US Secretary of State Tillerson called his Russian counterpart on June 10 to discuss how the Saudi-Qatar standoff could be defused. They also agreed that the meeting of Foreign Ministry officials to discuss irritants in bilateral relations – agreed on at Secretary Tillerson’s meeting with President Putin in April – would be held on June 23.

This progress was stalled by the US Treasury announcement on June 20 of new, expanded sanctions against Russia. Reacting angrily, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) (and, separately, FM Lavrov) pointed out that there had been no new development to provoke this action, and called off the June 23 meeting. The Russian MFA reported that Secretary Tillerson telephoned FM Lavrov on June 22 and was apprised of Russian feelings on the sanctions. Russia also threatened retaliatory actions at a time of its choosing.

The sanctions themselves were more symbolic than substantial: they added 38 individuals and companies to an existing list of over 100, who are subject to visa bans, asset freeze and financing restrictions. Their significance was in their timing, coinciding with Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s visit to Washington for US support. There were, however, nuances in the messages he received. The meeting with President Trump was a brief “drop-in” after his call on Vice President Pence. The White House read-out of both these meetings said they supported “peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine” and talked about Ukraine’s economic reform and anti-corruption efforts. The Vice President also mentioned the Minsk Agreements. There was no reference, explicitly or implicitly, to Russia. It was left to Defence Secretary Mattis to explicitly express US support to Ukraine “in the face of threats to sovereignty, to international law or to the international order”. A Department of Defence spokesperson went much further, criticizing “aggressive Russian actions”. A bipartisan House of Representatives delegation headed by Speaker Ryan met President Poroshenko and echoed the Defence Secretary’s line.

A more draconian sanctions bill is now progressing through the US Congress, seeking to significantly widen the scope of US sanctions, restrict executive freedom to revoke them and require the President to submit annual reports on their implementation. The US Senate voted overwhelmingly (98-2) on June 14 for the bill, which envisages restrictions on collaboration and investment in (among others) the transport, metallurgy and energy sectors of Russia and, far more importantly, sanctions on entities anywhere, which are involved in such collaboration and investment. This last provision would have an impact not only on Russia, but also on Europe’s energy collaboration with Russia (see next section). If the House of Representatives passes the bill with a similarly large majority, it would have enough support to override a Presidential veto.

 

 June 30, 2017

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About the Author

Ambassador PS Raghavan

Former Ambassador of India to Russia; Convener, National Security Advisory Board

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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