All Posts (108)

 
Russia’s ambitious efforts for intra-Syrian dialogue, through a “Congress of Syrian National Dialogue” in Sochi on January 29-30, inevitably came up against multiple regional and external interests. Russia made strenuous efforts to reconcile them. Turkish and Iranian sensitivities about Kurdish political groups were sought to be addressed by selecting a Kurdish representation in Sochi without the top political and military leadership of these groups. Almost every major…
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Though Russia and UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura declared Syria to be virtually liberated from ISIS, and President Putin announced a partial withdrawal of Russian forces from the country, an intense jockeying for positional advantage continued between various groups, supported by their regional patrons.
 
The Geneva round of intra-Syrian dialogue, continuing from November, eventually wound up on December 15 with no progress. Ambassador de Mistura blamed…
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The Russia-India-China ministerial meeting in Delhi on December 11 produced a detailed communique on largely expected lines. Paragraphs on the global economic and financial architecture, climate change and sustainable development reflected convergence of views. The paragraphs on terrorism contain the usual vanilla formulations, without specific finger-pointing. The need for an open and inclusive security and economic architecture in the Asia Pacific was expressed; trilateral consultations…
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In his interactions at meetings of NATO Foreign Ministers, Secretary of State Tillerson continued with harsh criticism of Russia (see Review, November 2017), identifying its actions in Ukraine as the single greatest threat to European security.  He said deployment of a peacekeeping force was imperative for ensuring an end to violence, adding that there were still “some gaps” in Russian and Western views on the scope of activities of the peacekeeping force. President Putin’s remarks at…
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At his traditional year-end news conference on December 14, President Putin was asked by an American journalist to assess President Trump’s first year in office. Prefacing his answer with the remark that this was for the American electorate to judge, President Putin responded that he saw some “major achievements”, like buoyancy in the markets, reflecting investors’ trust in the US economy. President Trump called President Putin later the same day. The White House said he thanked President…
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Russian hopes of a formal Trump-Putin meeting on the margins of the APEC (Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in Danang (Vietnam) were dashed by the Americans, who cited “scheduling issues” (the furore back home over former Trump aides’ involvement in the “Russian meddling” investigation may have been a more compelling reason). Nevertheless, they met long enough to endorse a joint statement on Syria (November 11), hailing the success of the US-Russia military de-confliction efforts,…

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The Russia-backed Syrian Army continued to register military successes against the ISIS and other militant groups. UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the UN Security Council (November 27) that, with defeat in its last stronghold of Abu Kamal, ISIS’ territorial occupation of Syria has been virtually ended, the time has come for launching “a real political process”.

Despite the seeming agreement of the US and Russian Presidents on the way forward in Syria, the…

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Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Russia (November 26-29) to discuss bilateral security cooperation with his counterpart. They signed an agreement providing for a “comprehensive approach” to cooperation in tackling IT crimes, counterfeiting currency, drug & human trafficking, and economic crimes. The Minister also met the Russian Minister of Emergency Situations; they agreed that Russia would assist India in the establishment of an Indian National Crisis Management Centre. This…

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Russian MFA briefings conveyed increasingly positive accounts on the war against terrorism, as the Syrian forces, supported by Russian air strikes, reclaimed more territory from opposition groups, including ISIS. By the end of October, it was asserted that the Syrian Government had established control in Deir ez-Zor, on both banks of Euphrates, and that ISIS now controlled less than 5% of Syrian territory. The MFA spokesperson said the ceasefire continued to hold, by and large, in the…

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The special investigation in the US into Russian election meddling took new turns, when the President’s former campaign manager faced money laundering charges and a former foreign policy adviser pleaded guilty to perjury over his contacts with Russians. US-Russia interactions on international issues, however, continued though on a low key.
 
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) expressed indignation over the occupation by US special…
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The visit to Russia by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – the first ever by a Saudi King – illustrates how much the balance of power in West Asia has altered in the last three years or so. From a position of visceral hatred for President Assad, Saudi Arabia appears to have now dropped his departure as a precondition for a Syrian settlement. Like other major actors in the region (and even, to some extent, the Americans), it recognizes that Russia holds many of the keys to a settlement. Its…

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The US media reported that investigations into Russian “meddling” in the US elections had widened to investigate efforts of Russian agents to use social media to sow social and political divisions in American society. Facebook and Twitter reportedly briefed Congressional investigators on this.
 
In early September, Russia was incensed by a US demand that it close down the Russian Consulate in San Francisco and trade missions in Washington and New York. Russia…
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The BRICS Summit in Xiamen provided another opportunity for a bilateral meeting between PM Modi and President Putin within three months of their high-profile summit in St Petersburg. Official briefings on both sides projected it as a review of decisions taken at St Petersburg. One follow-up of the discussion was the visit to India in end-September of President Putin’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, for detailed discussions on…
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As US Secretary of State Tillerson sought dialogue avenues with North Korea (under cover of the exchange of hostile rhetoric between the leaders), Russia offered a channel of communications. Following Russian-US consultations in Moscow at Deputy Foreign Minister level, and further Tillerson-Lavrov telephonic conversations, Russian and North Korean Deputy Ministers met in Moscow in end-September. The US State Department spokeswoman commented that the US would welcome it, if Russia could…
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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…
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The West’s handling of developments in Ukraine took some curious turns, following the US appointment of former diplomat Kurt Volker as special envoy to facilitate resolution of issues. Secretary of State Tillerson told the media that Russia had requested for appointment of such an envoy. This is strange, since over the past three years, Russia has repeatedly accused the US of sabotaging, rather than supporting, any potential compromise emerging through the Normandy process (involving…
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Russia and the US traded accusations on their activities in Afghanistan. US generals reiterated their accusation that Russia was funding and arming the Taliban. Russia denied this and, in turn, accused US and NATO of condoning or facilitating the activities of “foreign fighters” (read ISIS), including those responsible for the recent attack on the Shi’a mosque in Herat. The MFA also alleged that the area under poppy cultivation had expanded rapidly this year, that export routes from…
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The investigation into Russian “meddling” in the US elections receded somewhat from media headlines. US Secretary of State Tillerson and Russian FM Lavrov had a lengthy bilateral meeting in Manila (August 6). The read-outs of the meeting from the two sides were broadly consistent: discussions on Syria, North Korea and Ukraine. There were convergences on tactics in Syria (covered in a subsequent section). FM Lavrov complained that the US military posture escalated tensions in the Korean…
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Russia was careful to avoid official comment on the India-China Doklam stand-off. When asked about the significance of the forthcoming India-Russia joint military exercises, Indra2017, in the context of India-China tensions, the MFA spokeswoman stated that this routine annual event reflects the “special and privileged strategic partnership” and should not be perceived “in the context of the current situation in India-China relations”. She said Russia was confident that, “as responsible…

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Media focus in the United States moved from the Congressional hearings and Special Counsel investigations to new Russia-related controversies. These flowed from the Trump-Putin meeting on the side-lines of the G20 Summit, their one-to-one meeting at the official dinner, new revelations of a meeting of Trump Jr. with a Russian lawyer during the campaign and, finally, the Congressional legislation on sanctions against Russia (along with Iran and North Korea), which provoked a Russian…
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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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