Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Moscow is prepared to support Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State (IS) group and strengthen military-technical assistance to Baghdad.
Lavrov made his comments during a March 19 meeting in Moscow with his Iraqi counterpart, Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
"Mr. Jaafari informed us about the situation in Iraq, which is repelling a terrorist attack. We reaffirmed our solidarity with the leadership of a country that is friendly to us, and reaffirmed our strong commitment to ongoing assistance to Baghdad in order to strengthen its defense in the face of this threat, to ensure the unity and territorial integrity of this state and the noninterference by external [forces] in its internal affairs," Lavrov told reporters following the meeting.
Lavrov has previously pledged to provide military and other assistance to Iraq and Syria in what Moscow calls the "fight against terrorism." In comments in September, he said that Moscow's assistance was aimed at "ensuring the integrity" of Iraq.
In June, Russia provided Iraq with Su-25 jets and expert assistance to aid the country in its fight against the IS group, in a move that was seen at the time as an implicit rebuke to the United States.
In his March 19 comments, Lavrov talked about strengthening oil and gas ties with Iraq, as well as military-technical cooperation. "Our economic operators, first of all LUKoil and Gazprom Neft are actively working in Iraq. They are making a weighty contribution to the revenue part of the Iraqi budget," Lavrov said.
The situation regarding Russian oil investment and operations in Iraq is at a delicate stage, however -- largely because of the ongoing unrest and fighting caused by the IS group.
As Lavrov's talked about LUKoil's contribution to Iraqi government revenues, LUKoil chief executive Vagit Alekperov announced that the company was to ask Iraq for more oil in exchange for its work on Iraq's West Qurna-2 project. Otherwise, LUKoil could cut its investments in the project, Alekperov said, according to Reuters.
LUKoil owns a 75 percent stake in the West Qurna-2 oil field, which is located in southern Iraq, 65 kilometers northwest of the port city of Basra. Iraq's government reimburses LUKoil's costs with oil as part of its work on West Qurna-2.
Following reports in November that Iraq was losing billions in oil revenues to the IS group, Iraq's Oil Ministry said it was seeking to increase oil production from its middle and southern oil fields. The ministry said it hoped exports from West Qurna-2 would rise to 400,000 barrels a day by early 2015.
However, amid ongoing fighting with the IS group, foreign oil companies have proposed cuts to development spending in Iraq, with LUKoil proposing to cut spending from $2.3 billion to $2.1 billion, Reuters reported on March 19.
Alekperov said that he hoped the cuts would not have to happen, noting that Iraq "needs the construction of an export oil pipeline and an increase in production."
-- Joanna Paraszczuk