes of the Russian Vnukovo airport. However, the contract has not been signed yet.
The visit was not a noticeable phenomenon, which would attract a lot of attention worldwide. Even Russian or Qatari media did not pay much attention to it. One could say that this visit will not change the nature of relations between Qatar and Russia, which are friendly, but low-level. At the same time, there are hardly any real prospects for deep and comprehensive development of the Russian-Qatari relations.
Today Russia is more interested in expanding cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the UAE than Qatar, which can also be considered an important reason hampering the development of Qatar-Russian relations. Close ties of Qatar with the United States do not contribute to fostering dialogue either. In April 2018, the Emir of Qatar is going to pay a visit to Washington.