Skip to main content

Kurdish referendum a double-edged sword for Russia

Although Russia says it respects Iraqi Kurds' desire for self-determination, their independence is probably not in Russia's best interest.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas arrive for a meeting in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov - GF10000274576
Read in 

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.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.