While Qatar and Russia work together in ways that are pragmatic, Doha remains in the West’s geopolitical fold, especially compared to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
On 28 July, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced that Qatar will provide the war-torn European country with $100 million in aid.
As the Ukrainian Prime Minister explained, this money will be “channeled for reconstruction in the health and education sectors, humanitarian de-mining, and other important social and humanitarian projects.”
Shmyhal relayed this news to the public shortly after he and President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Kyiv late last month.
During Sheikh Mohammed’s visit he spoke with the leadership in Kyiv about Ukraine’s 10-point peace plan aimed at resolving the nearly 18-month-long conflict, which erupted with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. The visit also addressed Qatar’s investment in Ukraine’s eventual reconstruction and Black Sea grain corridor.
In Zelensky’s own words, his meeting with Sheikh Mohammed was “meaningful”. Speaking on behalf of Ukraine, Shmyhal expressed gratitude to Doha for its willingness and readiness to play a mediating role in efforts to return Ukrainian children home after being forcibly taken to Russia amid this war.
The Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs visit to Kyiv last month further demonstrated Doha’s balance vis-à-vis the Russian-Ukrainian War.
His visit “made Qatar appear to be a player, however limited, in the efforts to help Ukraine, and a potential candidate to be a mediator,” Patrick Theros, a former US ambassador to Qatar, told Doha News.
“Zelensky also benefits from contacts with the one country in the GCC whose foreign policy remains staunchly aligned with that of the US (with exceptions).”
Qatar’s relationship with the Kremlin
Sheikh Mohammed’s travel to Ukraine must be interpreted within the context of expanding Qatari-Russian engagement earlier this summer.
On 22 June, Sheikh Mohammed met with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. That was their first meeting since October 2022. While meeting with Moscow’s chief diplomat, Qatar’s Prime Minister called for respecting Ukraine’s territorial dignity and independence, as well as the UN Charter.
Sheikh Mohammed emphasised Doha’s support for resolving the war through dialogue and diplomacy while avoiding further escalation—a stance that puts Qatar in firm alignment with the positions of virtually the entire Global South.
They also discussed Qatar’s trade with relations with Russia. Russia’s Foreign Minister Mikhail Mishustin said that Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority, is “actively investing in leading Russian companies” and that its partnership with the Russian Direct Investment Fund is “developing successfully.”
Mishustin explained that his country and Qatar are working on various joint projects which are worth at least $1.9 billion. He also stated that the Russians are ready to develop “new air routes” with Doha, which can “broaden the geography of our flights” and bolster tourism ties between the two countries.
Dmitry Dogadkin, Russia’s ambassador to Qatar, recently told RIA Novosti that during Mishustin and Sheikh Mohammed’s meeting in June, the two discussed bilateral collaboration to facilitate non-dollar trade transactions.
“Russia proposes to diversify mutual trade and switch to the use of national currencies. Work in this direction is being carried out between our relevant departments,” said Dogadkin.
Another important development in Doha-Moscow relations came on 26 June when Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During this conversation, which took place two days after the Wagner Group’s failed mutiny in Russia, Sheikh Tamim “expressed his support for the actions of the Russian authorities related to the events of June 24” while also confirming Doha’s interest in strengthening bilateral relations, according to the Russian foreign ministry.
On the day of the mercenary group’s armed uprising, Qatar’s foreign ministry released a statement which explained that Doha was “following, with deep concern, the developments in the Russian Federation, which resulted from the mutiny against the [Russian] army.”
Gulf Arab diplomacy in Ukraine
A high-ranking official in Kyiv hailed the talks as productive in terms of securing more support across the globe for the principles which the Ukrainian leadership believes must be at the heart of any future peace between Kyiv and Moscow.
These include the return of every inch of Ukrainian land to Kyiv’s control and the total withdrawal of all Russian military forces from Ukraine.
Regardless of what the talks in Jeddah lead to on the ground in Ukraine, Saudi Arabia hosting so many countries at this meeting undeniably served to boost the Kingdom’s prestige and reputation as a peacemaker with as an increasingly significant diplomatic role on the international stage.
Dr. Samuel Ramani, an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London and expert on Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East, said in a Doha News interview that he does not see Qatar “making it to the frontlines of the diplomatic movements between the Russians and the Ukrainians.”
Yet, in light of the recent Jeddah summit, Dr. Ramani thinks that Saudi Arabia might be a “gateway for Qatar to get a bit more involved diplomatically.”
Mindful of Doha’s history of brokering deals and mediating talks between warring factions in various conflicts, Dr. Ramani does not rule out the possibility of Qatar playing a more serious bridging role between Moscow and Kyiv at some point down the line. But, for right now, he says that “of the GCC countries it seems that Saudi Arabia is leading that kind of ceasefire diplomacy and taking the lead over there.”
The greater Gulf context
Doha’s balanced foreign policy in relation to the conflict in Ukraine mostly aligns with the stances of Arabian Gulf states.
Qatar, like its five fellow GCC members, has voted at the UN General Assembly to condemn Russia’s illegal invasion, occupation, and annexation of land in eastern Ukraine.
But Doha and the rest of the GCC states have not implemented any of the West’s economic sanctions on Moscow, nor have they singled out Russia for its conduct in Ukraine since February 2022 with particularly harsh criticism.
However, Qatar has been less accommodating of Russian foreign policy that some other GCC member, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is probably the most Moscow-friendly state on the Arabian Peninsula.
While Qatar and Russia work together in ways that are highly pragmatic, Doha remains very much in the West’s geopolitical fold, especially compared to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“Qatar has maintained the strongest ties with the US among GCC countries. Any actions it takes [in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian War] will be in furthering that relationship while avoiding risks,” Theros told Doha News.
“Qatar and Russia just don’t have the same warmth and institutional depth as the Russians and Emiratis have,” according to Dr. Ramani. “So, the official statements might be quite similar. But the nature of the Qatari media and society in response to Russia is more critical than in the Emirates.”
Nonetheless, Doha has carefully navigated the geopolitical fallout from Ukraine since February 2022 and worked to position Qatar as a state on good terms with all NATO members, Ukraine, and Russia amid a period of accelerated East-West bifurcation.
By maintaining channels of communication with Kyiv and Moscow, while using its financial resources to strengthen Qatar’s relationships with both Ukraine and Russia, Doha is pursuing a sound and balanced foreign policy without being pressured into antagonising either side in the conflict.
Giorgio Cafiero is CEO and founder of Gulf State Analytics.