All Posts (108)

Chinese President Xi Jingping was the principal guest at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok. EEF is an annual, Davos-like, high-profile event, spearheaded by President Putin, intended to showcase economic opportunities in Russia’s Far East and to invite domestic and foreign investment to it. This year, the Presidents of China and Mongolia and the Prime Ministers of Japan and Korea joined President Putin for the event. Though Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, who has become a regular…

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On September 20, the US announced the first sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), which authorises the US Executive to impose sanctions on any entity involved in a “significant” defence transaction with Russia. The sanctions – on a Chinese entity and its management – were in response to the Chinese import of S-400 air defence systems and Su-35 fighter aircraft. The timing of the announcement and its stated justification merit attention. The Chinese…

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Breaking a drought of high-level US-Russia exchanges since the visit to Moscow of NSA Bolton in June, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry made a surprise visit to Moscow (September 13) and met the Russian Ministers of Finance and Energy. The principal objective of the visit was apparently to explore the possibility of Russian cooperation in keeping oil prices in check when the Iran sanctions kick in fully – on the eve of the mid-term US Congressional elections. A US press release said the two…

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The five Caspian Sea littorals – Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan – signed (August 12) a Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, which has been under discussion over nearly three decades. It defines a special status for the waters, distinct from a sea (where the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea would apply) and a lake (giving all littorals equal share). The surface waters of the Caspian Sea would be open for common usage, but the seabed would be divided…

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In the face of continued harsh bipartisan criticism, in Congress and large sections of the US media, of the substance and outcome of President Trump’s July 16 summit with Russian President Putin, the Trump administration launched a major “corrective” exercise, impacting on the entire range of the US-Russia relationship.

In an unprecedented action, the entire national security team of the administration – Director of National Intelligence, National Security Advisor, FBI Director,…

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President Putin’s visit to Germany (August 17) came in the backdrop of worsening US-Russia relations (as described), President Trump’s public rebukes to Germany, and personally Chancellor Merkel, on German defence spending and the Russo-German Nord stream 2 gas pipeline project.

In the event, Chancellor Merkel was cautious in her public statements. She confirmed that Nord stream 2 would go ahead, but warned that gas transit through Ukraine should also continue (President Putin…

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High-level defence contacts between Russia and Pakistan included a visit to Moscow (August 9) by General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the 1st session of Russia-Pakistan Military Consultative Committee on Defence and Security Issues (August 6-7) in Pakistan at the level of Deputy Defence Ministers.

General Hayat was hosted by the Valdai Club (which organizes President Putin’s annual interactions with domestic and foreign strategic analysts).…

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As with its initiatives in Syria, Russia’s efforts to take centre-stage in the Afghan political process were nipped in the bud. Early in August, the Russian MFA announced the convening of a second round of Afghanistan consultations in the “Moscow format” on September 4. The first round, held in April 2017, included Russia, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran, China and the five Central Asian Republics. The US was invited, but did not attend. The Taliban had also been invited and had declined.…

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As on other issues discussed in Helsinki, the seeming US-Russian convergences on some Syrian issues unravelled rapidly. Both the Presidents agreed that humanitarian assistance to Syria was important. President Putin talked about coordination between the small group (of the US, UK, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan) and the Astana process of Russia, Turkey and Iran; President Trump did not demur. However, in a detailed media briefing on August 17, the State Department poured cold water…

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At the same time, there is increasing disquiet in Russian defence circles at the recent lack of progress on defence cooperation with India. The threat of US CAATSA sanctions has introduced considerable uncertainty about even ongoing projects. Russian exporter Rosoboronexport claims an Indian order book of over $4 billion, but there have already been payment disruptions due to Indian banks’ fears of attracting US sanctions (even before a sanctions regime is in place!). Russian officials also…

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The Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki held on July 16 signalled a thaw in US-Russia relations, which have in recent years degenerated into acrimonious mutual recriminations, expanding economic sanctions and military confrontations (through proxies) across Europe and Asia. The two leaders projected cordiality and mutual respect in their joint press conference, though they were frank in expressing their differences.

Impressions about the summit have been dominated by the narrative in…

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Since the Helsinki summit was billed to discuss Syria, there was hectic diplomatic activity from both Israel and Iran prior to the summit. Israeli PM Netanyahu met President Putin in Russia and spoke on the telephone to President Trump. His concern was to rid Syria of Iranian presence, in return for which he was reported to have promised to accept continuation of the Assad government. Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign affairs adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, also visited Moscow to seek…

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PM Modi and President Putin met on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg on July 26. President Putin is due to visit India for their annual Summit in October. Russia and India held a Joint Working Group meeting at Deputy Foreign Minister level on countering global terrorism. The official release of the meeting contained the usual formulations on cooperation in preventing terrorism, tackling its ideological mainsprings, choking off its financing, combatting the phenomenon of…

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One of the refrains in the US media about President Trump’s decision to engage with President Putin was that it creates nervousness in America’s European allies. Evidence shows otherwise, at least in respect of what has been called “old Europe”. Strong criticism of the Trump-Putin summit came predictably from former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorsky (in a Washington Post op-ed), but Germany, France and Italy publicly welcomed the resumption of dialogue. President Putin telephoned…

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India-Russia defence cooperation, particularly the proposed Indian acquisition of the S-400 air defence system, continued to be the focus of attention of US Congresspersons and officials of the Trump Administration, who warned India that this deal (and India-Russia defence cooperation in general) would attract American sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act). In separate explicit media statements, both India’s Defence Minister and its Ambassador to…

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The prospect of a thaw in US-Russia relations emerged with the visit to Moscow of US National Security Advisor John Bolton, his meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Putin, and the subsequent announcement of a Trump-Putin bilateral meeting in Helsinki on July 16.

President Trump had already dropped a hint of his thinking, when he queried at the G7 Summit in early June why Russia was excluded from the event. US Secretary of State Pompeo telephoned Russian FM…

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Russia welcomed the outcome of the US-North Korea summit of June 12 but, like most countries in the region, was anxious to be involved in consequent developments. Russian concerns were expressed by FM Lavrov in a press conference on June 13: that the major focus was on de-nuclearization of North Korea, whereas the real issue is de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He added that de-nuclearization and security guarantees in the region cannot be ensured purely bilaterally between the US…

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Russia’s organization of the World Cup has drawn originally grudging, and later more willing, appreciation from foreign media and fans. The facility of visa-free entry into Russia, with permission to stay for the entire duration of the World Cup, for all ticket-holders is unheard-of in Russian practice. World Cup ticket holders are also allowed free use of public transport. Western fans, especially those from UK and the US, who had initially been discouraged by the negative travel advisories…

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The Trump Administration’s announcements of tariffs on steel and aluminium imports and of US withdrawal from the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran provoked angry responses from the European Union. European Council President Donald Tusk caused a stir by remarking at an EU Summit in Bulgaria in mid-May, “looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, some could even think, ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?’” The anger was compounded, especially in Germany and France, by…

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Stalemate in Syria continued

The hangover of the joint US-UK-France missile strikes of April 14 on Syrian installations continued to impede any meaningful progress for a political settlement in Syria. The Russians continued their efforts in the OPCW to prove that the allegation of chemical weapons use by Syria was false; they did not make much headway. Meanwhile, Israel took advantage of the stalemate to launch several missile strikes on Syrian military facilities in Hama and Aleppo provinces, where there were allegedly…

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About the Author

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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