In a four-installment interview with Russia Today TV, former Russian ambassador to Qatar Vladimir Titorenko talked about the deterioration in Russian-Qatari relations with the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011 and about Qatar's role in fanning the flames of the revolutions. He recounted that Hamad bin Jassim, then Qatari prime minister and foreign minister, had used "hostile rhetoric" that ultimately "escalated into threats" against Russia for supporting the Syrian and Libyan regimes. "Nobody has ever talked to us in such an audacious and arrogant manner," he said. Titorenko recounted that International Union of Muslim Scholars Chairman Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi had urged Qatari officials to give the Egyptian opposition money to "fan the flames of the revolution." Titorenko also said that Al-Qaradhawi would call the emir's office and order him to "tell Al-Jazeera to show more shocking and gory footage." The former ambassador added that Al-Qaradhawi told him that the turn for the Qatari ruling family to be ousted would come. Ambassador Titorenko quoted top Qatar officials as saying that "the main mission of the military, if the country comes under attack, is to persevere, if only for a few hours, to enable the family of the emir to be evacuated, along with the gold reserves." He also talked at length about the 2011 incident in which he was assaulted by Qatari officials at Doha airport for refusing to hand over diplomatic mail, adding that Hamad bin Jassim should be placed on trial in an international court for ordering the attack. The interview was broadcast in installments from April 11 until May 2.
Interviewer: "Did [the Qataris] ask for systems? Systems like the S-300, for example?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "I met their chief-of-staff to discuss this. Back then, the emir himself was also minister of defense, but the chief-of-staff dealt with all the practical issues. He raised the possibility of buying weapons of various kinds. Qatar has a small army, and they did not need more than 30 tanks or 30 cannons. They do not need a lot of equipment. I remember well the emir and chief-of-staff saying that the main mission of the military, if the country comes under attack, is to persevere, if only for a few hours, to enable the family of the emir to be evacuated, along with the gold reserves, and wait for the help of the international community.
"All the [Russian-Qatari economic] agreements would have been singed for sure, if the so-called 'Arab Spring' revolutions had not broken out."
Interviewer: "So everything was put on hold at the beginning of the Arab Spring?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Right. I immediately sensed that their position toward us had changed. This began in May 2011."
Interviewer: "Since mid-2011?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Since the spring. But even before that, they had begun to criticize us."
Interviewer: "They criticized the Russian position?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Yes, our position on Libya and Syria. I felt that their earlier enthusiasm for cooperation was artificially curbed by orders from above. During that spring, I met the same people I had been meeting the previous winter – people who had been willing to discuss agreements on all issues – but now there was a wall between us.
"My personal opinion – not as an ambassador, but as a political scientist – is that we should admit that the entire world, including major countries like the U.S., France, Russia, Britain, and Germany, had missed that moment of profound shift in the balance of power in the Middle East. The traditional leaders – Egypt, Iraq, and Syria – were no longer what they had used to be. Iraq was occupied by the U.S., and Algeria kept itself out of this. The main countries in the Arab world have weakened for many reasons, such as the corruption of the regimes, the economic situation, and interference from abroad. All this has led to the destruction of the familiar way of life. The balance of power shifted toward countries like the KSA, UAE, and Qatar. These countries have begun to play an important role, which required dividing up the 'Arab pie' anew.
"Everything that has happened in recent years involved Qatar and the Gulf states. If they had not supported the opposition, and had not provided money and all sorts of aid, none of this would have happened. The head of the International Union of Muslims Scholars, Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi, was given a greater role to play in that respect.
"I was in contact with that man and was present in meetings with him. Sometimes it seemed to me that due to his advanced age, he would forget that a Russian ambassador was present. He would say, in my presence, to government officials or to members of the emir's office: 'Give the opposition more money! Give them! This will fan the flames of the revolution.'"
Interviewer: "You witnessed him saying this?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Yes, I did."
Interviewer: "He meant giving more money to [the revolution in] Egypt?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Yes, yes. I was sitting and talking with him. I had come to meet him.
"In March , I sensed for the first time that their attitude toward us had changed, and that, all of a sudden, they were using hostile rhetoric when talking to us. In April 2011, I could feel that this was intensifying."
Interviewer: "With whom were you holding these talks?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Mostly with my partner to the talks, Hamad bin Jassim. I sensed this during a meeting with him – not as a prime minister, but as a person with whom we discussed political issues. This might sound harsh and undiplomatic, but I've never experienced stronger and more insolent pressure."
Interviewer: "He was exerting pressure on you?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Not on me. On Russia."
Interviewer: "During his meetings with you?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Yes. Ultimately, his rhetoric escalated into threats, and I reported this to Moscow..."
Interviewer: "Slow down, please. This is important. Can you go into detail?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Since I had close ties with him, he would call me on my cell phone in the evening. Can you believe that? He would call on Thursdays, before the weekend, and sometimes even on Fridays. He would call and say: 'Tell your leaders immediately that Russia will regret it very much if it continues to support the bloody regimes in Libya and Syria.' These are some of the things I had to go through. Sometimes he would call and say: 'Get me in touch with my friend Lavrov immediately.' I called Minister Lavrov twice, and both times, they spoke. On the third time, Lavrov said to me: 'I've already explained our position to him. I've told him that we understand the position of Qatar, but that Russia has its own position, which it will not change. There is no need for him to try to convince me otherwise on a daily basis. So if there is something that I need to know – it is better if he does not bother me, unless it is really important. It will be enough if he passes the information on through you.' After that, Hamid bin Jassim would contact Moscow only through me."
Interviewer: "It seems as if Hamid bin Jassim had transformed into another person altogether."
Vladimir Titorenko: "Exactly. Absolutely. Can you believe that someone might transform from a good partner into a ghoul? He was sure that he was doing everything properly. I don't know why he was so sure of this. I don't want to look down on any country because of its small size or population, but it seems that having a lot of money might change one's perception of one's capabilities. Hamid bin Jassim, one of the leaders of tiny Qatar, thought that it would be easy to influence Russia.
"Hamid bin Jassim suggested that we change our position, and embrace that of Qatar."
Interviewer: "With regard to the ousting of Al-Assad?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Yes both of Al-Assad and Al-Qadhafi. He suggested that we stop supporting them."
Interviewer: "And after that?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Nothing."
Interviewer: "But he is not so stupid as to ignore the fact that Russia has interests too. How could Russia be expected to give up its interest for nothing?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "I made this clear to him. We talked about this over the phone and in person."
Interviewer: "Didn't he offer, for example, to protect Russia's interests in Syria, in exchange for the ousting of Al-Assad?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "No."
Interviewer: "Didn’t he say that Qatar would guarantee Russia's interests?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "He offered me no such thing. All he said was that the new Syrian government would be friendly to Russia too."
Interviewer: "'Friendly' like in the case of Libya?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "I don’t know what he meant. Perhaps he thought that he was smarter than everybody else, or that everybody else was stupid. I can tell you that no one has ever talked to us this way – not the Americans, and not Saudi Arabia, which is another major player in that region. Nobody has ever talked to us in such an audacious and arrogant manner.
"[Al-Qaradhawi] said to me that Russia must accept the removal of the bloody and corrupt regimes in the Arab world. He said that the peoples are sick and tired of their old governments, which should be replaced by the forces of society. He said: 'When these countries get rid of their rulers, they will be able to establish prosperous societies, based on our noble traditions.' I said to him; 'With all due respect you keep talking about democracy. Do you think that the regime in the country where you live is democratic?' I was referring to Qatar and the neighboring countries, where there are no political parties or parliaments. Instead, there are absolute royal regimes. Is that democracy? He said: 'No, but their turn will come.'"
Interviewer: "That's what he said?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Yes. So I asked him: 'Do you mean that it will be necessary to oust all of Qatar's rulers and emirs too?' His answer was: 'The emirs have an initial role to play, but later, the people will oust them.'"
Interviewer: "Al-Qaradhawi said that to you?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Yes. He said this very clearly. He would call the head of the emir's office and give orders: 'Tell Al-Jazeera to show more shocking and gory footage.' That time he was talking about Syria."
Interviewer: "Could he really have said this in your presence?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Yes, he said it over the phone."
Interviewer: "He told them to show more scenes of blood and gore?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Yes, he asked for footage of blood and the killing of children. He wanted this to be shown as much as possible."
Interviewer: "This is really astounding."
Vladimir Titorenko: "It is, indeed. I reported this to Moscow."
Interviewer: "I am well aware of Al-Qaradhawi's positions. What amazes me is that he would give orders about what should be shown on TV."
Vladimir Titorenko: "That's what I wrote to Moscow. I said that I had got the impression that Al-Qaradhawi instructs the leaders of Qatar on how to conduct their propaganda.
"The Qatari PM remained silent for 21 days after I was beaten up [by Qatari officials at Doha airport], and after the level of diplomatic relations was down-scaled and I left the country. His silence needs no interpretation."
Interviewer: "After you were attacked, some journalists and analysts wrote that the Russian response was not harsh enough. They wrote that if something like that had happened to the American ambassador, there would be nothing left of Qatar. Don't you feel that Moscow's reaction to what happened to you was extremely restrained?"
Vladimir Titorenko: "Obviously, I don't get to decide about these things, but I think that no one in Russia understood how such a thing could happen. This is the first time in history that an ambassador is beaten up by order of the host country's top leadership."
Interviewer: "This is really unprecedented."
Vladimir Titorenko: "Indeed. No defenseless ambassador has ever been beaten up by 15 armed men. It caused me severe injuries. They kicked me in the head, following orders by the PM and FM [Hamad bin Jassim].
"But Hamad bin Jassim got what he deserved. At least he was removed from office. I believe that it is possible to bring him before an international court, after he admitted it. He personally admitted what he did, and he should bear the consequences."