Zelensky urges Doha Forum to hike gas output, warns of Russia’s nuke threat to world

Muslims in Ukraine to fight during Ramadan, says president; Qatar ruling emir takes aim at Israel, says accusation of antisemitism used ‘wrongly’ to target critics

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the opening of the Doha Forum in Qatar's capital on March 26, 2022. (AMMAR ABD RABBO / MOFA / DOHA FORUM)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the opening of the Doha Forum in Qatar's capital on March 26, 2022. (AMMAR ABD RABBO / MOFA / DOHA FORUM)

DOHA, Qatar — Ukraine’s president made a surprise video appearance Saturday at Qatar’s Doha Forum, calling on the energy-rich nation and others to boost their production to counteract the loss of Russian energy supplies. He also warned of the threat posed to the world by Russia’s “bragging” about what it could destroy with its nuclear weapons.

Volodymyr Zelensky called on the United Nations and world powers to come to his aid, as he has in a series of other addresses given around the world since the start of the war on February 24. He compared Russia’s destruction of the port city of Mariupol to the Syrian and Russian destruction wrought on the city of Aleppo in the Syrian war.

“They are destroying our ports,” Zelensky said. “The absence of exports from Ukraine will deal a blow to countries worldwide.”

The loss of Ukrainian wheat already has worried Mideast nations like Egypt, which relies on those exports.

Zelenskyy called on countries to increase their exports of energy — something particularly important as Qatar is a world leader in the export of natural gas. Western sanctions have deeply cut into Russian exports, which are crucial for European nations.

Also on hand was Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the top diplomat for the world’s biggest oil exporter. Saudi Arabia so far has said it would stick with an OPEC+ production schedule the cartel struck with Russia and other producers. The kingdom also said it wouldn’t be responsible for higher prices as it deals with attacks from Yemen’s Houthi rebels amid its yearslong war in the Arab world’s poorest country.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani addresses the opening session of the Doha Forum in Doha, on March 26, 2022. (Ammar Abd Rabbo/MOFA/Doha Forum)

Zelensky criticized Russia for what he described as threatening the world with its nuclear weapons, raising the possibility of tactical nuclear weapons being used on the battlefield.

“Russia is deliberating bragging they can destroy with nuclear weapons, not only a certain country but the entire planet,” Zelensky said.

He also noted that Muslims in Ukraine would have to fight during the upcoming holy fasting month of Ramadan.

“We have to ensure this sacred month of Ramadan is not overshadowed by the misery of people in Ukraine,” he said.

Qatar’s ruling emir meanwhile criticized Israel for its treatment of Palestinians over the last 70 years, urging the world to stand against a growing global militarization that found its peak in Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani sought to draw a line between antisemitism and the ability to criticize Israel for controlling some lands that Palestinians hope to have for a state of their own.

“It is noteworthy here that the accusation of antisemitism is now used wrongly against everyone who criticizes Israel’s policies, and this impinges on the struggle against racism and actual antisemitism,” Sheikh Tamim said at the start of the forum.

“While stressing solidarity, I would like in this context to remind of the millions of Palestinians who have been suffering from the Israeli occupation and international neglect for more than seven decades,” he added. “Similarly, there are a lot of other people, such as the Syrian people and the Afghan people, for whom the international community has failed to render justice.”

Qatar previously criticized Arab-majority states for normalization agreements with Israel. The Abraham Accords in 2020 saw the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco formalize ties with Israel. Qatar has said the deals hurt efforts to achieve Palestinian statehood.

Israel and Qatar have communicated over the years to reduce tensions in the Gaza Strip, controlled by Palestinian terror group Hamas, an extremist Islamist organization that Qatar supports.

With Israel’s approval, Qatar since 2018 has periodically provided millions of dollars in cash to Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, fund infrastructure projects, and provide aid to tens of thousands of Gazan families.

A fuel truck with a Qatari flag enters the Nusseirat power plant, in the central Gaza Strip, on June 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Earlier this year, Qatar signed an agreement with Gaza’s electric company that will establish an escrow account for the costs of supplying gas and generating electricity at the Strip’s sole power plant.

Last month, Qatar, the Palestinian Authority and Gaza’s electrical company signed a deal advancing a long-term project to supply Gaza’s only power plant with Israeli natural gas.

The so-called “Gas for Gaza” initiative is a complex diplomatic dance, involving Israel, Hamas, the PA, Qatar, Egypt, and the European Union, among other players. The project seeks to replace the diesel fuel that currently powers Gaza’s electrical plant with Israeli gas.

Gaza has suffered from a chronic electricity deficit for more than a decade. The coastal enclave has only one power plant — which runs on imported diesel fuel — and experiences daily blackouts of between eight and 12 hours.

Qatar’s support for Islamists in the Mideast saw it become the target of a yearslong boycott by four Arab nations — Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — during former US president Donald Trump’s time in office. That boycott ended just before President Joe Biden took office in 2021.

US Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, also attended the Doha Forum, praising the event for having the top diplomats of Saudi Arabia and Qatar sharing a stage as a sign that “the embargo is over.”

However, he noted what he described as a Saudi and Emirati reluctance to condemn Russia over its war on Ukraine. He said he hoped the Russian people would rise up against Vladimir Putin and have “a change in the regime” as “they have a very dead future” with the way things stood now.

“What you’ve seen on your televisions, like all of us, is war crimes on an industrial scale,” Graham said. “The question for the world is: Can that be forgiven? Can we be the world we want to be and let Putin get away with this? The answer for me is no.”

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