All Articles (99)

Russia remained intensively engaged in the search for a political settlement in Syria. Its Foreign Ministry continued to denounce terrorists’ actions in Idlib to thwart Turkey’s efforts to fulfil its commitment to disengage them from “moderate” rebel forces and to establish a demilitarised zone (Review, 9/18). It was alleged that al-Nusra militants continued to fire on Syrian forces and populations on the outskirts of the province, including “chlorine-filled mortar rounds” at residential…

President Putin’s visit to Singapore for the Russia-ASEAN and East Asia (EAS) Summits was a landmark event on many counts. For all Russia’s declared focus on Eurasia, particularly after the standoff with the West since 2014, most Russian attention in Asia has been to China, India, Japan and Korea. This was President Putin’s first ever visit to Singapore, his first ever participation in EAS and the first ASEAN-Russian summit in eight years. The earlier two were in 2005 and 2010, though a…

Notwithstanding the fact that France was a party to the NATO, EU & G7 statements on the Kerch strait developments, President Macron went ahead with a bilateral meeting with President Putin on the margins of the G-20 summit. Equally significant was the fact that in his (public) opening remarks at that meeting, he first mentioned cooperation on Syria, before talking about the situation in Ukraine, which he linked to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. He also said he would discuss…

The much anticipated (in Russia) Putin-Trump November 11 meeting in Paris, for which the ground had been laid by the visit to Moscow of US NSA Bolton in October (Review 10/18), was postponed to the margins of the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires (November 29-December 1), apparently to avoid deflection of focus from the World War I Armistice commemoration events. Two developments later in the month – one domestic and one external – eventually ensured that the meeting did not take…

President Putin and Prime Minister Modi met on the margins of the East Asia Summit in Singapore and the G20 in Buenos Aires. The personal chemistry remains intact, as evidenced by their warm embrace in Singapore. A Russian journalist queried President Putin on its significance; his response was that they were friends and such a greeting is normal among friends. President Putin reverted to this theme at an international investment seminar in Moscow (just before the G20 summit), when he talked…

The “Moscow format” of talks on Afghanistan, bringing together all regional and global stakeholders in the Afghan peace process, was poised for fresh take-off in September 2018, with Moscow’s announcement that Afghanistan would be a co-host and the Taliban would attend (Review, 8/18). In a loss of face for Russia, the meeting was called off at the eleventh hour, because the Afghan government withdrew from it, presumably under US pressure. On November 9, Russia was able to convene the talks.…

President Trump’s announcement on October 20, that the US has decided to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia (as the successor state to the Soviet Union), had been expected for some time, but nevertheless provoked negative reactions from Russia (as also Europe, China and Japan). The US has insisted, with increasing intensity since 2014, that Russia’s deployment of a cruise missile (which the Russians call 9M729) violates the treaty.

India-Russia summit in the shadow of CAATSA

President Putin came to India for the 19th annual India-Russia summit – his 15th – in what has become the usual backdrop to such summits: perceptions of drift in the relationship, of flagging defence cooperation and stagnant economic partnership, and of divergences in perspectives on key issues in India’s neighbourhood — Pakistan, Afghanistan and China — and on India’s strategic linkages with the US. However, the biggest question surrounding…

Chinese President Xi Jingping was the principal guest at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok. EEF is an annual, Davos-like, high-profile event, spearheaded by President Putin, intended to showcase economic opportunities in Russia’s Far East and to invite domestic and foreign investment to it. This year, the Presidents of China and Mongolia and the Prime Ministers of Japan and Korea joined President Putin for the event. Though Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, who has become a regular…

On September 20, the US announced the first sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), which authorises the US Executive to impose sanctions on any entity involved in a “significant” defence transaction with Russia. The sanctions – on a Chinese entity and its management – were in response to the Chinese import of S-400 air defence systems and Su-35 fighter aircraft. The timing of the announcement and its stated justification merit attention. The Chinese…

The Russia-backed Syrian forces preparations for a decisive military campaign on the Syrian rebel stronghold of idlib provoked strong international protest. President Trump warned sternly against the campaign in a couple of tweets, saying it would be “reckless” and a grave humanitarian mistake costing hundreds of thousands of lives. US NSA Bolton conveyed the same message to his Russian counterpart, as did the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. The US warned of possible chemical…

At the same time, there is increasing disquiet in Russian defence circles at the recent lack of progress on defence cooperation with India. The threat of US CAATSA sanctions has introduced considerable uncertainty about even ongoing projects. Russian exporter Rosoboronexport claims an Indian order book of over $4 billion, but there have already been payment disruptions due to Indian banks’ fears of attracting US sanctions (even before a sanctions regime is in place!). Russian officials also…

High-level defence contacts between Russia and Pakistan included a visit to Moscow (August 9) by General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the 1st session of Russia-Pakistan Military Consultative Committee on Defence and Security Issues (August 6-7) in Pakistan at the level of Deputy Defence Ministers.

General Hayat was hosted by the Valdai Club (which organizes President Putin’s annual interactions with domestic and foreign strategic analysts).…

As on other issues discussed in Helsinki, the seeming US-Russian convergences on some Syrian issues unravelled rapidly. Both the Presidents agreed that humanitarian assistance to Syria was important. President Putin talked about coordination between the small group (of the US, UK, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan) and the Astana process of Russia, Turkey and Iran; President Trump did not demur. However, in a detailed media briefing on August 17, the State Department poured cold water…

As with its initiatives in Syria, Russia’s efforts to take centre-stage in the Afghan political process were nipped in the bud. Early in August, the Russian MFA announced the convening of a second round of Afghanistan consultations in the “Moscow format” on September 4. The first round, held in April 2017, included Russia, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran, China and the five Central Asian Republics. The US was invited, but did not attend. The Taliban had also been invited and had declined.…

President Putin’s visit to Germany (August 17) came in the backdrop of worsening US-Russia relations (as described), President Trump’s public rebukes to Germany, and personally Chancellor Merkel, on German defence spending and the Russo-German Nord stream 2 gas pipeline project.

In the event, Chancellor Merkel was cautious in her public statements. She confirmed that Nord stream 2 would go ahead, but warned that gas transit through Ukraine should also continue (President Putin…

The five Caspian Sea littorals – Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan – signed (August 12) a Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, which has been under discussion over nearly three decades. It defines a special status for the waters, distinct from a sea (where the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea would apply) and a lake (giving all littorals equal share). The surface waters of the Caspian Sea would be open for common usage, but the seabed would be divided…

About the Author

Born in 1955, Ambassador Raghavan holds a B.Sc. (Honours) degree in Physics and a B.E. in Electronics & Communications Engineering. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1979. From 1979 to 2000, he had diplomatic assignments in USSR, Poland, United Kingdom, Vietnam and South Africa, interspersed with assignments in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi. From 2000 to 2004, he was Joint Secretary in the Indian Prime Minister's Office dealing with Foreign Affairs, Nuclear Energy, Space, Defence and National Security. Thereafter, he was Ambassador of India to Czech Republic (2004 - 2007) and to Ireland (2007 - 2011).

He was Chief Coordinator of the BRICS Summit in New Delhi (March 2012) and Special Envoy of the Government of India to Sudan and South Sudan (2012-13). Ambassador Raghavan conceptualized and piloted the creation of the Development Partnership Administration (DPA) in MEA, which implements and monitors India’s economic partnership programs in developing countries, with an annual budget of $1-1.5 billion. He headed DPA in 2012-13. From March 2013 to January 2014, he oversaw the functioning of the Administration, Security, Information Technology and other related Divisions of MEA. Since October 2013, he was also Secretary [Economic Relations] in MEA, steering India’s bilateral and multilateral external economic engagement. Ambassador Raghavan retired from the Indian Foreign Service in January 2016, after serving from 2014 as Ambassador of India to Russia. Since September 2016, he is Convenor of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India.