All Posts (119)

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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President Putin’s fourth (and final, as per current constitution) term commenced on May 7. Popular expectations of announcement of radical economic reform measures were dampened by the issue of a somewhat anodyne Presidential Executive Order on “National Goals and Strategic Objectives for the period to 2024”, which spelt out the socioeconomic goals for the country. More importantly, the new Cabinet of the re-appointed Prime Minister Medvedev did not hold out much promise of radical change.…

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Like those of the stream of Eurasian leaders heading to Russia in May, PM Modi’s informal summit with President Putin on May 21 was in the background of the disruptive global impact of recent actions and decisions of President Trump. In India’s case, there was the additional strong motivation for frank consultations on worrying developments in India’s neighbourhood, to discuss responses to US sanctions threatening India-Russia defence and energy, and to rescue the relationship from…

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A Dutch-led team, investigating the crash of a Malaysian Airlines aircraft in Eastern Ukraine in July 2014, announced its finding that the aircraft was shot down by a missile from a Russian Air Force missile launcher brought into Ukraine before the incident and taken back into Russia thereafter. This drew immediate condemnation from the US Department of State, which demanded that Russia should be called to account for this. The US Ambassador to the UN added her strong condemnation of…

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Caught between its military and energy partnership with Russia and mounting, not-so-subtle threats from various US sources that it may attract the US CAATSA sanctions, India appeared to be following multiple tracks: assuring Russia of commitment to the partnership, seeking CAATSA waiver from the US, and trying to chart a middle path on the Russia-West arguments. 
 
Prime Minister Modi telephoned President Putin on April 11. The Kremlin reported “a…
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A video film, originating from Syria on April 7 and allegedly showing the after-effects of a chemical weapon attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma, triggered a series of tweets from President Trump, condemning “animal Assad” and criticising President Putin for supporting the Syrian regime. Even before the authenticity of the evidence could be established, the Syrian government, and Russia for supporting it, were held responsible. On April 11, in a joint US-French-British operation, over…
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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…
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Dialogue with France and Germany

President Putin remained in regular telephonic contact with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel during the entire furore over the Skripal poisoning and the Syrian missile strikes. As mentioned, the French were reported to have given advance warning to the Russians to enable evacuation from the areas targeted by the missiles. Official reports of their telephone conversations, both in Russia and in France, said they had agreed to cooperate more closely in moving the Syrian…
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The outlook for the Syrian conflict and the political settlement remained uncertain, reflecting the uncertainty about US policy. The continuation of active US military presence in Syria, announced by then Secretary Tillerson in January, seemed in some doubt after contrary statements and tweets from the White House. However, US military activity on the ground did not indicate any change in US posture.

Meanwhile, Russia reported that 90% of the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta was…

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The Viral Impact of Skripal Case

The poisoning of a former Russian double-agent (a Russian military intelligence operative recruited by MI6) and his daughter in the southern England town of Salisbury on March 4, generated shock waves in Russia-West relations, whose turbulence has not abated.

Sergei Skripal, who was arrested in Russia in 2006, was part of a Russia-UK spy swap – 4 in Russian custody sent to UK, in return for 10 in British custody – in 2010 and has been living in England since. Within days of the…

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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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