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Russia’s food shipments to Qatar are a soft power masterstroke

(FILES) This file photo taken on December 06, 2016 shows Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attending a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in the Bahraini capital Manama. Gulf states on June 5, 2017 cut diplomatic ties with neighbouring Qatar and kicked it out of a military coalition, less than a month after US President Donald Trump visited the region to cement ties with powerhouse Saudi Arabia. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

 

The Qatari-Saudi Cold War is a geopolitical scheme cooked up by the US and the UAE, as I explained in my 21st Century Wire article about “The Machiavellian Plot to Provoke Saudi Arabia and Qatar into a “Blood Border” War”, but it’s not exactly a surprise that it happened. My September 2016 forward-looking analysis about “The GCC: The Tripartite’s Big Barter In The ‘Eurasian Balkans’” presciently forecast that a second round of Gulf tensions was bound to occur, and that the Great Power Tripartite of Russia, Iran, and Turkey could cooperate with Qatar in helping to break Riyadh’s stranglehold on the GCC. Moreover, my Geopolitica.Ru analysis from earlier this week about “Russia’s Energy Diplomacy In The Mideast: Boom Or Bust?” accurately predicted that Russia will play a role in mediating tensions between the two feuding GCC countries, which has now officially come to pass with the Qatari Foreign Minister’s visit to Moscow this weekend.

There are concrete geostrategic reasons why Russia is making itself available to Qatar as a mediator, and these mostly have to do with positioning Moscow as the supreme balancing force all across the Eurasian supercontinent and probing the potential for a “gas OPEC” between the two and Iran. Apart from the tangible dividends, however, there stand to be more immediate soft power results from Russia’s outreach to Qatar. Moscow took the wise move to announce that it’s ready to increase food shipments to Doha, which is hugely symbolic considering that Muslims all across the world are fasting to commemorate the Holy Month of Ramadan. For readers who aren’t aware of what this entails, Muslims fast all throughout the day and then eat a large multi-dish meal after sunset during iftar. Ramadan is supposed to be a month of Islamic solidarity and celebration, but regrettably, Saudi Arabia decided to launch its asymmetrical aggression against Qatar at this time, and the self-inflicted reputational consequences have already been severe.

Many Muslims from all across the world have voiced their disgust on social media, unable to believe that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques would dare cut off food shipments to a fellow member of the ummah (international Muslim community) during this Holy Month. Some have even (rightly) accused Saudi Arabia of acting on orders from “Israel” because Tel Aviv has publicly backed Riyadh’s every move. Saudi Arabia’s backstabbing of former ally Qatar looks even more treacherous when contrasted with Iran’s offer to provide food to the de-facto embargoed country and even allow it to use the Islamic Republic’s ports for commerce. This isn’t supposed to happen, at least according to the radical sectarian narrative promoted by Saudi Arabia, but the very fact that Shiite Iran is extending humanitarian assistance to Sunni Qatar debunks the manufactured Sunni-Shiite geopolitical split that Riyadh has been heavily promoting for decades. What’s more, Russia’s food shipments to Qatar therefore take on an even more heightened symbolic meaning in this context.

Russia’s grand strategy is to become the Eurasian Balancer, and it can only do this by peacefully managing intra-Islamic relations between the Sunni and Shiite communities. Moscow’s policies aren’t sectarian by any measure, though they’ve unfortunately been branded as such by some Muslims and especially Qatar’s ummah-wide Al Jazeera media outlet due to the misleading perception that they supposedly only benefit Shiites (Alawite President Assad and Iran). This is the wrong way to interpret Russia’s anti-terrorist intervention in Syria, but it’s unfortunately convenient for agenda-driven actors to frame the game-changing events over the past couple of years along these lines. One of those self-interested forces which actively promoted this idea and deliberately fanned the flames of sectarian violence is Qatar through its publicly financed Al Jazeera platform, though interestingly, Doha is now in a position of semi-strategic dependency on Moscow which could potentially lead to a more neutral shift in the station’s coverage of Russia’s Mideast policies.

Altogether, Russia’s proposal to ship food to Qatar in helping the peninsular country break through the Saudi-led embargo has served two strategic soft power objectives. The first is that Moscow is no longer perceived as the “pro-Shiite” actor that some of the region’s citizenry were wrongly brainwashed into thinking that it was, and secondly, Russia’s reputation will likely improve as a result of Al Jazeera’s expectedly more neutral coverage of its Mideast policy. Considering that Al Jazeera is largely responsible for this false sectarian narrative anyhow, Russia’s humanitarian courtship of Qatar during Ramadan could go a long way in sustainably reversing this if Doha directs the station to more neutrally cover Moscow’s Mideast moves as a sign of gratitude for its support. The soft power surge that this would give to Russia’s regional policy is immeasurable, and it would advance Moscow’s grand strategic goal of becoming the premier balancing force in Eurasia, especially as it relates to easing tensions surrounding the US’ recent aggravation of the Sunni-Shiite split.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.

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