Sergey Lavrov’s Gulf Tour

Sabir Askeroğlu Researcher, Foreign Affairs

Russia wants to get closer to Arab countries rather than Iran to solve the problems in the Middle East.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited the Gulf monarchies between 9-11 March. Lavrov focused on two issues, such as improving bilateral relations in the region and bringing up the establishment of a joint security system in the Persian Gulf. “This visit will be an important component of bilateral political dialogue in the monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula,” said Lavrov, who started his visit from the UAE.

During his visit to the UAE, Lavrov met with the UAE Crown Prince and Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the UAE National Security Adviser. Making a press statement after the meetings, UAE Foreign Minister and International Co-operation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said, “Russia is our reliable friend and key partner. Cooperation with Russia has strategic importance. We are in coordination on issues such as the fight against terrorism and food security.” He stated that American sanctions against Syria should be lifted because the sanctions prevented dialogue with Syria. In addition, the Syrian government should return to the Arab League by normalizing its relations with regional actors.

Lavrov, who made a short visit to Saudi Arabia on March 10, met with senior officials of Saudi Arabia. After the talks, he made a joint press release with his Saudi counterpart, Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. Lavrov’s visit to Saudi Arabia was for the continuation of cooperation in the field of energy within the framework of OPEC+ and the development of military-technical cooperation. Russia took a more balanced strategy regarding Yemen, which is one of the most important issues in Saudi Arabia’s security and foreign policy. The Saudi Minister said that the Houthis attack against Saudi Arabia with ballistic missiles and UAVs acquired from Iran poses a threat not only to his country but also to international energy security. He declared that he would take every precaution to eliminate this threat. On the other hand, Lavrov declared that attacks on civilians are unacceptable. Avoiding direct criticism of the Houthis and Iran who supported the Houthis, Lavrov simply invited all actors in Yemen and in the region to dialogue for the resolution of the conflicts.

In Qatar, the last stop of his visit, Lavrov met with both Qatari officials and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The main topic of the Turkey-Russia-Qatar in Doha trilateral meeting was Afghanistan and Syria. Lavrov explained that Russia is not a rival to Qatar or any other country regarding the Afghanistan peace process. Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdurrahman Al-Thani announced that Russia has invited Qatar to the peace consultation for Afghanistan to be held in Moscow on March 18. The US, China, Pakistan, the Afghan government, and the Taliban are expected to attend the meeting, which will be hosted by Russia.

Another decision taken in Doha was that Qatar will attend the Turkey-Russia talks on the solution to the Syrian crisis. Qatari Minister Al Thani states that trilateral consultation meetings will be held in Turkey and Russia should be maintained regularly. In addition, Cavusoglu said that the “Syrian government should show a more constructive attitude to solve the crisis in Syria.” Thus, he gave the message to Russia that a new process could be initiated for cooperation and resolution of the Syrian crisis.

As a result, although Russia has offered Arab countries to normalize with Iran, the main purpose of Lavrov’s visit to the Gulf monarchies is to develop bilateral relations with these countries and to act jointly on concrete issues such as Syria, Libya and oil prices. As a result of Lavrov’s visits, Russia provided the UAE’s support for Syria. Russia is launching a new diplomatic process with turkey and Qatar in order to increase the number of allies in Syria by leaving Iran out of it. Russia, which is dependent on energy security and high oil prices for a significant part of its exports, was able to get the support of Saudi Arabia on this issue. In return, it offers military-technical cooperation to Saudi Arabia, which has serious problems with the Biden Administration. Russia proposes a manoeuvre area to the Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman if he has a problem with the USA. At the same time, Russia shows that its relations in the Middle East are not limited to Iran. When it’s necessary for the solution of problems in the region, Russia could establish a close relationship with Turkey and Arab countries by showing its willingness.

Persian Gulf, Russia, Lavrov, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar

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