All Posts (128)

Russia stirs Afghanistan Pot

Russia’s Presidential Envoy on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov met the Pakistani Foreign Minister and Foreign Secretary on January 29 to discuss the Afghan peace process. The Pakistani FM proudly told him (as per a Pakistani press release) that Pakistan is facilitating the ongoing talks between the US and the Taliban, which he hoped will lead to an intra-Afghan dialogue for peace. Kabulov, in turn, is reported to have appreciated Pakistan’s role as a facilitator in the Afghan peace…

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Russia-Belarus squabble

Recent months have seen a progressive public airing of differences between Russia and Belarus, including at the level of their Presidents. Sovereignty and economic benefit have been the bones of contention. 

The sovereignty theme surfaced shortly after President Trump announced US’ intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. A Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said Russia and Belarus had the military-technical capacity to counter an American…

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Syrian Challenges

As the ramifications of President Trump’s announcement of US troop withdrawal from Syria unfolded, Russian efforts were focussed on protecting the framework it had painstakingly built to further its interests in and around Syria. At its core was the Astana process, balancing the divergent interests of Russia, Iran and Turkey, while keeping the Syrian government’s interests adequately protected. It also included the combination of political, economic and military levers with Saudi Arabia,…

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In December 2018, the US (following up on President Trump’s decision in October) announced suspension of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 60 days, unless Russia returns to “full and verifiable compliance.” 

Russia-US discussions in Geneva (January 15) to salvage the treaty were unsuccessful, with each side claiming compliance with the treaty and alleging violations by the other. Russia said it had offered to the US an inspection of…

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As in the case of Syria, Russia’s MFA cautiously welcomed the US announcement of withdrawal of half its military contingent from Afghanistan, calling it a move in the right direction, but adding the caveat that its implementation in practice remains to be seen. However, Russia was less amused by the USs closed-door bilateral consultations on Afghanistan with the Taliban and selected countries, from which Russia was obviously excluded. Welcoming “in principle” talks of US Special…

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The India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission for Military-Technical Cooperation (IRIGC) at the level of Defence Ministers discussed various ongoing projects of defence cooperation, including joint manufacturing of AK-103 Assault Rifles and the joint venture for manufacture of Ka-226T helicopters.

There were two new elements. One was an agreement to conclude a bilateral logistics supply agreement that would allow their military forces to share each other’s facilities for…

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The Russian detention of Ukrainian naval vessels and sailors from the Black Sea, when they were allegedly illegally trying to cross the Kerch straits (Review, 11/18), continued to dominate interactions with Europe. Russia resisted strong European pressure to release the vessels and soldiers, insisting that an investigation is underway to establish whether the Ukrainian vessels had deliberately violated the terms of the Russia-Ukraine agreement on the passage through the Kerch straits (as the…

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Though the scheduled Putin-Trump meeting in Buenos Aires (on the margins of the G20 Summit in end-November) was called off after the Kerch Strait incident (Review, 11/18), Russia continued to express the hope that high-level bilateral engagement would recommence. While the US State Department and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs traded critical comments, the two leaders did not. President Putin continued to be uniformly complimentary about President Trump. In his media conference in…

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The Astana process on Syria achieved a notable success on December 18, when representatives of Russia, Turkey and Iran handed over to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, a final agreed list of Syrian civil society representatives for the “Syrian Constitutional Committee”, which would draw up a new Syrian constitution, under which elections would be held. The list of government and opposition representatives (50 each) had largely been finalized earlier, but many names on the…

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President Putin and Prime Minister Modi met on the margins of the East Asia Summit in Singapore and the G20 in Buenos Aires. The personal chemistry remains intact, as evidenced by their warm embrace in Singapore. A Russian journalist queried President Putin on its significance; his response was that they were friends and such a greeting is normal among friends. President Putin reverted to this theme at an international investment seminar in Moscow (just before the G20 summit), when he talked…

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President Putin's pivot to ASEAN and EAS

President Putin’s visit to Singapore for the Russia-ASEAN and East Asia (EAS) Summits was a landmark event on many counts. For all Russia’s declared focus on Eurasia, particularly after the standoff with the West since 2014, most Russian attention in Asia has been to China, India, Japan and Korea. This was President Putin’s first ever visit to Singapore, his first ever participation in EAS and the first ASEAN-Russian summit in eight years. The earlier two were in 2005 and 2010, though a…

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The “Moscow format” of talks on Afghanistan, bringing together all regional and global stakeholders in the Afghan peace process, was poised for fresh take-off in September 2018, with Moscow’s announcement that Afghanistan would be a co-host and the Taliban would attend (Review, 8/18). In a loss of face for Russia, the meeting was called off at the eleventh hour, because the Afghan government withdrew from it, presumably under US pressure. On November 9, Russia was able to convene the talks.…

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Russia-US dialogue stalled twice

The much anticipated (in Russia) Putin-Trump November 11 meeting in Paris, for which the ground had been laid by the visit to Moscow of US NSA Bolton in October (Review 10/18), was postponed to the margins of the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires (November 29-December 1), apparently to avoid deflection of focus from the World War I Armistice commemoration events. Two developments later in the month – one domestic and one external – eventually ensured that the meeting did not take…

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Franco-German engagement with Russia

Notwithstanding the fact that France was a party to the NATO, EU & G7 statements on the Kerch strait developments, President Macron went ahead with a bilateral meeting with President Putin on the margins of the G-20 summit. Equally significant was the fact that in his (public) opening remarks at that meeting, he first mentioned cooperation on Syria, before talking about the situation in Ukraine, which he linked to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. He also said he would discuss…

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Remaining engaged in West Asia

Russia remained intensively engaged in the search for a political settlement in Syria. Its Foreign Ministry continued to denounce terrorists’ actions in Idlib to thwart Turkey’s efforts to fulfil its commitment to disengage them from “moderate” rebel forces and to establish a demilitarised zone (Review, 9/18). It was alleged that al-Nusra militants continued to fire on Syrian forces and populations on the outskirts of the province, including “chlorine-filled mortar rounds” at residential…

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President Trump’s announcement on October 20, that the US has decided to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia (as the successor state to the Soviet Union), had been expected for some time, but nevertheless provoked negative reactions from Russia (as also Europe, China and Japan). The US has insisted, with increasing intensity since 2014, that Russia’s deployment of a cruise missile (which the Russians call 9M729) violates the treaty. The Russians,…

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India-Russia summit in the shadow of CAATSA

President Putin came to India for the 19th annual India-Russia summit – his 15th – in what has become the usual backdrop to such summits: perceptions of drift in the relationship, of flagging defence cooperation and stagnant economic partnership, and of divergences in perspectives on key issues in India’s neighbourhood — Pakistan, Afghanistan and China — and on India’s strategic linkages with the US. However, the biggest question surrounding…

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Russia’s bilateral dialogue with European countries continued, with the President of Austria (which currently chairs the Council of EU) and the Prime Minister of Italy (currently OSCE chair) visiting Russia. The progressive strengthening of their bilateral economic engagements was noted. Austria supports the trans-Baltic sea Nordstream 2 pipeline; Russia was also pleased that Austria supported (as President Putin announced) extension of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, including…

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Russia continued its effort to take forward its two main objectives in Syria: piloting the search for a political settlement through the UN-mandated Geneva process and securing international support for rehabilitation assistance to Syria, even while the political process continues. Moscow hosted the head of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) of Syrian opposition groups to discuss approaches in the Constitutional Consultative Committee to be convened by the UN Special Envoy. The…

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The Russia-backed Syrian forces preparations for a decisive military campaign on the Syrian rebel stronghold of idlib provoked strong international protest. President Trump warned sternly against the campaign in a couple of tweets, saying it would be “reckless” and a grave humanitarian mistake costing hundreds of thousands of lives. US NSA Bolton conveyed the same message to his Russian counterpart, as did the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. The US warned of possible chemical…

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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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