Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded the work of the Russian energy company, Rosneft, in the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, Reuters reports.

“We presume that there is no reason why we should not develop relations with the Kurdish people and we’ll be doing that,” Putin declared, according to Reuters.

This fall, the company announced that it was acquiring a 60% stake in the pipeline of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) for $1.8 billion, Reuters reported at the time.

The announcement irked the central government in Baghdad, which views itself as the owner and administrator of Iraq’s oil wealth. It demanded “clarifications” from Rosneft, Financial Times reported.

After the KRG held a non-binding independence referendum this fall, the central government has taken steps to reign in the powers of the regional government. In October, it conducted a large-scale military operation to seize territories administered by the KRG, most notably the disputed region of Kirkuk and its rich oilfields.