Will the Qatar-GCC spat lead to a quartet alliance?
Links between seemingly unconnected matters have become apparent. Russia is considering delivering the S-400 missile system to Turkey. The two sides are finalizing the agreement over delivery of the sophisticated air-defense system. Moscow is even considering giving Ankara a loan to seal the deal. The S-400 is supposed to protect Turkish airspace from any infiltrators. The purchase marks further improvement in bilateral ties and cooperation.
The two countries are intensively trying to rebuild relations since their clash over Ankara’s downing of a Russian fighter jet in November 2015 over the Turkish-Syrian border. A NATO member, Turkey is currently experiencing turbulent relations with other member states.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambitions and political tools hardly correlate with the West’s visions and aspirations. While the West severely criticizes Ankara for oppressing political opponents and moving toward dictatorship, Turkey is looking for its own distinguished status on the geopolitical map.
Recent developments around Raqqa and full-scale US support of Kurdish militias raise many questions for Ankara regarding the situation after the Syrian city’s liberation from Daesh, as the Kurdish issue is critical to Turkey.
Meanwhile, Turkey and Russia are cooperating over Syria despite serious disagreements, which appear to be less significant than those with the West. Moscow and Ankara are forming a resilient trilateral alliance with Tehran in the framework of the Astana formula, to some extent counterbalancing the US and its allies.
At present, Russia and Turkey are ready to communicate, negotiate and diversify their options. They are interested in each other as strategic partners to solve many issues on their national agendas. Their rapprochement has become far more interesting in the context of the current crisis between Qatar and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Qatari leaders, among others, have had phone calls with Russian, Iranian and Turkish counterparts.
Turkey historically has had very close ties with Qatar, and both support the Muslim Brotherhood, whose designation as a terrorist group is under discussion within the Trump administration.
If Qatar persists in funding terrorism and extremism in the region, as well as supporting the Brotherhood, without easing tensions by accepting what its fellow GCC members require, it is doomed to lose and be an outcast.
Erdogan on Tuesday said the sanctions against Qatar are “not right,” asking: “Have we solved the crises in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq to also add this (Gulf) crisis?” Turkey is calling for an easing of tensions while announcing its support of its old ally, despite the risk of tensions with other GCC states.
Qatar and Russia enjoy very warm relations due to mutual economic interests, mainly in the last two years. Qatar owns 20 percent of the Rosneft integrated oil company, which is majority-owned by the Russian government. Meanwhile, Qatar is actively investing in Russia’s economy and is a major player in its investment market.
When tensions with the GCC escalated, Qatar’s ambassador in Moscow had an urgent meeting with Russia’s foreign minister, after which there were phone conversations between both countries’ foreign ministers.
There are indications that Russia and Turkey are coordinating their stances on the issue. Most likely their positions will fully correlate, with calls to ease tensions while maintaining ties with Doha. Qatar has received the endorsement from its two close friends that it was seeking.
Tehran is closely watching the crisis, and immediately offered to boost ties with Doha at the expense of other GCC members. This poses the question of whether Iran is trying to interfere, as it is eager to use the situation for its own interests. The trilateral alliance of Russia, Turkey and Iran is turning out to be a quartet with Qatar.
This latest crisis was unexpected considering the unity of GCC states, and it is endangering them. Phone calls amid the crisis have been deemed a litmus test for real friends who are willing to voice their firm backing of Doha.
If Qatar persists in funding terrorism and extremism in the region, as well as supporting the Brotherhood, without easing tensions by accepting what its fellow GCC members require, it is doomed to lose and be an outcast. This is undesirable for Qatar.
Analysts expect that Doha will not relinquish its policies due to backing from Turkey, Russia and Iran. Miscalculations by major players in the Middle East could leave the region in the hands of Tehran, which would worsen the GCC dispute for its own interests.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). She can be reached on Twitter: @politblogme.