All Posts (141)

The negotiations brokered by the Minsk Contact Group (flowing from the Minsk accords of 2014-2015) achieved a breakthrough on October 1, when the Ukrainian government and  representatives of eastern Ukraine (Donbas) agreed to implement the “Steinmeier formula,” opening the door to elections in Donbas (see RR 8/19).  Under this formula, this region will be accorded temporary special status for the period of elections, which should be held under Ukrainian law, with OSCE monitoring. If the OSCE…

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President Putin‘s visits to Saudi Arabia and UAE in October were a reminder of Russia’s emergence as a major player in the political, economic and military dynamics of West Asia over the last four years. It has capitalized on political space ceded by the US and its allies, including by the mishandling of the Syrian crisis, which provided the opportunity for the Russian military intervention in Syria in 2015. As an energy superpower itself, Russia found a widening canvas of common interests…

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There were upheavals in the Syrian theatre, with President Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw US troops, Turkey’s military action to create a “safe zone” in northern Syria (see RR 1/19 & 5/19), consequent US sanctions on Turkey, lifting of the sanctions after Vice President Pence brokered a temporary ceasefire, and President Trump’s announcement that US troops will remain in northeast Syria, ostensibly to keep the oilfields from falling into ISIS hands.

Amidst these volatile…

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The revelation that President Trump exhorted Ukrainian President Zelenskyy (in a July 25 telephone conversation) to revive corruption cases against a Ukrainian company that had employed Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, has led to impeachment moves against the US President. While the propriety of the US President’s action is a matter of internal US debate, the call transcript released by the White House has points of interest from the perspective of this Review.  …

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Prime Minister Modi combined his attendance at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok with the annual India-Russia summit meeting. The four main messages from the visit were a reaffirmation of the strategic partnership, assertion of India’s strategic autonomy in foreign policy, broadening India-Russia cooperation beyond defence, and flagging the Indo-Pacific as a promising new area of India-Russia engagement.  

The public statements and joint declaration contained the…

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News Snippets

Local elections show rise in popular discontent: The establishment party, United Russia, did relatively poorly in the regional elections on September 8. The runup to the elections was marked by protests across the country on a larger scale than in the past. Worsening standards of living, increase in pensionable ages, higher taxes (VAT, garbage tax, etc) and rampant corruption have become emotive issues. The unpopularity of United Russia was reflected in the fact that many of…

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As described in earlier Reviews, Russia has been trying to hold the balance between the Syrian government’s thrust to re-take the last rebel bastion of Idlib and Turkish interests in the region. Mindful of the larger context of Russia-Turkey relations, Russia has restrained its criticism of Turkey’s failure to implement the Putin-Erdogan Sochi agreement of September 2018, tweaked in April 2019 (see Reviews 9/18 & 4/19), to secure the Idlib de-escalation zone by isolating terrorist…

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Russia-West engagement intensifies

There is now a discernible change in the tempo and tenor of Russia’s engagement with the West. The tentative steps forward in relations with the US (Review, 6 &7/19) are being reinforced by a stronger thrust from Europe, led by France’s President Macron, who invited President Putin to France about a week before the G7 summit hosted by him. He announced that the discussions with Russia on major international issues would feed into G7 deliberations. 

In his public statements,…

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Departing from its recent tendency of public equivocation on India-Pakistan issues, the Russian foreign ministry responded unequivocally to an Indian media query that “decisions on the status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir ….. are carried out within the framework of the Constitution of the Republic of India”. The statement went on to urge India and Pakistan to settle their differences bilaterally, “in…

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After meticulous preparation in May (see RR 5/19), Presidents Trump and Putin met on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Osaka on June 28.  The atmosphere was cordial, but both sides avoided the mistake of overdoing the effusiveness or disclosure of detail about the discussion, which contributed to the derailment of the progress promised at their Helsinki Summit in July 2018. President Trump said in his public remarks at the meeting that they had many things to discuss, including “trade,…

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Russia’s engagement with Europe ranged from President Putin’s meeting with a grim-faced UK PM Theresa May to a cordial visit to Italy (which included a conversation with the Pope) and the now usual exchanges with the French and German heads of government. 

President Putin’s handshake with a frosty-faced UK PM (on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka) went viral on the wires. According to Downing Street, she told him that UK-Russia relations could not be normal until Russia…

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President Putin participated in his annual Direct Line show, carried live on Russian TV, radio and digital outlets, in which he answers questions and fields complaints from the Russian public, through phone-ins, video calls, online texts and a studio audience. It is a major public relations exercise, with correspondents fanning out across the vast country, weeks in advance, to collect participants and questions for the show. It is said that President Putin prepares meticulously for the show,…

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As in earlier months, Russia continued to keep the increasingly fragile Astana partnership alive, seeking to nudge its partners to finalize the constitutional committee to work for a political settlement and to restore Syrian control over the Idlib governorate. Mobilizing international participation in rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in Syria and keeping Israel-Iran tensions from spilling over into Syria were other Russian pursuits.

The situation in the Idlib…

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President Putin was one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate Prime Minister Modi on his re-election, sending a message and making a phone call on May 23, well before the final results were announced. His message paid the usual tributes to the friendship of the two peoples and the strength of the bilateral strategic partnership. 

On the same day, the spokesperson of the Russian MFA spoke at length on the recent intensification of Russia’s contacts with Pakistan,…

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Russia continued efforts to sustain the increasingly fragile Astana partnership from the divergent perspectives of Turkey, Iran and Syria, further complicated by American actions and Israeli interests. 

The last major rebel hold-out of the Idlib governorate in Syria remained a thorn in the flesh of the Syrian government (and the Russians), with the al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) continuing to launch missile attacks on surrounding Syrian areas, including the Russian…

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The advent of a new Ukrainian President revived European efforts to re-engage with the “Minsk process”. President Macron and Chancellor Merkel had a telephonic discussion with President Putin, who (according to the Kremlin, and consistent with Russia’s constant refrain) emphasised the need to prioritise extending special status to the Donbas region, granting amnesty to the “freedom-fighters” and withdrawing forces and heavy weaponry to agreed positions. The French and German Foreign…

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The Trump Administration launched a fresh initiative to resume summit-level discussions with Russia on bilateral and international issues. The stage for this was set by the conclusions of the Mueller Report on Russian Interference in the US Presidential Elections in 2016 which, while confirming Russian disinformation and social media operations and hackings of the Democratic Party emails,  did not (according to the US Attorney General) find collusion of the Trump Campaign with the…

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On April 12, President Putin issued a Presidential order, conferring the “Order of St. Andrew” to PM Modi for "outstanding services in the development of the special privileged partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of India and friendly relations between the people of Russia and India". The Order is Russia’s highest state award, established before the 1917 revolution and restored in 1998.

Thanking President Putin and the people of Russia, PM Modi said the…

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West Asian engagement

The liberation of Baghouz from ISIS did not catalyse a Syrian political settlement; it has, in fact, introduced new complications, as was illustrated by the Astana group meeting in Nursultan on April 25-26. The meeting was attended by, in addition to representatives from Russia, Iran and Turkey, UN Special Envoy Pedersen and delegations from the Syrian government and opposition. The US, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon were added as observers of the Astana Process. Russia pushed to finalize the…

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The Russia-orchestrated “intra-Afghan” dialogue in Doha, April 19-21, did not take place, owing to disagreement over the size and composition of the delegation nominated by the Afghan government. The dialogue was a follow-up of that organized by Afghan community representatives in Moscow in February, which adopted a nine-point agenda for Afghan reconciliation (see Review, 2/19). This time, Afghan government representatives were invited “in their personal capacities”, as agreed with the…

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About the Author

Ambassador PS Raghavan

Chairman, National Security Advisory Board & Former Indian Ambassador to Russia

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.

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