May 21, 2015 / 1:48 PM / 2 years ago

Russia offers military aid to Iraq during PM visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 21, 2015.Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia offered visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi military and other aid on Thursday to help push back Islamic State militants who have made further sweeping gains in both Iraq and Syria this week.

The advances by IS, which captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi last weekend and on Thursday was tightening its grip on the historic city of Palmyra in neighboring Syria, have exposed the shortcomings of Iraq's army and the limitations of U.S. air strikes.

In going ahead with his visit to Moscow despite the worsening security crisis, Abadi said he had wanted to underline the importance of his country's ties with Russia, adding that he had disregarded "certain forces" advising him to cancel the trip.

"We are expanding cooperation in the area of military technology," Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the start of talks with Abadi in the Kremlin, hailing Iraq as an "old and reliable partner in the region".

"Our relations are developing very successfully ... Our companies are working in your country and we are talking of investments in the order of billions of dollars," Putin added, without elaborating.

Russian companies were involved in the Iraqi economy for decades during the rule of Saddam Hussein and strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 which ousted the dictator and ushered in a prolonged period of turmoil.

Earlier on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would make every effort to help Iraq defeat Islamic State, whose capture of Ramadi last weekend was the most significant setback for the Baghdad government in a year.

"We are focused on developing ties in all spheres, including military-technical cooperation, economic cooperation and cooperation in the oil and gas sector," Abadi said.

Weak global oil prices have prompted Russia to seek closer ties with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Iraq is a member.

Russia, one of the world's biggest non-OPEC oil producers, is scheduled to hold consultations with the group ahead of an OPEC policy-making meeting in Vienna next month.

Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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