Russia’s Reasons to Provide Arms to Iraq
In a monthly Operational Environment Watch commentary, EFD Fellow Anna Borshchevskaya writes that Russia has specific motivations for providing Iraq with military resources, including geopolitical and gas-related interests.
In July 2014 the Iraqi central government, lacking the military resources to stop the steady advance of the al-Qaeda-funded Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the country, turned to Russia, ostensibly because US fighter jets were arriving too slowly. Russian assistance, however, came immediately.
The accompanying excerpts provide additional information regarding Russian-Iraqi military relations, as reported in the Russian press. The first is a report in Lenta.ru (Ribbon) about additional Russian weaponry and expert advice Russia has provided to Iraq to fight ISIS. Specifically, referencing the Iraqi Ministry’s official announcement, the article reports that Russia sent Iraq another tranche of Mi-28NE “Night Hunter” attack helicopters. The Kremlin will also be providing Russian expertise to service the helicopters.
The second excerpt is from an interview Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Shafiq Muhsin gave to Russian Interfax’s deputy chief foreign policy editor, Andrei Baranovskiy. Shafiq discusses Iraq’s decision to turn to Russia and the state of Russian-Iraqi military cooperation. Describing the current Russian-Iraqi military cooperation in a positive light, the ambassador said that Iraq was looking to diversify its arms sources for years. It made sense to turn to Russia, since Iraq had depended on the Soviet Union for arms for years, and then on Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed. He also added, “We had agreed upon military contracts with Russia, and these are serious, major agreements. And the response was very quick, so the US had to act with the same speed, and also seek to enter into arms contracts with us,”
As for Moscow’s interests, the Kremlin had been working for years to regain a strong foothold in Iraq, and the opportunity to become a steady arms supplier certainly helps in this regard, no matter what government Iraq ends up with. Russia also has major energy interests in Iraq, which gives it additional reasons to get involved there.
Moscow has been working to regain major energy contracts in Iraq since 2003. With regard to energy, Iraq is also linked with Syria and Iran, as far as the Kremlin is concerned. In 2010 Iraq, Iran, and Syria inked a $10 billion deal to construct a natural gas pipeline connecting Europe with Iran’s South Pars field, set to open between 2016 and 2018 (the dates vary, depending on press reports). At the same time, Qatar, which holds the world’s second-largest gas fields, plans an alternate supply route to Europe — through Iraq and Turkey, bypassing Syria and Iran. Such a route, if it were to materialize, would successfully reduce European dependence on Russia’s gas. Russia, through Iraq, can maintain its influence over this pipeline and, therefore, over Europe, a traditional primary consumer of Russian energy. This gives Moscow an added reason to stay involved in Iraq.
This article originally appeared here.