The runup to the Kurdish independence referendum that took place Sept. 25 revealed just how politically intertwined different actors are in the modern Middle East. Russia is no stranger to diplomatic games and typically follows a strategy of inserting itself into the most dynamic contexts, hoping to reap benefits and make itself more visible in the region.
It's hard to identify a clear and coherent Russian policy toward Iraqi Kurdistan. Moscow's partnerships with the central government in Baghdad and the Kurds in Erbil are highly situational. However, Moscow shares strong historic ties with both governments. Russia’s relationship with Baghdad goes back to 1958 when Iraqi Gen. Abdul Karim Kassem overthrew the pro-West monarchy. Kurdistan has a more intricate partnership. The decade that the late Mustafa Barzani spent in exile in the Soviet Union seems to have created a strong link between the Barzani clan and Moscow; Mustafa's son, Massoud Barzani, is president of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil.