Rosneft revealed that it was in negotiations with the government of Iraqi Kurdistan to construct a pipeline in the region by 2019 and then begin exporting gas to Turkey and the EU year later, thereby shedding some light on what the government-owned Russian company had in mind when it signed a major deal with the autonomous region in June during the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum. The pipeline’s exact route is still uncertain, but it will probably either travel overland through Turkey and then link up with the Turkish Stream infrastructure near the EU border or terminate in the Eastern Mediterranean with an LNG export terminal, the latter of which could facilitate shipments to “Israel” in strengthening Russia’s already close partnership with Tel Aviv. All of these possibilities are very interesting and add a new layer of strategic depth to Russia’s Mideast energy diplomacy, but what’s important to focus on in the near term is how the timing of this announcement came exactly one week before the Kurds’ controversial independence vote and just a day after Russia reestablished direct flight service with Iraq, of which the Kurdish Regional Government is nominally a part.
None of this was a coincidence, as it sent several strong messages to the international community at a very crucial time in the Mideast’s history.
The first one is that Russia deals with Iraqi Kurdistan as if it were already an independent country, bypassing Baghdad in conducting bilateral energy diplomacy with the breakaway statelet despite officially recognizing the central government’s sovereignty over the entire state and its resources. Russia’s reason for doing so seems to be that it sees an irresistible opportunity to indirectly improve relations with the EU by providing Kurdish-sourced and Turkish-transiting gas to the bloc’s Southern Energy Corridor project, which could work out both to Moscow’s own strategic benefit and also to the Kurds’ by giving two of their opponents a reason to recognize their future independence. This leads to the next point, which is that Russia’s hefty strategic investments in the Kurdish energy sector make Moscow a major stakeholder in the territory’s future, which in turn allows Russia to stage a diplomatic intervention in becoming the mediator between Erbil and Baghdad, and the Kurds and their three international neighbors, in a bid to protect its interests.
This aligns with the view of Russia’s foreign policy progressives who envision their country’s 21st-century geostrategic role as being the supreme balancing force in the Eurasian supercontinent, and to that end they’ve sought to “flip” traditional US allies to their side by encouraging their “multi-alignment”, or foreign policy diversification, with Moscow. The Iraqi Kurds are just the latest example of this happening, coming after Turkey, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, all of which proves that Russia’s so-called “Pivot to Asia” is actually a “Pivot to the Ummah” as Moscow steadily works to replace the leadership void that the US is leaving in the “Greater Middle East”.
The post presented is the partial transcript of the CONTEXT COUNTDOWN radio program on Sputnik News, aired on Friday Sep 22, 2017:
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.
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