The main challenge for Russia from the Western missile strikes in Syria was to keep alive the Russia-Iran-Turkey initiative for a Syrian political settlement. 
 
On April 4, President Erdogan hosted Presidents Putin and Rouhani in Ankara for the second summit of the Astana process (the first was in Sochi in mid-2017). The trio patched together a common line that condoned Turkish “Olive Branch” military operations in northern Syria against the Kurdish YPD militia, reaffirmed commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity, agreed to put in more resources to rebuilding Syria’s infrastructure, to cooperate better in de-escalating tensions and to work with the UN Special Envoy to take forward the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi (January 2018).
 
The missile strikes queered the pitch for this. President Erdogan criticized Syria for chemical weapons use and welcomed the missile strikes.  Other rebel groups also took cover of this action to disrupt peace in de-escalation zones. Israel, clearly in consultation with the US, launched airstrikes against a Syrian airbase in Homs province. The Russians said that eight guided missiles had been launched from Lebanese airspace, of which five had been brought down, but three hit a part of the airfield. Though Israeli sources said the attack was to curtail Iranian influence in Syria, it was reported that Israel had been careful to avoid Russian or Iranian targets. One speculation was that it was intended to test the Russian-assisted Syrian air defence capabilities.
 
However, while the Russian-led Syrian process was impacted, no alternative course emerged. The missile strikes turned out to be a one-off exercise, without a discernible follow-up game plan. Israeli PM Netanyahu was warned by President Putin that he would revoke their tacit agreement that Russia would not position S-300 air defence systems in Syria – a move that would degrade Israeli control over the airspace in the region. In the absence of any further US activism in the region, the Russia-Iran-Turkey coalition was pulled together again, with a Foreign Minister-level meeting in Moscow in end-April. The UN Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, visited Moscow (April 20) and was urged to proceed with forming the representative Syrian Constitution Committee, which the Sochi meeting in January had decided on. Progress on this, however, awaits a clear indication of US policy. 

 

 

April 30, 2018

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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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