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Qatari emir in Russia to discuss Syrian crisis

Qatar's Sheikh Tamim is in Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss situation in the Middle East.

Qatar's Sheikh Tamim

On Sunday evening, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani arrived in Moscow for a short work visit. On Monday he is to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the wars in Syria and Yemen and the situation in Palestine.

The work visit comes amid a massive evacuation of civilians and fighters from Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital Damascus after Russia negotiated with rebel groups to leave the area for opposition-controlled Idlib province.

According to Dmitry Frolovsky, a Moscow-based analyst, Putin and Sheikh Tamim will discuss Russia's position on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Qatari support for the opposition, and the possible participation of Qatar in post-conflict reconstruction of Syria.

"There is going to be division of Syria and obviously the most powerful parties in Syria will be Russia and the United States. Qatar for various reasons will try to maintain stable contacts with both of the parties," Frolovsky said.

In late January, a Russian-sponsored peace conference in Sochi failed to bring together the Syrian regime and opposition for talks. Shortly after, forces loyal to Assad backed by Russian air support launched an operation against rebel-held Eastern Ghouta.

According to Frolovsky, after the regime takes full control of the Damascus suburbs another military operation against rebel-held Idlib province is likely.

Тhe Sheikh Tamim's visit was preceded by phone calls between Putin and Abu Dhabi Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in early March and Saudi King Salman in February. In October last year the Saudi king paid a three-day visit to Moscow.

"It's not only the [Gulf] crisis that boosted the relations [with Gulf countries] but also the general Russian presence in the region which has been augmenting since Putin took part in the Syrian crisis," Frolovsky said.

Russia has assumed a neutral stance on the Gulf crisis but it did offer to help Qatar with food shipments last year, he added.

A delegation of Qatari ministers of finance, foreign relations, energy, and culture, along with a number of other officials, accompanied Sheikh Tamim.

On the sidelines of official meetings, Qatar Petroleum and state-controlled Russian oil company Rosneft are expected to discuss possible contracts, and Qatar Airways will also sign a cooperation agreement with Rosaviatsia, Russia's federal air transport agency.

Five days before his visit to Moscow, Sheikh Tamim met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Qatar where they discussed the possible export of Qatari liquified gas to Ukraine.

Since the fallout with Moscow over the annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbass region, Kiev has been trying to decrease its dependence on Russian oil and gas imports.

Sheikh Tamim's next foreign trip is expected to be in April to the United States where he will meet US President Donald Trump.

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