The amir arrived in Kazakhstan on Tuesday to join heads of states for the the sixth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.
Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kazakhstan on Thursday, just a day after Doha joined 143 countries to vote on a United Nations General Assembly resolution rejecting Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territories.
“This will be the first face-to-face meeting after the outbreak of the pandemic, so it is very important,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters. “The last time we met with the Emir was in Dushanbe in 2019.”
While he said talks would primarily focus on politics and trade, he also noted energy as a point of discussion.
“I would single out cooperation in the energy market, cooperation between Russia and Qatar within the framework of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum,” he added, according to Reuters.
According to a person involved with the discussions, the anticipated meeting on Thursday is an effort to reduce tensions between Moscow and Doha, which have escalated since the Russia-Ukraine conflict started back in February.
Despite trying to maintain a largely neutral attitude towards the issue, gas exporter giant Qatar has made certain moves that have irritated Moscow, according to the source.
Sheikh Tamim called the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, shortly after explosions shook a number of cities earlier this week, including the nation’s largest city, Kyiv.
According to the source, Qatar was one of eight non-NATO nations that attended a NATO summit earlier this year and has criticised Russia’s acquisition of Ukrainian territory.
The source cited as examples Russia’s delivery of humanitarian help in Syria and its role in facilitating discussions between international powers on Iran’s nuclear file and claimed that some of these moves are a testament to Russia’s “displeasure” and thus the consequent interference in key Qatar dossiers.
To continue acting as a conflict mediator, Qatar “needs cordial relations with Russia and others in the region,” the source emphasised.
Qatar’s stance in Russia-Ukraine conflict
Since the onset of the Russian-Ukraine crisis on 24 February, Qatar has held various phone calls with the leaders of both countries.
In March, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani travelled to Moscow where he met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
In a joint press conference with Lavrov at the time, the Qatari foreign minister condemned “everything to the contrary” of the United Nations Charter.
Last week, Qatar stressed the need to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity after Russia announced the annexation of 15% of the country.
In a statement, Qatar’s foreign ministry said that it was following “with great concern” the developments with regards to the ongoing “Russian-Ukrainian crisis”.
The Gulf state placed great emphasis on the “necessity of respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders and pursuing dialogue as a way to resolve the crisis.”
It also renewed Qatar’s stance in supporting the UN Charter, which stipulates settling disputes peacefully, as per international law.
On Monday, Qatar’s amir held a phone call with Zelenskyy as Moscow continued to pound Ukrainian cities.
The amir “called again on all parties to exercise restraint, resolve the dispute through dialogue and diplomatic methods, settle international disputes by peaceful means, and not to take any action that would lead to further escalation,” state-run Qatar News Agency reported.
Russian missiles reportedly bombarded more than 40 Ukrainian cities and villages on Thursday, according to officials, as reported by Reuters, after a UN General Assembly resolution called Moscow’s takeover of Ukrainian territory “illegal” and as Ukraine’s allies committed more military support.
What does the invasion of Ukraine mean for Qatar?
Through maintaining its close relations with the Western bloc and prioritising its national interests, Doha has arguably and “most explicitly” exhibited its political stance through “condemnations of Russian actions and gestures of support for Ukraine,” a Gulf International Forum report suggested.
On the day of the invasion, February 24th, the Ukrainian president singled out Qatar in a tweet, in which he also stated the “world is with us.”
A ‘rupture’ in Qatar and Russia relations is seen as a probable event due to the developing economic competition between the two states, the report argued.
Over the past few months, Qatar has presented a hopeful presence to the EU as the bloc hopes to move away from Russian natural gas, with Germany, France, Belgium, and Italy holding talks with the Gulf nation to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) on a long-term basis.
While Qatar has expressed its readiness to help Western countries over the last eight months, physical limitations on its ability to increase export volumes still reside. This in turn, poses a major challenge to the EU’s decision to halt its reliance on Russian energy supply.
Qatar is seen moving away from a possible strong Moscow and Doha alliance as the Ukrainian crisis ‘may force’ Qatar to move closer to the United States. This political behaviour would be “highly unusual, given that Moscow is not a major threat to Doha’s security and remains a tangential actor within the Gulf region.”
While the previously argued scenario of possible Russian and Qatari relations paints the relations as “downgrading”, the other scenario argued by the report illustrates a more “pragmatic” relation.
The scenario describes that the relations between the two states retain a normal level of bilateral relations.
The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) currently possesses shares in the Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft, a $500 million stake in VTB bank, as well as a 25% stake in St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport.
However, QIA has placed a pause on its activities in Russia as Doha rules out further investments in Russia until there is stability. The reason the Gulf country has held its investments stagnant “comes down to avoid perceptions of partiality,” the report argued.
“Doha is not interested in using its economic resources as means of political influence or coercion. This could damage its principle of remaining a neutral power, ready to mediate in international conflicts, but not to create coalitions against anyone,” Nikolay Kozhanov, a professor at Qatar University said.
Qatar’s foreign minister said in March that his country is not planning on making any new investments in Russia until “clarity on the stability of the situation” in Ukraine is attained.
In an interview with CNN, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman said that investment in Russia is currently “under a lot of review” and Doha is not thinking about boosting its investments there until a “better environment and more political stability” is witnessed.
The QIA’s current and generous investments in Rosneft is based on “commercial assessment” and is still in progress. However, the Qatari envoy noted, QIA will cease to increase its investments for the time being.
As reported by Reuters in late March, China’s state-run Sinopec Group also suspended talks regarding an important petrochemical investment and a gas marketing venture in Russia due to the government’s “call for caution as sanctions mount over” the Ukrainian crisis.
Following the Qatar-run investment and its Chinese counterpart, the two events are seen as a ‘crystallisation’ of a “trend of ‘soft sanctions’ on Russia by its non-Western partners.”