Russia and the United States have both adopted a position of neutrality in the growing dispute between a seemingly awkward coalition of theocratic and secular Arab states who have all cut diplomatic and many business ties with Qatar.
Saudi Arabia lead the charge accusing Qatar of sponsoring terrorism and meddling in other countries. This is a manifestly true accusation though it is even more readily applied to Saudi Arabia itself.
Egypt’s secular government as well as the secular Libyan House of Representatives joined Saudi Arabia in cutting off all ties with Qatar. They were joined by Saudi allies United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as well as the disputed Yemeni government of President Hadi. The south Asian Republic of Maldives also joined in cutting off relations with Qatar.
The United States has a close relationship with both Qatar and Saudi and following from that, has urged for calm and cooperation while publicly maintaining neutrality.
Speaking in Australia, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated,
“I do not expect that this will have any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified fight against terrorism in the region or globally”.
He also urged that the dispute to be dealt with constructively in the Gulf Cooperation Council of which both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are members.
Viktor Ozerov, the Chairman of the Defence and Security Committee of Russia’s Federation Council offered a diplomatic response to the crisis saying,
“Of course we will carefully study all the information that, as claimed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the countries that have joined them, indicates that Qatar supports international terrorism”.
He reiterated Russia’s totally independent relationship with Qatar, one which will not be influenced by events within the wider Arab world. Russia is generally on opposite sides of major geo-political issues vis-a-vis both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but in spite of this, Russia maintains full normal diplomatic relations with both countries and is certain to continue to do so.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed this official Russian policy saying that it is not Russia’s job to interfere in the bilateral relations of other states. Like his American counterpart Rex Tillerson, Lavrov called for calm saying,
“We were never happy over the difficulties that arose in relations of other countries. We are interested in maintaining friendly relations with everyone, especially in the region where concentration of all efforts of fighting a joint threat, the threat of international terrorism, is a priority”.
Russia is better placed than many countries to understand the real nature of the dispute. It is a crisis caused by Saudi attempting to economically isolate Qatar at a time when overall oil prices are falling. Furthermore, Qatar’s attempt to circumvent Saudi’s self-proclaimed leadership position by making overtures to Iran has likewise infuriated Riyadh which has sought to build a grand anti-Iranian alliance among Sunni Arab states.
Egypt for its part along with the Egypt friendly Tobruk government in Libya, the Libyan House of Representatives have grievances with both Saudi and Qatar but have followed Saudis lead in isolating at least one of its two realistic enemies (though not stated enemies in either case). In this case, it is simply a sad statement on the state of the Arab world that Egypt which under Nasser was a leader, now has resigned itself to following a decision of Saudi Arabia, a correct move, but in respect of Saudi Arabia, one that is a dictionary definition of hypocrisy as Saudi does everything Qatar is correctly accused of, only more.
Some sources indicate that some Saudi officials are privately angry that Pakistan, an ally of both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, has decided to maintain full relations with Qatar. The fact that Saudi was unable to force Pakistan’s hand in the dispute is a sign that its wider influence on the large Muslim country is not as air tight as many have suggested. This is a key development that has been largely ignored by most media outlets.
The entire row has the effect of making Iran look far more stable than any Gulf state. So much for a united anti-Iranian coalition.