Should the policy of the Trump Administration of withdrawing from Iraq be continued under the Biden Administration, not only Iran expects to benefit from the vacuum created. Russia too hopes to bolster its presence, as emphasized by the visit of Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Muhammed Hussein to Russia, where he met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and other high-ranking Russian officials.
While twelve bilateral agreements were to be signed the main buzz was in the area of military cooperation and major Russian investments in Iraq's energy projects. Russia is ready to supply Iraq with military equipment and weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said following his talks with Fuad Hussein. Russian companies have already invested more than $ 10 billion in oil and gas projects in Iraq, announced the Russian Energy Minister N. Shulginov, who also met with Hussein.
Marianna Belenkaya wrote an analysis of the state of relations between Russia and Iraq titled "Military-Oil Alliance" for Kommersant where she noted the developing ties along the military and energy axes. Belenkaya also claimed that Hussein's visit was a prelude to a possibly more important visit by the Iraqi Defense Minister Juma Inad Saadoun.
Belenkaya's analysis follows below:
Iraqi FM Fuad Hussein with Russian FM Sergey Lavrov (Source: Mid.ru)
"Fuad Hussein's visit to Moscow began at a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Although Mr. Hussein took over as head of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry only in June, he and Mr. Lavrov have known each other for a long time. For two years, Fuad Hussein served as the Minister of Finance, and before that managed the administration of the President of Kurdistan Region. The topics considered [covered] practically the entire regional political agenda. Sergey Lavrov stressed the affinity of views with Baghdad on the issues of security in the Persian Gulf, the settlement of the Palestinian conflict and the development of the situation in Syria. Special attention was paid to cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Let’s recall that in 2015 an information center in Baghdad began operations, where the military from Russia, Iraq, Syria and Iran exchange intelligence and coordinate actions in the fight against terrorism.
"From the start Sergei Lavrov stressed that the fuel/energy and military-technical spheres constitute the basis of cooperation between Moscow and Baghdad.
"These topics were outside the framework of the negotiations at the Foreign Ministry’s platform, although the ministers discussed them in general terms. On Thursday, Fuad Hussein, who also heads the Iraqi side at the Intergovernmental Commission (IGC) on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, will meet with the Russian co-chairman of IGC - Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, and Minister of Energy Nikolai Shulginov. The parties will discuss the preparations for the 9th meeting of the IGC, as well as review 14 bilateral documents that Moscow and Baghdad plan to sign next year. According to Mr. Hussein, they cover the spheres of education, transport, healthcare, the oil and gas industry, trade.
"The ministers, concentrating on good news, did not mention the trade turnover, which dropped to $ 264.5 million. According to Sergey Lavrov, the investments of large Russian oil companies in the Iraqi economy exceeded $ 13 billion.
Replacing The Turks In Mansuria
"In October, Iraq invited international companies to participate in a project to develop the "Mansuria" gas field near the Iranian border. Its natural gas reserves are estimated at 4.5 trillion cubic feet. The contract previously was signed by a consortium led by the Turkish state-owned “Turkish Petroleum Corp.”, which also included "Kuwait Energy PLC" and "Korean Gas Corp". The works were stopped due to the seizure of a part of Iraqi territory by the Islamic State. After victory over terrorism was declared, the consortium didn’t restart the development of the gas field.
"In recent months, Baghdad held negotiations on "Mansuria" with "Total"; "Gazprom Neft" has also shown interest in the project. Under the previous Iraqi government, the Russian company was offered a 49–51% share in the project, depending on whether it decides to work independently or in a consortium.
"However, this is not the sole facility awaiting investments. Given the background of the country's and the world's economic crisis, the development of oil projects in Iraq has decelerated. The situation is also aggravated by the OPEC + [production cuts] agreement. Considering that during the May – September period Iraq produced more oil than stipulated under the deal, OPEC + demanded additional cuts from Baghdad by the end of the year. For Iraqis, this is a sore point. Baghdad has repeatedly complained of unfair treatment since 2016 already, when it was not released from its obligations under the OPEC + deal. They claimed, that while all countries benefited from the reduction in oil production, Iraq had nothing to rebuild the country, which had suffered from numerous wars and terrorists.
"There were also active disputes with foreign companies, whose share of oil production (theirs or that of government's) should have been reduced. At the same time, the Iraqi Foreign Minister emphasized that 'good positive coordination exists in the OPEC + format between Moscow and Baghdad'. Considering a topic of the military-technical cooperation, according to Sergei Lavrov, Russia is ready 'to meet any Iraqi needs for the military products of the Russian Federation.'
With The Americans Leaving, The S-400 May Soon Arrive In Iraq
"At the same time, Lavrov reported sensational news about the plans of the Iraqi defense minister to visit Russia in the 'near future'. Let’s recall that the last agreement between the countries on cooperation in the military-technical sphere was signed during a similar visit in 2015. Back then, Iraq was on second place of all buyers of Russian weapons thanks to a $ 4 billion worth contract for the supply of arms, concluded in 2014. In 2018, a permanent representative office of “Rosoboronexport [Russian Defense Exports]” was opened in Baghdad. In the same year, deliveries of Russian T-90S tanks to Iraq began. Baghdad also showed interest in the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, but this did not translate to practical implementation- largely due to US opposition. In the spring, in order to protect its contingent, the United States deployed 'Patriot' systems on Iraqi territory. But Washington is going to reduce the level of its military personnel in Iraq, and the situation in the field of military-technical cooperation may change.
"However, despite the declared affinity between Moscow and Baghdad, one cannot help but notice that Russia is not yet an Iraqi foreign policy priority.
"Since Mustafa Kazemi took over the office of prime minister in May, he visited Tehran, Washington, Paris, Rome and London. The visit to Saudi Arabia was postponed only due to the king’s illness. Visit to Moscow is complicated.
"The last time consultations at the highest level were held was in 2015. A contractual basis needs to be prepared for a new meeting. 'The visit of the Iraqi Foreign Minister confirms the desire of both sides to continue this work. Routine watch synchronization is being performed. But the visit of the Minister of Defense can bring surprises.' – said Ruslan Mamedov, the manager of Middle East projects of the RIAC. He also noted that much will depend on how relations between Baghdad and the new US administration will develop.
“'Until now, Iraq was torn between Washington and Tehran, but in light of Joe Biden's intention to establish contacts with Iran, the situation in the region may become calmer,' – added the expert. However, as Sergei Lavrov indicated, Moscow does not intend to make its relations with Iraq dependent on the plans of the United States, which 'withdraws from somewhere and then returns somewhere.'
"Lavrov also said that the head of the Iraqi Defense Ministry, Juma Inad, plans to visit Russia in the near future, where issues of the possible supply of military products to the country will be discussed."
Marianna Belenkaya (Source: Kommersant.ru)