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  • Is Putin Gearing Up for Intervening in Asia Next?

    In a three part series the author analyses Russia's strategic play. In this first part, the recently held military "snap inspection" drill by Russia involving 65,000 troops is examined and significantly the intent and purpose behind it.

    August 01, 2014

    Russia and the unravelling of economic sanctions

    The recent additional economic sanction on Russia is yet another severe jolt. But faced with a gripping economic problem, sanctions can just be the incentive that Russia needs to implement structural reforms and reduce its dependency on the West. The emergence of anti-West and patriotic sentiments can help the Kremlin to push through difficult initiatives.

    May 30, 2014

    Ukraine: What next?

    Three meetings to discuss Ukraine are scheduled for the week beginning on Monday, April 14. The first meeting is of EU foreign ministers at Luxembourg on April 14. They are supposed to consider further sanctions on Russia. The next day the EU defence ministers are going to meet. The third meeting in Geneva on April 17 will bring together US, Russia, EU, and EU.

    April 13, 2014

    Crimean crisis: A New Phase of Cold War?

    Putin seems to have concluded that Russia must draw the line at Ukraine. The EU bid to sign trade agreement with Ukraine in December drew Russia’s ire and now Russia has moved to make Crimea its part thus changing the borders in Europe once again and deepening the distrust between Russia and the West at a time when serious issues like Syria, Iran and Afghanistan are yet to be resolved.

    March 21, 2014

    Chess Game over Crimea

    The West will be compelled by their own threats to impose economic sanctions against Russia. But Russia is no Iraq or Iran and may very well retaliate against Western companies, for example, Exxon Mobile is active in Russia and there are 6,000 German companies in Russia.

    March 20, 2014

    Crimea: Thaw in Tensions?

    While President Putin has conveyed the message of tough military action, it is highly unlikely that he will order his troops to invade the majority ethnic Russian region of Crimea. Military brinkmanship can be seen as an attempt to force the West to include Russia as a partner in settlement of the crisis.

    March 07, 2014

    Ukraine’s road to stabilization goes through Moscow

    Russia has signalled its intentions in Crimea. With neither the US nor Europe willing to be engaged in another crisis in Eastern Europe, the Russian strategy would be to re-enter the scenario not as a junior partner of the West but as a recognized primary power in the region, without whom Ukraine cannot be stabilised.

    March 02, 2014

    Ramesh Yadav asked: What could be the solution to the Chechen issue?

    Amit Kumar replies: The acts of terrorism in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia involving Chechens are indicative of the revival of terrorism as an instrument for promoting the cause of Chechen separatism. These acts of terrorism have also underscored the threat posed by Islamists, for whom Chechnya has become the rallying point to propagate the idea of Caucasus Emirate and which has started to find resonance in other predominantly Muslim republics of North Caucasus, like Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria. Though the Islamist phenomenon is a late addition, the quest for Chechen independence is not new.

    Broadly, there are three choices before Russia: recognise the independence of Chechnya, suppress the secessionist forces, or work towards better federal relations within the ambit of the Russian Constitution to durably resolve the Chechen separatist problem. As far as the first choice is concerned, it can be said that Russia cannot afford to allow Chechnya to secede as the same could be replicated in other adjoining Muslim republics, undermining Russia’s territorial integrity. The second choice involves coercion and is fraught with the danger of inviting retaliation from the Chechens who are not alone in their fight against the Russian central authority. The third choice entails skilful use of democratic politics and appears to be the most desirable one.

    President Putin’s logic that democracy can be delayed in a crisis-ridden state, does not appear to be convincing in the present scenario where Russia seems to have emerged stronger than ever before since 1991. Russia should, therefore, explore the possibility of strengthening the democratic process in Chechnya and elsewhere in the country without much delay. Delaying democracy can be counter productive. In the short-term, though democracy may not appear to be effective against disgruntled elements who might still engage in anti-state protests and even insurgency, but then suppression too may not prove to be a viable conflict resolution method either.

    In the longer run, broad based and consensual democracies are often better at problem solving than autocracies. It is democracy which often leads to a stable polity and has better chances of resolving secessionist conflicts. A case in point is J&K, where the restoration of the democratic processes has led to a more peaceful and stable polity. It is noteworthy that President Putin, of late, has emphasised the importance of democratic polity and has outlined plans to modernise the mechanisms of Russian democracy in order to develop a more effective, accountable and transparent governance.

    Also, please refer to my following IDSA publication:

    Amit Kumar, “The Chechen Imbroglio: An Update”, IDSA Issue Brief, October 05, 2011.

    Posted on January 16, 2014

    Jamil Zaid asked: What could be the strategic implications of Russian President Vladimir Putin's November 2013 visit to South Korea and Vietnam?

    Rajorshi Roy replies: Before we get to the strategic implications of President Putin's visit to South Korea and Vietnam, it is important to analyse the reasons for Russia strengthening its ties with the Asia Pacific countries.

    Till a few years ago, Europe was Russia’s biggest energy market which gave it a tremendous geopolitical leverage over the European countries. However, the shale gas revolution and EU’s desire to diversify energy sources has reduced the importance of a strategic partnership with Russia. With hydrocarbon revenues accounting for more than half of Russia’s state budget, it has become imperative for Moscow to look for new partners.

    The growing economy of the Asia Pacific countries and their quest for more sources of energy fit in with Russia’s own diversification programme. There also remain inherent tensions in Russia’s relations with the West which has made Russia look for more partners. All this should be seen within the broader context of Russia’s attempt to play a more meaningful role in the economic integration process of the Asia-Pacific region, as part of President Putin’s vision of strengthening Russia’s strategic independence. Moreover, close to 70 per cent of Russia’s territory lies in Asia. Russia’s renewed focus towards the ‘East’ can also be seen as an attempt to tap into the growing potential (technological and productive) of the region in order to develop its Far East. Its hosting of the APEC summit in 2012 was interpreted as an attempt to project Russia as a reliable Asian power, which can also be called upon to meet the defence requirements of countries in the region. These developments have coincided with renewed US interest in the region and growing Chinese assertiveness, especially in the South China Sea.

    Despite China being Russia’s closest partner in the region, there remain underlying tensions in their bilateral relationship. These include apprehensions with China’s rise and assertiveness, IPR infringements, growing Sino-Central Asian engagement and fear of mass migration in its Far East. Russia’s ‘East’ policy can also be seen as an attempt to subtly balance China.

    Russia shares strong military and energy ties with Vietnam. It has significantly upgraded the Vietnamese navy and has reached an agreement on co-production of weapons systems. Interestingly, Vietnam has a long running dispute over sovereignty in South China Sea with Russia’s strategic partner, China. So do many other countries of South East Asia. More energy markets in the region will give Russia an alternative to the Chinese market which is poised to replace Europe as the main destination of its hydrocarbons.

    Similarly, there exists huge potential for a strong Russia-South Korea relationship. South Korea is one of the world’s leading consumers of energy and the second largest importer of LNG. Russia had agreed to export LNG to South Korea way back in 2005 and one of the agreements signed during President Putin’s visit includes Korea’s support for modernising LNG fleet and investing in the development of Russia’s Far East. Russia also sees the potential, eventually, to push railway and pipeline connections through North Korea. For South Korea, which has strained ties with both Japan and China, a growing engagement with Russia seems to be a good option.

    The Asia Pacific countries in general seem to be amenable to Russia’s potential to meet their energy and defence requirements. Therefore, Russia’s role in the region is something to watch out for. To sum up, need for new markets, development of its Far East, desire to play a more meaningful role in Asia Pacific and subtly balance China are the main drivers of Russia’s ‘East’ policy.

    For more information on Russia’s renewed focus on Asia Pacific, please refer to the following IDSA publication:

    Rajorshi Roy, “Russia’s Military Modernisation” in S.D. Muni and Vivek Chadha (eds.), Asian Strategic Review, IDSA, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2013.

    Russia and China in the Arctic: A Team of Rivals

    The Arctic is beginning to test the stage-managed optics of China and Russia’s ‘strategic partnership’. Friction was most recently on display after the Arctic Council’s May 2013 decision to confer permanent observer status on Beijing. The Chinese media celebrated the move as an affirmation of the nation’s ‘legitimate rights’ in Arctic affairs.1 Russian officials were much less enthusiastic.

    November 2013

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