Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the leader of the small Persian Gulf state of Qatar in Moscow on a day when scores of Russians were reported killed in a shopping mall fire and dozens of Russian diplomats were being expelled around the world.
The Kremlin said on March 26 that Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani expressed condolences to Putin over the deadly fire in Kemerovo at the outset of their meeting, at which they discussed "the situation in Syria" and "boosting bilateral cooperation in various fields."
The talks occurred as Russia in Syria was helping arrange a massive evacuation of armed rebels and civilians from the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta and negotiating the possible exit of a final holdout group of rebels from the area.
Russia since 2015 has intervened in Syria in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Qatar has sought to deepen ties with Russia since breaking off relations with its Middle Eastern neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates last year.
In January, Qatar's ambassador in Moscow, Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, told Russian state-run TASS news agency that Qatar is finalizing a deal to buy S-400 air-defense systems from Russia -- a move which could run counter to U.S. sanctions targeting Russian defense companies.
"We count on our Russian friends, with whom we have a cooperative relationship, knowing that Russia plays a significant role in the problems of the Arab world," Thani said at the start of the talks with Putin.
"Even though we have solid ties and mutual trust, we must go further to reinforce our relations in all areas," he said.
The countries were expected to sign a range of agreements on trade and humanitarian matters.