Russian FM Sergei Lavrov in Baghdad
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Baghdad on Thursday to discuss “regional issues,” Agence France-Presse reported the Iraqi foreign ministry as saying on its website.
Lavrov “arrived to the Iraqi capital Baghdad for talks and discussions with senior government officials on regional issues of mutual interest,” the statement said, without providing further details.
The visit, which follows a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last week, may point to increased efforts by Moscow to expand ties with Middle Eastern countries with which Washington has had close relations.
One issue that will almost certainly be on the agenda is Syria, where rebels are battling forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war that has claimed more than 140,000 lives since its outbreak in 2011.
The conflict has contributed to a year-long surge in violence in Iraq to levels not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.
Lavrov’s visit comes after peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition cosponsored by Russia and the United States broke off last week with no date set for a third round.
Washington has accused Moscow -- a key Damascus ally -- of not doing enough to make sure the Assad regime is fully committed to the talks, a charge Russia has rejected.
Arms sales may also be on the agenda of Lavrov’s talks.
Iraq has purchased significant quantities of military equipment from Russia, but a $4.2 billion deal that would have made Moscow Baghdad’s biggest arms supplier after Washington was scrapped over corruption concerns.
Iraqi officials have been angered by delays in the delivery of some U.S. weapons due to concerns over potential abuses, while Egypt has also been hit by the suspension of some American aid after the military’s overthrow of the country’s democratically-elected president.
Both cases provide an opening for Russia to try to make gains in diplomatic and military ties.