Russia’s involvement in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, has been a subject of significant debate and scrutiny. The country has a long history, dating back to the Soviet Union’s days. However, the relationship changed significantly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Following the war, Iraq’s relations with the US deteriorated, leading to isolation and sanctions.
Russia has been rekindling its relations with Iraq, driven by economic interests. Iraq’s vast oil and gas reserves make it a potential partner for Russia, as a major energy exporter. Russian energy companies, Gazprom and Lukoil, have been actively involved in oil exploration and production projects in Iraq. Russia’s desire to expand its influence in the Middle East to counterbalance Western powers, particularly the United States, sees Iraq as a strategic ally. By fostering closer ties with Iraq, Russia aims to bolster its presence and influence in the region.
Russia’s diplomatic strategy in Iraq is multifaceted, aiming to strengthen political ties, promote economic cooperation, and address regional security concerns. Russia has actively engaged with the Iraqi government and various political factions, aiming to position itself as a mediator in Iraq’s internal disputes. Russian companies have invested heavily in Iraq’s energy sector, including oil and gas, infrastructure development, and agriculture, solidifying Russia’s presence and influence. Russia has expressed a willingness to collaborate with Iraq in addressing security challenges, including the threat of terrorism. Moscow has provided military equipment and training to Iraqi forces and supported the fight against extremist groups in the region.
Russia’s diplomatic strategy in Iraq has significant implications for the region and the world. It adds complexity to the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East, contributing to a more intricate web of alliances and rivalries. Russia’s economic interests in Iraq suggest its intent to diversify its energy partnerships beyond Europe, potentially altering global energy market dynamics and challenging traditional energy powerhouse dominance. Russia’s role as a mediator in Iraq’s internal politics could have far-reaching consequences for the country’s stability, raising questions about whose interests Russia seeks to protect in the long run.
During the Russian Empire, there were limited contacts between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Iraq. After the 1917 Revolution, the Soviet Union supported Iraq’s independence from British colonial rule. In the 1950s, Iraq improved its relations with the Soviet Union, signing a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the USSR in 1958. During Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iraq maintained a pragmatic foreign policy, engaging with both Western and Eastern bloc countries.
During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, Iraq received significant military and financial support from the Soviet Union. However, after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the Gulf War in 1991, relations deteriorated, leading to sanctions from Russia and the international community. After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Iraq faced instability and insurgency, and Russia expressed concerns about the U.S.-led invasion. As Iraq transitioned to a new government, economic ties between the two countries, particularly in the energy sector, grew.
Russia and the Iraq War: Was Putin’s Policy a Failure?
The Iraq War of 2003 was a contentious and polarizing event in international politics, with the United States and its coalition partners, primarily the United Kingdom, taking centre stage. Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, played a complex role in the conflict, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Moscow, along with France and Germany, opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq, pushing for a diplomatic resolution through rigorous weapons inspections. Putin’s government was sceptical of Washington’s claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Putin’s policy aimed to safeguard Russia’s interests, particularly in the oil sector, as it had significant economic ties with Iraq. It also sought to solidify Russia’s standing as a counterbalance to U.S. hegemony in global affairs and to portray Russia as a champion of international law and multilateral diplomacy, particularly within the UN framework. In hindsight, Putin’s policy did not prevent the Iraq War, as the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq without UN authorization in March 2003. Some argue that Russia should have taken a more assertive stance, using its veto power in the Security Council to halt the war. Others contend that Putin’s efforts to push for a diplomatic solution were commendable but ultimately futile due to the Bush administration’s unwavering determination to invade.
The Iraq War left a fractured Iraq, marked by insurgency and sectarian strife. The absence of WMDs, the primary pretext for the invasion, damaged the credibility of the U.S. and its allies. Russia, while critical of the war, did not emerge as a significant mediator in post-war Iraq. Russia retained some influence in Iraq’s energy sector but faced challenges from Western companies. The lingering instability in the region hindered Russia’s ability to fully capitalize on its economic ties. Putin’s policy towards the Iraq War was a failure due to the broader geopolitical context. Putin’s opposition to the war positioned Russia as a defender of international law, which resonated with many nations disenchanted with U.S. unilateralism.
Russia’s Goals and Approach to Iraq: Geopolitical Dynamics
Russia’s involvement in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, has been a topic of global interest since the Soviet era. The relationship between Russia and Iraq dates back to the 1950s when Iraq established diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union. The relationship grew during the Cold War, with the Soviet Union providing Iraq with military and economic support. However, it wasn’t until the early 2000s, following the fall of Saddam Hussein, that Russia’s presence in Iraq began to evolve significantly.
One of Russia’s primary goals in Iraq is to advance its economic interests, as Iraq has vast reserves of oil and natural gas, making it a crucial player in the global energy market. Russian energy companies, such as Rosneft and Lukoil, have made substantial investments in Iraq’s oil sector, securing access to valuable energy resources and expanding Russia’s influence in the region. Russia also aims to strengthen its geopolitical influence in the Middle East by strengthening its ties with Iraq, as the region is of strategic importance due to its proximity to Europe and vast energy resources. By establishing a presence in Iraq, Russia can exert greater influence over regional dynamics and play a more significant role in the broader Middle East peace process.
Russia and Iraq have increased their security cooperation, including arms sales, military training, and intelligence sharing. Iraq has purchased advanced Russian weaponry to enhance its military capabilities and reduce its reliance on the US. However, Russia faces challenges in Iraq due to its politically and ethnically divided country, ongoing security issues, and a legacy of instability. The involvement of Russia in Iraq has been criticized by Western nations, raising concerns about increased instability in the region. The competition for influence between Russia, the US, and other regional powers in Iraq adds complexity to the already volatile region.
Russia’s Ambitions in Iraq: Their Strategic Approach
Russia’s involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, particularly in Iraq, has gained significant attention. The primary goal of Russia is to regain its geopolitical influence in the region, counterbalance Western dominance, and play a more influential role in regional conflicts and diplomacy. Iraq’s vast energy resources, including oil reserves, are being utilized by Russia as a major energy exporter. Russian energy companies have signed significant contracts with the Iraqi government to develop oil fields and infrastructure projects, reflecting Moscow’s economic interests in the country.
Russia has also been actively engaging with Iraq in military cooperation, including the sale of Russian weaponry and military equipment to the Iraqi armed forces. Moscow has capitalized on the fight against terrorism, particularly against ISIS, to deepen its military ties with Baghdad, showcasing its military technology and enhancing its position as a security partner in the region. Russia has been leveraging its diplomatic presence in Iraq to strengthen its position. It has engaged with various Iraqi factions, including the central government and the Kurdish region, to build relationships and mediate disputes. Moscow has also sought to establish itself as a mediator in regional conflicts, such as those involving Iran and Saudi Arabia. Russia has also entered into lucrative energy deals with Iraq, securing access to valuable resources and exerting influence over the Iraqi government.
Although Russia’s military presence in Iraq is modest compared to Syria, it has strategically deployed troops and assets to showcase its military capabilities and foster closer defence ties with Iraq. This assertive stance puts Russia in direct competition with the United States, which maintains a significant military and diplomatic presence in the country. The diverse nation with deep-seated sectarian divisions may be exacerbated by Russia’s engagement with various factions, potentially destabilizing Iraq further. Iraq’s growing economic ties with Russia may lead to increased dependency on Moscow, limiting its diplomatic manoeuvrability and sovereignty.