Russia is downgrading its relations with Qatar following an attack on its envoy in Doha. The assault is being linked to Moscow's criticism of Qatar's backing for the US position on the unrest in Syria.
A little country with gigantic ambitions – Qatar, with a population of less than two million people, has embarked on an aggressive plan to shape the Arab world. By playing in tune with Washington’s policies in the region, Qatar has gained a diplomatic weight it never had before.
“The Qataris feel as if they’ve had enormous backing, and that they’ve become sort of larger than life, especially now, with the focus on Syria,” a senior editor at Executive Intelligence Review, Jeffrey Steinberg, told RT. “As a factor in the politics of the region, they’re currently the chairman of the Arab League, and they’ve used that position to press for the most aggressive kind of action against Syria.”
Qatar became the first Gulf nation to close its embassy in Syria in July. Qatar is also reportedly funneling weapons to Syrian rebels, as it did in Libya. The country’s cheerleading role in revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa has earned Qatar praise and applause from the West, with this plaudit coming from US President Barack Obama: “Qatar has not only supported [us] diplomatically, but has also supported [us] militarily, and we are very appreciative.”
And this, from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The partnership between our two countries is a model.”
America has gone from branding Qatar’s Al Jazeera “a terrorist channel,” to openly praising the international television news station, with US Senator John McCain declaring, “Al Jazeera has played a key and leading role.”
But Qatar has come under increasing criticism from Russia for its aggressive involvement in the affairs of other countries in the region. Last week at Doha airport, the Russian Ambassador to Qatar, along with two Russian embassy officials, was physically assaulted by Qatari customs and security officers when they made an attempt to confiscate a diplomatic bag.
It is this incident which has led to Moscow downgrading formal relations with Qatar.
“They get a sense that anything that they do to really stick a finger in the eye of Russia or any other BRICS country will be applauded in certain circles in the West, and rewarded,” Jeffrey Steinberg explained. “I think it’s all about that sense that they are on the front edge, and Russia is not falling in line around the Syria issue.”
The incident took place on the same day as Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticized Qatar for supplying weapons to Libyan rebels in violation of a UN arms embargo.
The US, which has a military base in the country, has Qatar’s full backing for its Middle East ventures. With Syria now in play, Washington is betting high on Doha.
“Qatar has been put forward as the Arab face on this bullying operation,” Steinberg added.
Tiny Qatar, empowered by the US, is now playing big, striving to punch above its weight to shape the turbulent region in its favor. And the incident at the airport with Russian diplomats showed what happens when someone gets in its way.