Stumbling along on Syria

As US withdrawal plans from Syria remained unclear (and changing), Russia sought to maintain some commonality of purpose among the Astana trio of Russia, Turkey and Iran on the way forward. A summit meeting of the three in Sochi (February 14) resulted in a joint statement, but also revealed their divergent perspectives – the Kremlin website, which normally carries statements and media responses of all leaders interacting with President Putin, carried only President Putin’s statement and responses. 

All three countries agree on the need for an early convening of the Syrian Constitutional Committee to set a political process in motion. They agree that conditions should be created for return of Syrian refugees and that international humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people is an urgent imperative. However, the issue of clearing Idlib of “terrorists”, including those who launch periodical attacks on Russian troops in Latakia, and creation of a “safe zone” on the Turkish Syrian border remain contentious issues. Turkey’s insistence on its troops occupying northern Syria on vacation of that area by the US met with strong resistance from both Iran and Russia – the latter offering its military police to patrol the border. Russia separately has been continuing to encourage an accommodation between the Syrian Kurds and the Assad government. 

Keeping Turkey on board remains Russia’s main challenge. Energy and economic links with Russia – the Black Sea Turkstream2 gas pipeline, a nuclear power plant with Russian credit, 6 million Russian tourists in Turkey and extensive Turkish business interests in Russia – are important binding factors, but Russia is conscious of Turkey’s global ambitions and its potential strategic value to the US in northern Syria, West Asian politics and in the Black Sea. Turkey’s close relations with Russia have not prevented its agreement to supply armed UAVs to Ukraine, which will significantly enhance the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ capacity to hit the Russian-supported rebel forces (and private Russian mercenaries) in eastern Ukraine.  


February 28, 2019

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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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