All Posts (108)

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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FM Lavrov led the Russian delegation to the high-level conference on Afghanistan in Tashkent (March 26-27), which included participation of Afghan President Ghani and Ministerial or senior official representations from major European countries, all Central Asian countries, China, India, Iran, Japan, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United States, EU and UN. USA was represented by Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon.

The declaration voiced “strong…

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The Presidential elections of March 18 returned the predictable result of an overwhelming victory for President Putin. The Russian Election Commission said he received over 76% of all votes cast, with a voter turnout of over 67%. This works out to a neat figure of just over 50% of all eligible voters.

In his victory address to the nation, President Putin declared that economic and social issues would be his top priority: economic growth, job-creation, increasing real incomes,…

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Over the past few months, the Russian political plan for Syria, hatched in coalition with Iran and Turkey and painstakingly stitching together disparate regional interests, had progressed – albeit haltingly – on the strength of Syrian-Russian military successes and America’s low profile in the region. The articulation of a more robust Syria strategy by Secretary Tillerson in January (see Review no. 1/18) caused the plan to unravel, as evident from the outcome of the Syrian National Dialogue…

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Even as the Russia-US standoff continued, European political and economic interactions with Russia continued their recent cautious upward trend. The Chancellor of Austria, PM of Belgium and Foreign Ministers of France and Portugal have recently visited Russia. European business delegations were received by President Putin and/or FM Lavrov. Russia-EU consultations at the official level (Deputy Foreign Minister) resumed in February after a gap of over four years. Russia-EU trade continues to…

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Russia continues to allege that the US is also facilitating the migration of ISIS militants to northern Afghanistan from Syria and Iraq. Russian Presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov said the strength of the Islamic State in Afghanistan “exceeds 10000 fighters and is continuing to grow.” The deputy secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Russia-led Central Asian security body, put the figure at 7,000. Iran joined Russia in these accusations.…

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At a joint press conference with visiting Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif (February 20), FM Lavrov described Russia’s relations with Pakistan as “constructive and mutually productive”. He reaffirmed Russia’s continued assistance to Pakistan in its counterterrorist activity, referring in this context to the four Mi-35M combat-transport helicopters supplied in 2016-17. Significantly, he announced decisions to continue joint military exercises in “counterterrorist operations in mountain…

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The US Department of Defence published the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which entails a major upgradation of the US nuclear arsenal (at a cost of $1.2 trillion over 30 years, according to a reported estimate of the Congressional Budget Office). The NPR emphasizes the need to respond suitably to growing strategic threats – Russia receiving prime focus among them. It notes that Russia is modernizing its strategic weapons and “adopting military strategies and capabilities that…

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Russia-Europe relations remain rocky.

In no sphere of foreign policy has there been as stark a mismatch between Candidate Trump’s pronouncements and his Administration’s actions, as in the case of Ukraine. From saying that Ukraine should not be allowed to disrupt US-Russia co-operation to asserting that the resolution of the Ukraine conflict holds the key to a US-Russia normalization, represents a 180-degree turnaround. By appointing its own Envoy for Ukraine, the US effectively snatched the monitoring of the Minsk agreements…

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As the US Congressional pre-occupation with the Russian “meddling” in US Presidential elections and the Trump campaign’s “collusion” with Russia continued to dominate political discourse in Washington, dialogue between the two countries was almost totally confined to a couple of telephone conversations between the two Foreign Ministers, which focused mainly on North Korea, Ukraine and Syria.

Secretary of State Tillerson authored an op-ed on US foreign policy in the New York Times in…

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India-Russia exchanges

In an unusual gesture, Prime Minister Modi telephoned President Putin to convey New Year greetings; the Kremlin release says they confirmed their commitment to the strategic partnership.

Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar stated in a media interaction that India, Russia and Bangladesh have agreed to co-operate in the establishment of a Russian-built nuclear power plant in Bangladesh. The idea is that India’s extensive experience with Russian-built power plants could be…

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The Speaker of Russia’s Parliament led a delegation to a six-nation “regional” inter-parliamentary conference in Islamabad in end-December 2017.Iran, Turkey, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan were the other participants at the conference, whose stated aim is to promote regional co-operation in countering terrorism, maintaining stability and increasing connectivity. Russia made its usual points about its concerns over the growing terrorist threat from the migration of militants from Syria and…

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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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