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Why Russia seeks to stay neutral in Saudi-Qatar rift

Russia's offer to mediate in the Qatar crisis is a strategic move designed to place Moscow in the catbird seat without endangering relations with either side.
Qatar's foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani shakes hands with Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov after a joint news conference in Doha, Qatar August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon - RC1DD95787D0

Russia clearly wants to remain neutral in the conflict among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, as evidenced by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's three-day trip this week to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The minister not only visited states representing both sides of the conflict, he also went to Kuwait to express Russian support for that country's efforts as a mediator.

The beginning of the current tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia was an unpleasant surprise for Russia. While Moscow had no illusions regarding political friction among GCC members, it could not have expected the friction to lead the Arab monarchies to such a deep crisis. Under these circumstances, the Kremlin made the only reasonable choice: It stayed neutral and offered its services as a mediator. Picking one side would damage Russia's relations with the other, and Moscow wants to remain in good standing with all GCC members.

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