Russian President Vladimir Putin began talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Moscow on Thursday as accelerating gains by Islamic State pose a growing threat in the Middle East.
Abadi told Putin he hoped his visit to Russia would help the fight against terrorism in Iraq and in the region. Islamic State militants last week seized the city of Ramadi, 110 kilometers (68 miles) west of the capital Baghdad. The radical Sunni group, which controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria, on Wednesday also occupied the northern Syrian city of Palmyra, a strategic location that is home to one of the region’s most renowned classical sites.
Putin and Abadi will discuss military cooperation and energy issues, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday. The visit “is a good opportunity to exchange views on the situation in the region, a situation that is very turbulent and troubling,” Peskov said.
Islamic State’s advance into Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, is a setback to Iraq’s government, which says it has reversed the tide of conquests by the jihadist group that began last summer. Iraqi forces declared the liberation of the city of Tikrit at the end of March, and have begun efforts to dislodge the group from its strongholds in Anbar, aided by U.S.-led airstrikes.
“We came to Moscow against the advice of some forces to abandon this trip,” Abadi told Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at talks before his meeting with Putin. Iraq seeks to boost cooperation in defense and oil and gas with Russia, Abadi said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that his country was doing all it can to strengthen Iraq’s ability to fight Islamic State. “Unlike some other countries that are ready to supply weapons to Iraq, we don’t set any conditions,” Lavrov said.
Russia and Iraq signed arms deals under Abadi’s predecessor Nouri al-Maliki that the government in Moscow estimated at more than $4 billion. Abadi’s aim is to follow up on the deals, which are in fact worth $2 billion, according to Elena Suponina, a Middle East analyst and adviser to the director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies in Moscow.
“The Iraqis, like many others in the Middle East, don’t trust the Americans fully,” Suponina said by phone. “Arab leaders remember how quickly the U.S. ditched its allies, starting with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, so the general trend in the region is to diversify geopolitical ties.”
Putin and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to step up efforts to broker a peace deal between the Syrian regime and its secular opponents at talks in Russia’s Sochi last week. Lavrov described Islamic State as the “biggest threat” for his country last month.
Syria, a Soviet-era ally, is getting Russian weapons. Putin has urged the U.S. to ditch its policy of seeking the ouster of Iranian-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to cooperate on fighting Islamic State.
“The situation is very worrying in Syria,” said Suponina, adding that in Iraq at least, there are no efforts by outside powers to topple the government.