Russia and Qatar appear to be getting closer to striking a landmark deal for transfer of the S-400 anti-missile defense system to Doha, considered the most advanced anti-air system of its kind, and lately the result of tensions with the West wherever it is present, whether in Syria or Turkey.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated at a press conference Monday while standing alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani that Moscow is “ready to consider Doha’s requests for weapons delivery, if such requests appear,” according to TASS news agency.
“Our military-technical cooperation with Qatar is regulated in a bilateral manner, 18 months ago we signed an intergovernmental agreement on military-technical cooperation,” Lavrov said. “Today, we reaffirmed the need to follow this agreement.”
“When our Qatari partners send us requests for delivery of Russian military products, we will consider them,” the Russian FM added. Al-Thani confirmed earlier on Monday that Doha is currently holding negotiations with Moscow on the purchase of S-400 missile systems, but that no decision has been reached.
This brings up two pressing and potentially explosive issues: the ongoing diplomatic and economic war between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the fact that Qatar hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East at Al Udeid air base.
Over the past year Saudi Arabia has routinely leveled the charged that Qatar is a state-sponsor of terror and thus should be prevented by global powers from purchasing advanced weapons, a charge that Qatar denies. In its corner Saudi Arabia also has other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states like the UAE that have long sought to isolate Doha.
But since Saudi-led GCC states initiated a blockade against tiny but oil and gas rich Qatar staring in 2017, ties between Doha and Moscow have actually improved and grown. Qatari FM al-Thani addressed the continuing GCC crisis by saying:
With regards to Saudi or other countries, it is none of their business, it’s a sovereign decision by Qatar.
Last month reports suggested the Saudi king had threatened “military action” in a personal letter to French President Emmanuel Macron should Qatar move forward with obtaining the S-400s from Russia. The letter reportedly said “the kingdom would be ready to take all necessary measures to eliminate this defense system, including military action,” according to a French Le Monde report.
For the past two years Russia has aggressively promoted its S-400 with agreements recently reached with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, something which has alarmed US defense planners.
Broader proliferation of the advanced system in the Middle East would mark a significant and potentially irreversible retreat for already waning American influence in the region. This would mean the Middle East could soon witness the Russian-made S-400 in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Syria.