Russia has down-scaled the level of diplomatic relations with Qatar following an incident with the Russian ambassador to the country, who was physically attacked by Qatari customs and security officers.
Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko suffered an assault at Doha Airport on November 29, on his return from a mission to Jordan. While passing through customs control he was attacked by customs security, who made an attempt to confiscate his diplomatic pouch. Titorenko resisted and was beaten, together with two other Russian diplomats who were there to welcome the ambassador.
The next day Russian Foreign Ministry filed a note of protest to Qatar, demanding that official Doha apologize, but no such apology followed.
On December 4, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov officially informed Qatari Prime Minister and concurrently Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani that Moscow is suspending diplomatic relations with Doha until demands of the Russian side are completed in full.
Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko will leave Qatar once he finishes a course of medical treatment as a result of the attack.
Earlier, the ambassador told RIA Novosti that at first he had been hoping the incident had occurred due to the incompetence of customs and security officers, who simply were not familiar with the Vienna Convention that allows diplomats to bring in diplomatic mail without having it x-rayed.
On top of that, the Russian diplomatic mission in Qatar has specially-issued permission not to subject its diplomatic mail to x-ray, but customs officers disregarded this exemption.
Moscow’s relations with Doha became somewhat strained in the course of the Arab Spring gripping Middle Eastern and North African countries. The previous week, Russia officially criticized Qatar for its role in the Libyan uprising, which violated the arms embargo imposed on the country by the UN Security Council.
“We know how the arms embargo was applied in Libya. The opposition was receiving arms, with such countries as France and Qatar publicly stating that they have supplied those arms,” said Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a press conference in Moscow on the same day Titorenko was attacked at Doha Airport.
An unnamed Russian diplomat gave comments to RIA Novosti, linking the incident with the Russian position on the unrest in Syria.
Qatar has been consistently supporting sanctions against Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whereas Russia is acting against sanctioning Syria on all diplomatic levels, including the UN Security Council.
The source said Titorenko had been actively explaining the Russian position at press conferences and in articles he has written exposing the nature of the conflict in Syria. Thus, the Russian ambassador’s activity displeased certain figures and led to the attack, concludes the source.
The incident with the Russian diplomat may be viewed as an extension of the “aggressive stance” Qatar has adopted after it became the rotational head of the Arab League, says James Corbett, the editor of the independent news website corbettreport.com.
“It must have been done intentionally,” Corbett told RT. “This is a major diplomatic incident not to be smoothed over easily. One can imagine this might have a lasting impact on the relations between the two countries.”
Washington may be involved in shaping Qatar’s policy, believes the editor. The US interest in the region is $60-70 billion worth of investments in the Qatari energy industry.
“The US is probably playing its diplomatic angle to put pressure on Qatar to wield its power in the Arab League in a way it is beneficial to the Anglo-American interests,” remarks Corbett.