On April 5, 2021, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived to the state of Qatar on an official visit. The trip to the Middle East monarchy has marked new geopolitical perspectives for both states. Qatar is a strategic partner of Turkey, Great Britain and the United States of America in the Middle East, which at the same time has common economic interests with Ukraine. Although military cooperation is not a matter of bilateral cooperation yet, there is great potential between the states for the development of cooperation in the economic and energy spheres. The impetus for Ukrainian-Qatari relations was given after the Olvia port concession by QTerminals on August 20, 2020, which undertook to invest 3.4 billion hryvnas in the project. The next step in the development of Ukrainian-Qatari relations was the visit of the President of Ukraine to Qatar on April 5 this year. During his visit, President Zelenskyy discussed with the Emir of Qatar potential economic projects, in particular in the field of energy. Acting Minister of Energy of Ukraine Yuriy Vitrenko and State Minister for Energy of the State of Qatar, CEO of Qatar Petroleum Saad Al-Kaabi signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine and Qatar Petroleum.
For Ukraine, it is important to create additional ways to diversify external sources of energy products, in particular, diversify the supply of natural gas. Qatar, in turn, has long been interested in the supply of its gas to Europe, which would compete with the Russian one. However, the project for a pipe that was supposed to extend into Europe was rejected by the government of Bashar al-Assad, an ally of the Russian Federation. In this context, the creation of LNG infrastructure on Ukrainian territory and its further export to Europe opens up opportunities for both Ukraine and Qatar.
However, the key factor in the implementation of such a project is the position of the Turkish Republic. Turkey bans the transportation of liquefied gas by tankers through the Bosphorus. According to the Turkish authorities, the reason for this position is a security question related to the possible devastating consequences of the hypothetical accident of LNG tanker in the strait for the population of Istanbul. However, given the large-scale infrastructure project of the Istanbul Canal construction, an alternative route for transporting liquefied gas from Qatar to Ukraine may appear. Since Erdogan's policy is aimed at spreading Turkey's influence around its borders, in particular, in the South Caucasus, where Russia is the main competitor of Turkey, it is likely that Erdogan will try to undermine the competitor's position in the energy sector and allow LNG tankers to pass through a new channel.
It was Turkey that became the next country Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited after Qatar. The Republic of Turkey consistently supports Ukraine and does not recognize Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. The President of Turkey reaffirmed his position during a meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He stated that the situation in the East of Ukraine should be resolved peacefully in the framework of international law in such a way as to preserve territorial integrity of Ukraine. The escalation we are witnessing must be stopped as soon as possible to reduce tension and resume the ceasefire in the framework of fulfilling the terms of the Minsk agreements. Erdogan stressed that Turkey supports the «Crimean Platform» and added that his country is committed to improve the welfare of Crimean Tatars who were forced to leave their homeland. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in turn, noted that Ukraine and Turkey share a common vision of security threats in the Black Sea region and ways to respond to them.
The statements of the two presidents did not go unnoticed in the Kremlin. During a working trip to Cairo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: «I will tell you straightaway that we urge all responsible countries that we communicate with — and Turkey is one of them — that we strongly recommend they analyze the situation and the Kyiv regime’s relentless belligerent statements, and we also warn them against encouraging these militaristic aspirations». It is symbolic that this statement was made in Egypt, which is a regional rival of Ankara. The interests of the two countries clashed particularly in Libya, where Egypt actively supported the Libyan National Army under Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his government in the east, while Turkey provided assistance to the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. The threat of Egypt's introduction of its troops into Libya last year stopped the offensive of the GNA forces to the east.
After Lavrov's statements, Russia announced its decision to suspend regular and charter flights with Turkey from April 15 to June 1. According to the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, more than 500 thousand Russians have booked tours to Turkey from April 15 to May 31, and the total cost of the tours was 32 billion rubles. It seems that the Kremlin is trying to blackmail Erdogan with Russian tourists, thus warning against supporting Ukraine, in particular, from participating in the Crimean Platform summit. This happens at the beginning of the tourist season, and given the losses of the Turkish economy from the pandemic, which led to a decrease in the rating of Erdogan and his Justice and Development party, amid the upcoming elections in 2023, the Kremlin hopes that economic leverage can affect the level of support for Ukraine by Turkey.
International support remains an important element in Ukraine's deterrence of Russian aggression. Since his election, President Zelenskyy continues to actively develop bilateral partnerships with states that have common interests with Ukraine. The United Kingdom and Turkey are among the partner countries with which Kyiv has recently intensified its security dialogue. In particular, agreements on the development of the Ukrainian fleet were signed with both states, while localization of production in Ukraine is expected. Qatar, which President Zelenskyy visited this month, is a strategic partner of the United Kingdom, Turkey and the United States in the Middle East. Currently a geopolitical axis of states that have common interests with Ukraine is being formed, and Qatar, as a state with an interest in gas supplies to Europe, is one of them. A potential deal for the development of an LNG terminal on the Ukrainian territory and the further transportation of Qatari gas to Europe through Ukraine, after the creation of the Istanbul canal, will strengthen the energy security of Ukraine and Europe as a whole. Expanding the range of Ukraine's foreign policy activities by non-Western states opens up new opportunities for confronting the Russian Federation far from the Russian-Ukrainian border.