Russia intensified its diplomatic activity for a political settlement in Syria, in consultation with the US, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Israel – trying to expand ceasefire zones, even while balancing the conflicting interests of these parties. In early August, Russia announced the establishment of a third safe zone in areas north of Homs city. This is in pursuit of the plan drawn up in the tri-partite Astana process in May (see Review, May) for a total of four such safe zones, where fighting could cease and into which humanitarian assistance could be reached. The fourth identified zone – in and around Idlib – remains work in progress; FM Lavrov expressed the hope that negotiations with Turkey and others would enable announcement of the ceasefire in this area by mid-September. 
 
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) briefings hinted at harmonious Russian coordination with US-backed forces on the ground in Syria. The spokeswoman confirmed that the “Kurdish and Arab units” of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were making good progress in the effort to liberate Raqqa from ISIS, having taken control of about 60 per cent of the city. In one of his media interactions, FM Lavrov said the effort to separate “normal armed opposition” (who could be negotiated with) from terrorists like Jabhat al-Nusra (to which no quarters should be given) was progressing. He commented that the Obama Administration had promised to do this, but failed, implying that the Trump Administration was doing better in this regard. 
 
Meanwhile, Russia continued its efforts in the region to reconcile conflicting interests and broaden the dialogue for a political settlement. FM Lavrov said Egypt was helping to unite the Syrian opposition on a “realistic and constructive” platform for talks with the Syrian government on a political settlement. He said Saudi Arabia is also being drawn into this effort. Separately, Russia and the US are working around Turkey’s objections to Kurdish involvement in the US-led coalition and Israel’s concern about Iran-backed forces on the border with Golan Heights. A tripartite Russia-Iran-Iraq meeting at the Deputy Foreign Minister level sought to ensure that Iraq (which has recently been the target of Saudi attention) remains supportive of the political dialogue process. Russia hopes to bring all these strands together in Astana by mid-September; this cannot happen without active US support.   

 

 

August 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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