All news

Lavrov’s Persian Gulf tour covers trade, oil, space and Syria

The Russian foreign minister started his tour in Qatar
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov  Alexander Shcherbak/TASS
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
© Alexander Shcherbak/TASS

MOSCOW, March 7. /TASS/. On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov wrapped up a tour of the Persian Gulf states that kicked off on Sunday, during which he visited the capitals of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The agenda at the meetings with his counterparts and state leaders, the results of which Lavrov discussed at news conferences in each capital, varied from the traditional trade-economic cooperation, joint projects and bilateral visits down to the situation in Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The minister stressed the importance of consolidating trust and security in the Persian Gulf area, where there are still disagreements between Iran and some countries from the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and the crisis between Qatar and its neighbors, which started in 2017, remains unsettled.

Football and other things

The Russian foreign minister started his tour in Qatar, which is an important energy partner. Therefore, Lukoil, Zarubezhneft, Gazprom and Novatek are interested in projects with this country, and the Qatar Investment Authority has 18.93% of Rosneft’s shares. Lavrov said after the visit that Moscow and Doha would continue to coordinate steps on the global hydrocarbons market, including at the Gas Exporting Countries Forum.

The issue of military-technical cooperation took the spotlight after reports of Qatar’s interest in purchasing the S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. Negotiations are underway on this issue. However, the sides stated that no specific decisions were taken. "The understanding on the purchase of S-400s has not been reached so far; the technical committees are working on it," Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said at a joint news conference.

Lavrov reiterated, for his part, on the signing of an agreement on military-technical cooperation between the two countries in October 2017 and stressed, "When we start receiving applications for deliveries of Russian-made military products from our Qatari partners, then we will study them."

While Qatar prefers employing restraint and caution in its statements on purchasing specific Russian arms, the topic of sports is a completely different ball game. In particular, Doha is sincerely interested in Russia’s help in carrying out the FIFA World Cup. Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, and representatives for the two countries are already communicating on these issues. "We will be ready to share our experience," the Russian top diplomat added.

The oil market

Moscow and Riyadh noted the effectiveness of cooperation on the global market of energy carriers during their contacts at various levels. The leaders of the two states said they are ready to continue this coordination. So, the negotiations between Lavrov and Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir were no exception.

"We agreed on continuing to coordinate steps on the global oil market in the OPEC+ format, which was established and is successfully operating, mostly thanks to the initiative actions of our countries," the Russian foreign minister said after the negotiations that were held in the Royal Terminal at Riyadh Airport immediately after landing.

Russia and Saudi Arabia are also bolstering trade, he said: they are coordinating new major projects in the sphere of energy, civilian nuclear energy, industry, agriculture and transport infrastructure.

The request that was heeded

The session of the Russian-Kuwaiti interagency commission was held almost simultaneously with Lavrov’s visit. Its participants stated the intention to develop ties in the transport sphere. Kuwait also suggested that Russian businesses should participate in projects in the sphere of electric energy, water supply and equipment deliveries. Speaking about the development of economic ties with the emirate, Lavrov reported that the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) are working on dozens of projects worth about $200 million.

The sides discussed the situation regarding Russian Tatyana Lazareva, who was sentenced to 10 years behind bars in Kuwait on charges of embezzling money from the emirate’s state fund. The top diplomat reported that he conveyed a request to the Kuwaiti government to guarantee her legal rights when examining the case. "It seemed to me that this request was heard," he added.

The space project

The foreign minister wrapped up his trip to the Persian Gulf with a visit to Abu Dhabi. Russia and the United Arab Emirates, already having implemented several dozen projects to the tune of $2 billion, agreed to ramp up the volume of investments in new joint projects. The sides also discussed prospects for cooperation in the sphere of hydrocarbons and nuclear energy.

The sides are also cooperating in space. It recently emerged that the first cosmonaut from the UAE may go to the International Space Station (ISS) on September 25. The contract to train the cosmonaut and organize this mission was signed between the agencies of the two countries in 2018, and two selected candidates are actively training in Zvyozdny Gorodok already.

Lavrov also invited UAE subjects to visit Russia more often, which became especially important after the enactment of the law abolishing visas on February 17.

A meeting with the opposition

Syria remained on the agenda of the majority of talks between Lavrov and his foreign colleagues and was heard daily in the press’ questions, which was confirmed during the foreign minister’s current trip across the region. Moreover, the minister met with head of the oppositional Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) Nasr al-Hariri in Saudi Arabia right ahead his departure to Kuwait. The Syrian Negotiations Committee is a structure that united representatives for the groups based in Riyadh, Moscow and Cairo and the armed opposition. Lavrov stated that Moscow expects that the opposition would support the speedy development of the Syrian Constitutional Committee. That said, the interests of the SNC itself, which took part in the development of the committee’s opposition bloc, will be represented in this mechanism, the Russian top diplomat stressed later.

The launch of the constitutional committee was frozen in December, when the UN, at the suggestion of some Western states, doubted several candidates presented to the committee. Work is now carrying on, and the list of civil society representatives is being coordinated. The process may be completed in the near future. In light of this, the minister was confident that the UN realizes its responsibility over the urgent convocation of the mechanism.

Syria and the Arab League

The prospects of Syria’s return to the League of Arab States were voiced in each of the capitals where the negotiations were held. However, the member states have not reached a consensus so far, as could be seen recently.

Doha stated that there was no progress in the reinstatement of Damascus’ rights in the Arab League. "The reasons which caused this still exist, and nothing has happened yet to change this decision," the Qatari foreign minister said. The Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs took a similar stance: the restoration is linked to the progress of the peace process, so it would be too early to talk about it. Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan was rather vague on this point, stating that Syria is just at the beginning of its return back to the Arab world.

That said, Kuwait has a more amiable position. "We support Syria’s return to a peaceful existence, to the Arab family. We will welcome this move," Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Kuwait Sabah Al Khaled Al Ahmad Al Sabah stated.

The offer is open

The problem of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was discussed in each country of the region, and Lavrov thoroughly dwelled on it at joint news conferences with his colleagues. In particular, he confirmed that the proposal to hold a meeting on Russian soil between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that was made in late 2016 remains open. "We believe it would be a very important step for the restoration of trust," the Russian foreign minister stressed. That said, the Palestinian side is ready for the meeting, while Israel did not determine the date yet, though it will not throw away this opportunity.

Moscow warns against playing dangerously with this problem and calls for supporting the resolutions of the UN Security Council and the Arab Peace Initiative, which stipulates the normalization of relations between the Arab states and Israel after a settlement to the Palestinian problem.

Today there are attempts to withdraw from this plan. In light of this, Lavrov reiterated about the American "deal of the century," that the US is actively discussing but did not disclose to the public. Washington states that it is not trying to undermine the two-state solution by this initiative. However, Moscow did not take at its word, as such statements "should be proven in practice."