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70 years of India-Russia relations: A historic milestone

H.E. Mr. Pankaj Saran

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Relations between India and Russia are rooted in history, mutual trust and mutually beneficial cooperation.  This is a strategic partnership that has withstood the test of time, and which enjoys the support of the people of both countries.

Diplomatic relations between India and Russia began even before India achieved independence, on 13 April 1947. In the period immediately following independence the goal for India was attaining economic self-sufficiency through investment in heavy industry. The Soviet Union invested in several new enterprises in the areas of heavy machine-building, mining, energy production and steel plants. During India’s second Five Year Plan, of the sixteen heavy industry projects set up, eight were initiated with the help of the Soviet Union. This included the establishment of the world famous IIT Bombay.

A watershed moment in relations between India and the Soviet Union was the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in August 1971.  The Treaty was the manifestation of shared goals of the two nations as well as a blueprint for the strengthening of regional and global peace and security.

The nineties were a tumultuous period for both countries.  In 1990, India extended loans to the USSR in the form of technical credit and in 1991, India extended food credit and gift of 20,000 tonnes of rice.  After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, India and Russia entered into a new Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in January 1993 and a bilateral Military-Technical Cooperation agreement in 1994.

In 2000, during the visit of President Putin to India, the partnership acquired a new qualitative character, that of a Strategic Partnership.  The strategic partnership institutionalized annual meetings between the Prime Minister of India and the President of Russia and meetings have been held regularly since then.  During the 2010 visit of President Dmitry Medvedev  the relationship was elevated to the status of a Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership.  So far, eighteen Annual India-Russia Summits have been held since 2000.  These have led to personal contacts and close understanding at the highest level between our leaders.

Both the countries have institutionalized dialogue mechanisms that report to two leaderships.  These are the Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC), co-chaired by the External Affairs Minister of India and the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and the Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) co-chaired by the Defense Ministers of both countries.  These meetings identify priorities and review cooperation on a regular basis and are key platforms to take our cooperation forward.

This year, in the 70th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations, India participated as Guest Country in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum-2017.  The Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi was the Guest of Honour.  During this time the 18th Annual Bilateral Summit was also held, which saw the adoption of the historic St. Petersburg Declaration: Vision for the 21st Century, and signing of 12 Agreements in economic and political areas.

Both countries are celebrating the 70th anniversary by organizing events across the length and breadth of the countries reflecting the deep and multifaceted relationship.

In addition to the Annual Summit, 2017 has seen visits to Russia by the senior most leadership of India, such as External Affairs Minister, Defence Minister, Finance Minister and National Security Adviser.  From the Russian side, two Deputy Prime Ministers have visited India, and more high level visits are planned till December 2017.

India has participated in all major economic forums in Russia including SPIEF, Eastern Economic Forum, Innoprom, Technoprom, IT Forum, Arctic Forum and others.

Defence:

The defence facet of the relationship is one of the strongest pillars of the India-Russia relationship and has withstood the test of time.  India, with Russia’s cooperation, has achieved capacity building in strategic areas through acquisitions and development of weapons.  The relationship is evolving from the traditional buyer-seller one to that of joint production and development, with emphasis on technology sharing.  Russia is committed to becoming a partner in the ‘Make in India’ programme

This year two rounds of the India-Russia Military-Industry Conference were held in March and August in which a large number of companies from Russia and India participated. India is the largest buyer of Russian military equipment and, at the same time, Russia is India’s principal defence partner. This year India participated in Army 2017, the Army Games and the spectacular Spasskaya Bashnya Band Festival.  The first-ever TriServices Exercise, Indra 2017, that India has ever held with any country was held with Russia on 21-29 October 2017 in Vladivostok, in keeping with the close cooperation between our two countries in the defence sector.  Several steps are being taken to increase training of officers in each other’s Institutions and more military exchanges.

Economic:

Trade between the two countries is an area which has been identified for special focus by both countries. Bilateral trade in 2015 amounted to US$ 7.83 billion. In 2017 there has been an upward trend in the trade figures.  In terms of volume, the present figures do not reflect the strength of the relationship or the potential of our economies, which is immense.  Realising this, our leadership has set a target of total trade in goods and services of US$ 30 billion each way by 2025.  In 2016, the top three items of import into India from Russia were precious metals, mineral products and chemicals.  The largest exports from India to Russia were chemical products, engineering goods and agricultural products. India ranks fourth in the world in terms of production of generic pharmaceutical products. Both sides are working to expand the trade basket and identify new areas of trade.

Both sides are making progress towards achieving the target of mutual investment of US$ 15 billion each way by the year 2025.  In 2016, Indian oil companies bought stakes in Russian companies and oilfields worth US$ 5.5 billion, and Rosneft has acquired an Indian company, ESSAR, in a deal worth US$ 13 billion.  This is not only Russia’s largest investment in India, but also India’s single largest FDI.  India and Russia have set up a US$ 1 billion Fund to promote mutual investment in infrastructure and technology projects.

India is also significantly increasing cooperation between the States of India and Regions of Russia.  We have nine sister State and sister city agreements, and more are under consideration.  A new stage in India’s interaction with Russian regions was reached during Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s meeting with Regional Governors in June 2017, and between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s meeting with Governors of the Far East.  The Russian Far East is a new focus of our policy.

India, Russia and other neighbouring countries are engaged in efforts to operationalise the International North-South Transport Corridor which promises to propel connectivity and trade relations between the two countries.  We are also working on a ‘Green Corridor’  to ease trade and customs formalities.  The two countries have signed a Protocol on 24 December 2015 to simplify visa procedures for businessmen.

In an important new step to integrate our economies, India and the Eurasian Economic Union have agreed to begin negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement.

The two countries have agreed to cooperate in projects in third countries. Already, we are discussing cooperation in the Roopur Nuclear Power Project in Bangladesh. Indian and Russian companies have been cooperating in oil and gas exploration in Vietnam.

Nuclear:

Russia is an indispensable partner in the sphere of nuclear energy and recognizes India as a responsible country with advanced nuclear technology with an impeccable non-proliferation record. After the Paris Agreement on Climate Change India considers nuclear energy as an important source of energy to meet its energy and climate change obligations. This has brought both countries together into a mutually beneficial relationship.

Rosatom is building six units of nuclear reactors at the Kudankulam site in Tamil Nadu. Two units are already operational and the next four are in different stages of implementation.  This is in line with the “Strategic Vision” document signed in 2014 between President Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India attaches very high importance to local manufacturing in India of equipment and components for upcoming and future Russian-designed nuclear power projects.

Science and Technology:

India and Russia have several ongoing cooperation activities in the areas of space, science and technology, education and research.  A new High Level Science and Technology Commission was established in 2017.  The Indian Department of Science and Technology and Russian Foundation forBasic Research have celebrated ten years of fruitful scientific joint projects.  We have set up a Russia-India Network of Universities, and cooperation is underway in different aspects of space technology.  The most recent area of cooperation which is emerging is the Arctic which has a lot of multi-disciplinary potential.

Culture:

India and Russia have strong cultural ties, which are an important contribution to the strong and robust relations between the countries. Historical linkages have contributed to creating goodwill between the nations. As the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modiremarked, in India, every child knows that Russia is our country’s greatest friend and has always stood with us during the toughest moments.

The linkages that started with Afanasy Nikitin reaching India even before Vasco-da-Gama revealed India to the West, Gujarati traders  settling in Astrakhan and the establishment of the Russian theatre in Kolkata have all brought peoples of our countries closer.  Russian scholars like Gerasim Lebedev and Nicholas Roerich have travelled to India and studied Indian culture and philosophy. The grand epic of India, Mahabharata, has been translated into Russian.  Similarly, Russian literature and thinkers like Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Pushkin and others have had a profound influence and contribution to Indian literature and thought.  Several generations of Russians have grown up watching Indian films. Yoga in Russia has been growing and becoming increasingly popular since the 1980s, particularly in majors cities and urban centres.

India sponsors the Mahatma Gandhi Chair on Indian Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy, Moscow. Russian Institutions, including leading universities and schools, regularly teach Hindi to Russian students. Apart from Hindi, languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit and Pali are taught in Russian Institutions. Chairs on Ayurveda and Contemporary Indian studies have also been set up in different Russian Universities.

The number of Indian tourists to Russia and Russian tourists to India has shown significant increase in the last two years. The two countries are taking steps to facilitate easier access to each other’s citizens. The two countries have agreed to renew their Cultural Exchange Programme for the period 2017-2019. It has been decided to celebrate 2018 as ‘Year of Tourism’ between India and Russia.

Regional and International Cooperation:

In the international arena both countries have similar positions and coordinate their actions. We cooperate closely within the United Nations, BRICS and G-20 groupings, as well as in the various structures in the Asia Pacific region such as ASEAN and East Asia Summit Forum. Russia supported India’s membership to the SCO and India was admitted as a full member of SCO in 2017.

The unique political proximity between the nations is reflected in congruence in global priorities. Both the countries share similar views on fighting terrorism without double standards, a more representative multi-polar world order based on international law with UN playing a central role, and resolving threats to international peace and security.  Russia supports India’s permanent membership of the  United Nations Security Council.  On Syria and Afghanistan, both countries have called for resolute action to bring about a lasting and peaceful solution, and defeating the forces of terrorism. We cooperate on other global challenges such as cyber security, preventing weaponisation of outer space and prevention of weapons of mass destruction.

Looking Ahead:

India and Russia have identified several new areas of cooperation. These range from deep sea exploration to building knowledge based economies based on science and technology, innovation, robotics and artificial intelligence, focussing on infrastructure, skill development, agriculture, shipbuilding, railways, aviation and greater connectivity, especially people-to-people  contacts. Special focus will be given to cooperation between the younger generation and cultural sphere.

As stated in the St. Petersburg Declaration of June 2017 between India and Russia,  “advancing the comprehensive development of the Indian-Russian relations is an absolute priority of the foreign policy of both States. We will continue to widen our scope of cooperation by launching large-scale initiatives in different spheres and enhance and enrich our bilateral agenda so as to make it more result-oriented.” India and Russia will continue to remain a role model for harmonious and mutually beneficial partnership and strong friendship between States. This will be to the benefit of our States and international community as a whole. 

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Why We Should Not Expect Russia to be Welcomed Back into the G7

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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The history of relations between Russia and the G7 can be compared to a multi-act play with a convoluted storyline, magnificent scenery, a number of vivid characters and unexpected plot twists.

Objectively, such a play more looks like an epic tragedy or, at worst, a sentimental melodrama. But, personally, I liken the misadventures of the “Group of Seven,” which has not become a full-fledged “Group of Eight,” to Moliere’s famous comedy Le Bourgeois gentilhomme.

This comedy tells the story of a French “bourgeois” of the 17th century, Monsieur Jourdain, who dreams passionately of being accepted into noble society. Everybody who can take advantage of this obsessive idea of the naïve Jourdain, including toadies from among the impoverished aristocrats, numerous tutors of how to act correctly in “high society” and even his closest relatives do just that. In the end, Monsieur Jourdain’s dream almost comes true: during a pompous and fanciful ceremony, he is awarded an imaginary Turkish high rank of Mamamouchi. The initiation ceremony, of course, turns out to be a complete deception and a swindle.

I will dare state that, like Monsieur Jourdain, who never turned into a real nobleman, Russia, even after formally joining the G7 in 1998, never became a full member of this group. Some of the issues – especially those related to economics and finance – were still discussed in the G7 format, and the annual G8 summits turned Russia into an object of criticism and mentoring edifications more often than any other member of this club. Mutual grievances, frustrations and claims had been accumulating for many years, and the sad reality of 2014 was either a historical inevitability or at least a completely predictable ending to a protracted play.

When President Yeltsin first submitted an application for Russia’s membership in the G7 back in 1992, there were simply no other alternative associations in the world where Moscow could try to squeeze in. Structures such as the G20, BRICS or SCO did not exist at the time, and Russia’s membership in NATO and the European Union seemed unrealistic even then. Therefore, joining the “Group of Seven” not only pursued situational tasks (access to financial and technical assistance from the West, restructuring Soviet debts, combating discrimination of Russian goods), but also had symbolic political significance (a kind of compensation for Moscow’s loss of its “superpower” status).

The Western “Group of Seven” also set quite specific situational goals: the accelerated military drawdown of Moscow in Central Europe and the Baltic states; the prevention of leaks of Soviet nuclear technologies; and the consolidation of the results of economic reforms of the early 1990s. However, political considerations played an important role both for Western heads of state and for the Russian leadership. Russia’s integration was to confirm the global aspirations of the G7 and the universalism of Western values. It is curious that the task of including China or even India as the “largest democracy in the world” had never been posed to the G7 members in practical terms – Russia was clearly seen as the preferred, if not the only, candidate for accession.

Despite all the difficulties, awkwardness and inconvenience associated with the integration of the not quite stable, not quite democratic and not quite “western” Russia of the 1990s into the “Group of Seven,” this process was stimulating for the group as a whole. The participation of a new non-standard partner contributed to the emergence of new ideas, strengthening the discipline of the old members, and enhancing the overall tone and ambitions of the group. Appointing a rude and awkward rough man as a new gym teacher to a female high school teaching team that had refined their working partnerships and become a close-knit group after many years of joint work has a similar stimulating effect.

But such idyll lasts only until the gym teacher begins to actively meddle in the work of the teachers’ council and cast doubt on the wisdom of the school principal. And this is exactly what happened in the G8 at the beginning of the century. Whereas for Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s membership in a privileged western club remained mainly a matter of the country’s symbolic status in the world, Vladimir Putin considered the G8 primarily as a tool for the practical realignment of the world order, in both the security and development spheres. Moscow has challenged Washington’s previously unquestioned hegemony in the G8 by raising the issue of American-led intervention in Iraq. Moscow insisted on including non-traditional challenges and security threats in the agenda of the G8 summits. Moscow called on partners to strengthen G8 institutions by increasing the number of regular meetings of ministers of natural resources, science, health, and agriculture.

The increased activity of the Russian neophyte faced growing resistance on the part of the G8 veterans. The new initiatives of the “high school gym teacher” no longer moved, but rather irritated the conservative teachers’ council, not to mention the authoritarian American principal. After the triumphant G8 Summit in St. Petersburg in the summer of 2006, an ever more obvious sabotage of the Russian agenda began: the G8 took the annoying gym teacher down a peg. It turned out that no G8 declarations on global energy security had been perceived by EU officials as a guide to action. The G8’s common positions on international terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation do nothing to dampen the desire of United States for the further expansion of NATO eastwards. And recognizing Russia as a member of the “Western Club” does not signify that the West refuses to try to weaken Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space.

The catalyst for the decline of interest in the G8 format from the Russian leadership was, of course, the creation of the G20. A significant part of the issues of global governance that were of great interest for Moscow moved to this platform. Russia felt more comfortable in the G20 compared to the G8: in a more representative association, Russia had new partners and additional opportunities to form tactical coalitions and advance its interests. It is no coincidence that since the expulsion of Moscow from the G8 in the spring of 2014, the Russian leadership has been constantly emphasizing the obvious defects in this structure compared to the G20.

Is Moscow’s return to the “Group of Seven” realistic in the foreseeable future? This question has been raised more than once over the past five years by certain Western leaders, including Angela Merkel, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron. Common sense suggests that this return will never take place. The play was performed, the curtain fell, the audience whistled and applauded, and the critics are scribbling their comments and reviews.

There will be no return, if only for the reason that there is still no unity regarding the conditions for this return among the “Group of Seven.” While the current German position connects the reconstruction of the G8 with the progress in implementing the Minsk agreements on Donbass, Canada is ready to welcome Russia to the updated G8 only if it comes there without Crimea. Historically, the G7 never had any formal procedures and mechanisms for accepting new members, but most likely, a decision on such an important issue will be taken by consensus. And reaching a consensus at the moment seems impossible.

The G7 itself is in the process of deep transformation and a thus-far not very successful search for a new identity. Donald Trump confronts the rest of the club in a harsh manner, being quite provocative at times in that confrontation. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has many fundamental disagreements with French President Emmanuel Macron, and with the leadership of the European Union as a whole. Italy in its current state is hardly capable of taking on any serious international obligations. As a result, the G7 looks like a suitcase without a handle – one can neither carry it nor leave it behind.

Does this mean that Russia should not deal with the G7 at all? Absolutely not. The history of the “Group of Seven” knows many countries, non-permanent members of the club, who participate in the work of the Group. The recent summit in Biarritz, France, was attended, among others, by the leaders of India, Egypt, Australia and even Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had come under personal sanctions from the United States literally the day before the meeting.

Returning to the “G7+1” formula may be a better solution for Russia than restoring the G8. Provided, of course, that the Russian side will not find itself in the position of a suspended gym teacher invited to the teachers’ council only to get another portion of reprimands from stiff colleagues.

It is clear that the leaders of the “Group of Seven” are most interested in discussing current issues of international security with Russia, including the situation surrounding Syria, Ukraine, North Korea and Venezuela, as well as arms control and strategic stability. But most of these issues are already being discussed at other time-tested platforms. However, joining the G7 discussion on the problems of digital economy, international tax reform, fighting trade protectionism and eliminating global inequality would certainly be nice.

The stakes in this game are not as high for Russia as they were a quarter of a century ago. The G7 is no longer a unique or even the main laboratory where the components of the new world order are being developed and piloted. And the repertoire of Russia’s foreign policy is not limited to the part of the self-confident, but at the same time diffident and arrogant Monsieur Jourdain from Moliere’s comedy.

From our partner RIAC

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Troubled Partners: What Russia and Turkey are Dividing Up in Syria

Ruslan Mamedov

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“Turkey is our close partner, our ally,” said Presidential Spokesperson and Turkologist Dmitry Peskov on the eve of the meeting in the town of Zhukovsky near Moscow. On August 27, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin met his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan at the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky, where they held a working meeting on the bilateral agenda. Regardless of all their differences, the two countries still need each other greatly.

Although relations between Moscow and Ankara are developing in many areas, the focus was naturally on the further actions of the parties in the crisis-affected Syria. Will Turkey conduct another operation in Syria? And what is Moscow’s opinion?

Several events of importance for Russia–Turkey relations took place a week before the presidents met. On August 21, the first creditor was selected for the company building the Akkuyu NPP strategic facility. On August 27, deliveries started on the second S-400 battalion to Mürted Air Base in Ankara. As the United States removed Turkey from the F35 project following the purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile systems, analysts believe that Turkey might look at Russia’s Su-35 or Su-57. These are the aircraft the Turkish President saw at the MAKS Salon.

But the meeting took place against the backdrop of the escalation of the situation in the Syrian Idlib province and the announcement of the establishment of a Joint U.S.–Turkey Operation Centre.

And it was the desire to overcome contradictions over Syria and prevent a crisis in the bilateral relations that led the presidents to hold an unplanned meeting in Zhukovsky following an urgent telephone conversation on August 23.

At the press conference held after the meeting, Vladimir Putin noted two key elements in Russia’s approach to the Syrian settlement: the priority of working within the Astana format and the launch of the the Syrian Constitutional Committee “that, as we hope, will be able to start its activities in Geneva in the very near future.”

Ankara had previously expressed its discontent with the Syrian government forces taking control of towns in the north of Hama Governorate and in the south of Idlib Governorate, including the town of Khan Shaykhun. Approximately 200 Turkish soldiers are still surrounded in the town of Murak, which makes the situation extremely uncomfortable for Ankara. This Turkish contingent served as an observation post established under the Turkey–Russia Memorandum on Idlib signed in Sochi on September 17, 2018 as part of de-escalation in the Idlib zone.

The situation deteriorated following reports that the Syrian Air Force had carried out an aerial strike on a Turkish convoy. After a telephone conversation between Putin and Erdogan, reports started to surface that a Russian military police force had inserted itself between the Syrian military and the Turkish observation post. Turkey might find a way out of the situation by withdrawing its observation post from Murak and launching a new operation in the north of Syria against the U.S.-supported Kurds. Given the situation, it is desirable for Russia to find a way of advancing the dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds.

While Ankara supported the Syrian opposition, it undertook under the Sochi agreements to fight terrorism in Idlib and facilitate the opening of the М5 and М4 highways leading from Aleppo to Hama and Damascus via Idlib, and from Aleppo to Latakia via Idlib. Most likely, implementing this provision is the key objective for Moscow. Once М5 and М4 are secured, the logistics infrastructure might have been put into operation once again and pathways opened for restoring economic ties between Syria’s regions. This never happened.

With the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the Syrian military continued intermittent hostilities in the Idlib Governorate for approximately six months. Following another round of talks in Nur-Sultan on August 1–2, Damascus announced an armistice. The ceasefire failed, however, due to attacks perpetrated by the militants in Idlib. Subsequently, the government forces and their Russian allies significantly intensified their activity. Offensives were mostly undertaken at night. By mid-August, the Tiger Forces equipped with Russian-made night-vision devices and Т90А tanks with thermal imagers succeeded in breaching the defence of the terrorists and groups that oppose Damascus in the north of the Hama Governorate.

The Idlib Governorate and its eponymous capital are largely controlled by the forces of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group (outlawed in Russia), which has managed since January to expand its power by subsuming other groups, largely labelled pro-Turkish.

Back then, Turkey succeeded in stabilizing the situation, yet failed to radically change it in favour of Turkey-friendly forces such as al-Jabha al-Wataniya Li-Tahrir (the National Liberation Front), which is in opposition to the government. Russian and Turkish analysts already appeal to the Sochi agreements, yet each party accuses the other of undermining their implementation.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov openly stated that the actions of the Syrian government forces in Idlib are legitimate and do not violate the Turkey–Russia Memorandum. The terrorists in the area now controlled by the Syrian military had posited a threat to Syrian territory and the Russian military base in Khmeimim. Turkey faces a difficult predicament with regard to its domestic audience, and the processes in Syria could result in escalating tensions between Moscow and Ankara.

However, the ties developed over the recent years, as well as the strategically important joint projects and Erdogan’s commitment to increasing mutual trade turnover from USD 25–30 billion today to USD 100 billion (which he again confirmed at the MAKS opening ceremony) demonstrate both desire of both parties to avoid a crisis similar to the freeze put on the relations in 2016.

Erdogan informed Putin about the plans to launch an operation against the Kurds in the northeast of Syria. One might surmise that Turkey sees the solution in shifting the emphases in its “Syrian” policies and in concentrating on the Kurdish threat, since Turkey’s current policy in Syria is conducted in two areas: Idlib and the Trans-Euphrates region. Unwilling to be tied solely to the Astana format, Turkey is also building an appearance of collaboration with the United States. The operation in the Trans-Euphrates region today is the key point for Ankara. This operation will be the result of the pressure Turkey puts on the United States, an ally of the Kurds.

Ankara’s main goal is ostensibly to create a buffer zone in the north of Syria to prevent the Kurds from implementing a project there.

This will allow Ankara to cut ties between Kurds in Syria and Turkey and bring Syrian refugees, mostly Sunni Arabs, back to settle in the new “safe zone.” The United States has even convinced even the Kurds that the “safe zone” is necessary. The question, however, is how deep the Turkish military will go into the territory. They want to go more than 30 kilometres into the territory currently controlled by the allies of the United States from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Judging by the leaked reports, the United States has proposed only five kilometres. That certainly will not be enough for Turkey.

Answering a question about the Trans-Euphrates region at the press conference after the meeting of August 27, Vladimir Putin said, “We understand Turkey’s concern related to ensuring the safety and security of its southern border, and we believe these are legitimate interests of the Republic of Turkey… We proceed from the premise that establishing a safe zone for the Republic of Turkey at its southern borders will be a good condition for ensuring the territorial integrity of Syria itself.”

Turkey believes that the threat to its security comes from the Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) controlling the northeast of Syria. Ankara identifies them with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It should be noted here that Moscow occasionally reminds Turkey of the 1998 Adana Agreement concluded between Ankara and Damascus to resolve the “Kurdish question.” Back then, Ankara accused Damascus of supporting the PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan. This agreement regulates the provision of security in border areas.

In recent months, the President of Turkey has repeatedly stated that Turkey had made an earnest decision to launch a new offensive, the third operation in Syria following Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch. Turkey has been transmitting these sentiments for some time now to both the U.S. and the Russian militaries. However, in order to conduct an operation in the north of Syria, Ankara needs to ensure that certain conditions are in place. Each element, particularly air support for the offensive and the involvement of the Syrian opposition forces, is linked to Ankara reaching a consensus, even if a silent consensus, with Washington and Moscow.

An agreement with Moscow is important for Ankara in order to at least temporarily suspend hostilities in Idlib, as it would allow at least some Syrian opposition forces to be moved to the area of Turkey’s new operation in the northeast of Syria.

As regards Idlib, Moscow and Ankara could agree on Damascus taking control of the М4 and М5 highways, while Turkey’s safe area in the northeast would be greenlit. The question hinges solely on consent to the launch of the operation. How the parties will conduct their operations and whether they would succeed will be up to them.

Currently, the question remains open as to how much the United States is willing to concede to Turkey. However, as Turkey launches its operation, Russia has an opening to interact with Kurds. If the United States allows Turkey to go too far, Kurds will realize the former cannot ensure their safety.

For the Kurds, this setup is fraught with the risk of possible loss of all their achievements (and territories). Moscow could work through the question of resuming serious talks between the Kurds and Damascus, thereby allowing the Kurds to avoid clashes with Turkey.

… A summit of the Astana process guarantor states, Russia, Turkey and Iran, will be held in mid-September. The launch of the Syrian Constitutional Committee is expected to be announced at the summit. Recent developments in the war bolster Damascus’ bargaining positions, yet at the same time they endanger the continuation of the political dialogue. The Russia–Turkey context is important as well, as the two countries strive to move beyond cooperation in Syria, understanding how complicated it is to achieve agreements.

Should Turkey launch an operation against Syrian Kurds, it will allow Ankara to “save face” concerning its Idlib losses. It will also allow Moscow to act as an intermediary and lead the Kurds and Damascus to an agreement. Much, however, will depend on the capacity in which the United States will continue its presence in Syria in and on whether the Kurds and Damascus will be able to move away from their maximalist counter-claims.

Moscow and Ankara understand that their partnership is difficult, but mutually necessary. Such partners can create quite a lot of trouble, but they are valuable because they steer an independent course and understand and recognize each other’s national interests, as well as the need for coordinating their stances.

From our partner RIAC

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Russia Accelerates Construction of a New Black Sea Port

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Taman Port. Image source: portnews.ru

Economic and technological competition between China and the US has become an obvious fact for world politicians as well as analysts. However, as everyone pays attention to the ongoing trade war between the two giants and steady military build-up in the South China Sea, interesting developments are taking place in the Black Sea basin. Behind this global trend, Russia is slowly building up its economic position in the region by accelerating the construction of a new deep-sea port which will endanger Anaklia’s future.

For quite some time Beijing and Washington have been working to increase their economic and technological competition in or around the Black Sea. The Anaklia Deep Sea port is a primary example. China has traditionally been careful in its statements about its views on Anaklia, but the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister to Georgia a few months ago was an indication of Beijing’s interests in the port. Interestingly enough, the visit coincided with financial problems centered around the Anaklia Consortium.

Currently, as the problems deepen with the withdrawal of the US’ Conti Group, it is likely and quite logical that China might actually increase its efforts to get involved in the Anaklia port construction.

Within the light of numerous uncertainties surrounding the US’ position worldwide, Washington will find it harder to counter potential Chinese initiatives in and around Georgia. Many in Georgia, particularly in the analytical community, suspect that the US is experiencing troubles in its policy towards Georgia and that had not it been so, the current Anaklia issues would not be happening.

American interest in the Anaklia port is to deny the Chinese use of the place for their economic activities within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. Moreover, the US calculus might also be that the port, apart from economic benefits, could potentially be used for military purposes.

Considering this geo-strategic thinking, Washington would not allow any third party to dominate the Anaklia port project. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement comes to mind- when he questioned how honest Beijing and Moscow are being in trying to be Tbilisi’s “true allies.” He also emphasized that the Anaklia port will be built.

The third power, which has more military power in place in the Black Sea region, is obviously Russia. Its recent moves in the economic realm, though, could seriously undermine Anaklia’s future business environment even if the port is successfully built.

It was reported that Russia has recently sped up solidifying its grip on the Kerch Strait and Azov Sea. The RMP (RosMorPort) Taman Consortium which is expected to include five companies, RosMorPort, KuzbassRazrezUgol, MetaloInvest, Russian Railways (RZD) and SUEK, is set to build the ‘Taman Port,’ which is strategically located on the Russian side of the Kerch Strait that connects the Black and Azov seas.

Alongside this quiet battle, the US and China are in purely technological competition. It has been reported that US National Security Advisor John Bolton wants to undermine the pending Chinese acquisition of an important Ukrainian aerospace company. Washington fears that the acquisition will give Beijing vital defense technology as the Ukrainian military tech giant has for decades been producing vital parts for the Russian aerospace industry. The Ukrainian-Russian crisis, a result of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, has, for the time being, put a hold on Ukrainian sales.

Thus, these various seemingly unrelated events could well be set to complicate Anaklia’s fate. Among them, Russia’s persistence in building a deep sea port at Taman is less problematic: of more serious importance is the unstable nature of the Georgian government and the US’ still-evolving perspective on its position worldwide and particularly in the Black Sea basin.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today

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