Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Iraq on Sunday for talks on energy and food security in view of the war in Ukraine, as well as ways for Baghdad to handle payments to Russia in light of global sanctions imposed on Moscow after it invaded its neighbour last February.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein hailed the relations between Baghdad and Moscow as “old” and “historic”, in a joint press conference after talks with Mr Lavrov.
“We have bonds and co-operation in the fields of military, security, economy and trade,” Mr Hussein said.
“There is a vital role for the Russian oil companies in investing and working in the oil and gas sector,” he said.
“These companies have dues and we discussed how to deal with them,” he said. The goal is to “protect Iraqi banks and central banks from sanctions”.
Mr Hussein said he would discuss the payment issue with US officials during a visit to Washington on Wednesday.
“There are sanctions in place that should not be imposed on the Iraqi side because the co-operation with Russian companies is continuing and there are active Russian companies in Iraq,” he said.
Mr Lavrov, who was scheduled to also meet Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, President Abdul Latif Rashid and Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi, said Russian companies had “huge investments in Iraq that have reached $13 billion and they deal with the Iraqi companies”.
“Under the current situation and restriction imposed by the United States it is necessary for us to protect ourselves from the negative implications,” he said through an interpreter.
Mr Hussein said his country’s position remained clear when it came to the war on Ukraine.
“Iraq's position is clear on wars. We call for ending the crisis through dialogue,” he said.
Mr Lavrov said Russia supported Iraq's position calling for peace between Russia and Ukraine. He said Russia was “continuing to co-ordinate with the Iraqi side on regional issues, especially the Palestinian issue”.
Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Al Sahaf told AFP earlier that Baghdad favoured “any dialogue making it possible to defuse this escalation and alleviate crises … particularly in the food and energy sectors”.
Global food and energy prices have soared since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
Mr Lavrov landed in Baghdad late on Sunday at the head of a large delegation that includes oil and gas companies and investors.
Mr Al Sahaf said the Russian minister's visit “confirms Iraq's openness to all of its partners and friends”, the official Iraqi News Agency reported.
He also underlined the importance of “attracting investment … notably in energy”.