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Russia and the Kurds

Russia balances its relationships with various Kurdish groups with its support for the states the Kurds live under.

The Kurds’ growing role in the evolving and turbulent situation prevailing in the Middle East and elsewhere affects the policies of regional and global powers alike. Russia is no exception. In recent years, Moscow has taken steps to develop contacts with Kurdish political movements and establish economic cooperation with Iraqi Kurdistan, where Russian oil and gas companies have set up shop. The February 2013 visit to Russia by Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, dubbed by the Kurdish people as the “first official visit,” served as a significant milestone in the development of political contacts. The visit refreshed the memories of developments dating back more than half a century when the Kurds’ historical leader (and Barzani’s father) Mullah Mustafa Barzani lived in the Soviet Union from 1947 to 1958, where he enjoyed support on a number of fronts.

Another recent visit by a Kurdish politician was also a first, as Selahattin Demirtas, chairman of Turkey’s People's Democracy Party (HDP), visited Moscow in December 2014. One would think there was nothing unusual about the visit, with Demirtas at the helm of a lawful Turkish party and, on top of that, having recently run for the Turkish Republic’s presidency in the latest election and having won a tenth of the votes cast. However, there was a certain sensitivity given that Demirtas is opposed to the current authorities while Moscow maintains an unprecedentedly close relationship with the Turkish government. As noted by Demirtas himself, his party seeks to overcome a lack of communications with Russia, as “Russia's policies vis-a-vis the Kurds suffer from Cold War reflexes and are somewhat at odds with reality.”

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