Two days ago, before it was formalized that the US tacitly, if not explicitly, now supports the removal of the Iraqi Prime Minister whom it itself had helped elect, we summarized the geopolitical tensions and “national interests” in Iraq, which is shaping up to be a proxy war that makes last year’s Syrian escapade pale by comparison, as follows:
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The situation in Iraq, already a jumble of domestic sectarian violence, is now pitting virtually all major (and regional) international players against each other as well. There is:
- US which tacitly supports Iran intervention in the region, but may have suddenly cooled in its support of Maliki despite sending naval and troop forces in the country after partially evacuating its embassy
- Saudi Arabia which wants to remain friendly with the US but is antagonistic to the Iraq regime, is potentially aiding the ISIS forces, and clearly refuses to allow Iran entrance in Iraq
- Iran, which has suddenly become America’s best friend in the region, which is willing to enter Iraq and protect its holy sites
- Syria, whose president is sitting back amused at last year’s failed campaign by the US to remove him from power, and whose army is at a stalemate with the local US-armed and funded rebels
- Qatar, which is supporting the Syrian rebels, but so far has not made its stance clear on Iraq. Like Saudi, it too may be indirectly backing ISIS
- Jordan, which is a close friend the US, and which may have hosted ISIS in a secret base on its territory with the US instructing the jihadist group according to an unconfirmed report
- Turkey, which is on constant alert to Kurdish escalation across the border, the same Kurds which now have far more leverage courtesy of ISIS crushing the Iraq army in the north and handing over Kurds access to oil fields in the north.
- And of course Russia: because while Putin clearly benefits from rising crude prices, it is his Lukoil that is developing (and investing vast amounts of money in) the vast Iraqi West Qurna-2 oil field. It is not clear how he would feel about it falling into ISIS hands.
It was the bolded text that was of biggest interest because as we noted the next day, when discussing the next steps for ISIS, we said that “One wonders how long until the mercenary force finds its latest major backer, because for all the western, US-led intervention, both Russia and China are oddly missing from the scene. We expect that to change soon.”
Because clearly one can’t have a global proxy war without China, and certainly without Russia.
Well, we said we expected Russia’s conspicuous absence to “change soon”, and so it did: within just 24 hours. Because apparently all Putin was waiting for was for Obama to pick sides (i.e., not Maliki) before the Russian leader made it clear whom he sides with. US, helpfully obliged yesterday morning when we also reported that “US Slams Its Former Iraq Puppet: “The Maliki Government, Candidly, Has Got To Go“.”
So what does Putin – who as a reminder is heavily invested in Iraq’ massive West Qurna-2 oil field via Lukoil – do? Why announce his undying support for Maliki, of course, and as AP reported, the former KGB spy offered Iraqi premier Nuri al-Maliki Russia’s total backing for the fight against fighters who have swept across the country, as well as his full support for the embattled prime minister.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken by phone to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, expressing Moscow’s support for his action against the militant offensive.
The Kremlin said in a statement that al-Maliki informed Putin on Friday about his government’s steps to combat the “terrorist groups in the north of the country.” It added that the insurgency threatens security of the entire region.
Putin confirmed Russia’s “full support for the Iraqi government’s action to quickly free the territory of the republic from terrorists,” the Kremlin said,adding that Putin and al-Maliki also discussed bilateral cooperation.
Putin’s expression of support for the embattled Iraqi prime minister comes as al-Maliki’s rivals have mounted a campaign to force him out of office, with some angling for support from Western backers and regional heavyweights.
And just like in Syria from 2012 to 2013, the chessboard is once again set, with a regional middle-east conflict, this time in Iraq, merely serving as the proxy staging ground in which the Iraqi PM, once an obedient US puppet but now an enemy of Saudi Arabia and thus the US, “simply has to go” in the words of Dianne Feinstein, has suddenly become the fulcrum issue behind yet another soon to escalate conflict between Russia and the US.
One thing is certain: the more the US (and Saudi Arabia, and Qatar) pushes for Maliki’s ouster, the more involved Russia will become with its offers of support and bilateral cooperation. And if the Syrian fiasco (for John Kerry) is any indication, Russia is about to expand its “national interest” sphere of influence by one more country.
Russia Puts Troops on Alert as U.S. Broadens Sanctions
Russian President Vladimir Putin backed a cease-fire in Ukraine declared by that country’s new leader, calling for all sides to halt military activities even as he put more than 65,000 troops on combat alert.
The week-long truce that Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko called for yesterday shouldn’t be an ultimatum and won’t be “viable or realistic” without steps toward starting negotiations on the disputes in the region, Putin said in an e-mailed statement issued late today by the Kremlin.
His statement came after Russia ordered troops to take part in a drill after Poroshenko moved to quell violence in eastern Ukraine. The plan should be used to start “constructive” talks on achieving political compromise, Putin said.
The Russian drill is the biggest since the country annexed the Black Sea Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March. The U.S. has accused the government in Moscow of aiding pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions and this week imposed sanctions on people linked to the insurgency.
The dispute is flaring as American and European officials warn that more painful penalties affecting Russia’s access to financial markets, technology and military hardware may come as early as next week if Putin refuses to curb tensions. North Atlantic Treaty Organization and U.S. officials have said this week that Russia was renewing its military buildup near the Ukrainian border.
Russia had originally dismissed Ukraine’s declaration of the cease-fire as an “ultimatum,” spurring officials from the European Union and Germany today to call again on Putin to support the peace plan.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said today his country would impose economic sanctions and travel bans against 11 people — Vladimir Shamanov, the commander of the Russian Airborne Troops, and 10 Ukrainian militia and rebel government leaders. Feodosia Enterprise, a Crimea-based oil company, also is subject to the sanctions, Harper said.
Putin put troops in Russia’s central military region on full combat alert and ordered them to take part in a test of military readiness that is to last through June 28 and will also involve 5,500 pieces of military equipment, Vladimir Anikin, a spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, said by phone.
In Kiev, the Foreign Ministry denounced Russia’s military activity, saying it “does not help to normalize the situation in Ukraine and to implement peaceful initiatives by the Ukrainian authorities,” according to an e-mailed statement.
The statement was issued before Putin said he backed the cease-fire.
While Ukraine seeks a peaceful solution to the conflict, its military is ready to act “adequately” if the cease-fire is violated, Poroshenko said today on his website prior to Putin’s latest statement. The peace plan has “powerful support” from European and U.S. leaders, he said.
Ukraine called on all fighters to lay down arms, halting the offensive against rebels from 10 p.m. yesterday until 10 a.m. on June 27, according to the president’s website.
Pro-Russian militants expressed skepticism the truce will be implemented, as fighting continued in at least seven different places. Those skirmishes left nine border troops and one Russian customs official wounded, and an unspecified number of militants killed, Ukrainian authorities said today.
U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday spoke by phone with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, agreeing in separate conversations that the U.S. and European Union would “impose costs” on Russia if it doesn’t work to de-escalate the situation, the White House said in an e-mailed statement.
The U.S. “will continue to take action to hold accountable those persons engaged in efforts to destabilize Crimea and eastern Ukraine,” Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in a statement. “These individuals have all contributed to attempts to illegally undermine the legitimate government.”
The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned seven individuals, including the acting governor of Sevastopol in Crimea and separatist leaders in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Broader measures are being readied against the finance, defense and technology industries, two U.S. officials said.
The U.S. is levying penalties for the first time since April 28, when it sanctioned people and companies linked to Putin’s inner circle. Russia risks further measures when EU leaders meet next week unless it helps end the unrest to support an emerging peace plan, Merkel said yesterday.
European diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said consensus has emerged within the 28-member group during the last week that tougher sanctions may be warranted when EU leaders meet June 26-27 in Brussels if Putin fails to abide by earlier pledges.
“All parties” will need to “actively promote” the implementation of the peace plan, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said at a news conference in Tallinn today before Putin’s latest statement. “We in particular call on the Russian Federation to use all its influence to this end and to support this plan publicly and through concrete actions.”
Poroshenko’s 15-point peace plan includes early parliamentary and local elections, job creation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Ukraine’s east and freeing all seized buildings and abducted people, according to the statement.
Before the cease-fire can be implemented, Ukraine must reassert control over its border with Russia, across which fighters have crossed, according to Poroshenko.
Russia is increasing security because it’s concerned about the situation on the border, though it’s not building up troop levels, Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign-policy aide, said yesterday.
The separatists are willing to consider the plan, according to Andrei Purgin, a deputy premier of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.
“If we see a true cease-fire, we may stop our actions as well,” he said by phone. “But I think there will be no cease-fire. In practice these statements are only political.”