The Russian government is now the primary funder of oil and gas deals in the autonomous region of Kurdistan and has yet to outline its position on next week’s Kurdish independence referendum, a report from Reuters has revealed.
According to industry sources, the Russian government has pledged over $4 billion in under a year, with Russian state oil giant Rosneft last week announcing its latest investment of approximately $1 billion designed to help the region develop its natural gas industry for domestic supplies and eventual export.
The move is Rosneft’s third giant investment in the Kurdish region since February, transforming Moscow from a position of peripheral interest in Kurdistan to the region’s biggest source of funding.
“We are interested that the Kurdish people like any other nation on the planet can fulfill its hopes and aspirations,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in July. “We start from the fact that the legitimate aspirations of the Kurds, like other peoples, need to be fulfilled within the framework of existing international legal norms.”
“Moscow has been effectively filling the gap as the United States has been pulling back from Iraq,” a senior source in Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdish region, told Reuters.
This week, the White House outlined its opposition to the referendum, set to take place next week, describing it as “provocative and destabilizing” despite long-term ties to the region, having fought alongside thousands of Kurdish forces in the fight against the Islamic State.
“The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the liberated areas,” the White House said in a statement. “Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing. We therefore call on the Kurdistan Regional Government to call off the referendum and enter into serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad, which the United States has repeatedly indicated it is prepared to facilitate.”
Affected regions, including Turkey and Syria, have also opposed the plan, with the Turkish foreign minister even warning that the vote could lead to a “civil war.”
However, current opinion polls suggest that a “yes” vote is the most likely outcome and could win by a landslide, which Kurdish leaders have claimed will strengthen their negotiating position in talks with Baghdad and other affected regions.
“I must say that a referendum by itself is not our goal, it is a means, a tool to a bigger goal. And I hope we can solve all these through dialogue with Baghdad,” Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said this year.