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  • 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

    Prime Minister’s Visit to Moscow: Need to Revitalise the India-Russia Partnership

    India-Russia ties will continue to be mutually beneficial. While defence cooperation remains the mainstay, the two countries can explore common synergies in co-developing more weapons platforms with cutting edge technology and organise more joint military exercises.

    October 21, 2013

    PM’s Visit to Russia and China: Need for Smart Diplomacy

    Clubbing the visits to Russia and China is a smart move. But the prime minister will also need to indulge in smart diplomacy to deal with a number of ticklish issues and will have to convince his counterparts that Indian foreign policy is independent and follows national interests.

    October 21, 2013

    Ahmed Zahran asked: What is the latest position of the US, the EU, Russia and China on the Iranian nuclear issue, and what are the possible outcomes of the ongoing negotiation?

    S. Samuel C. Rajiv replies: The US, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom (P5) and Germany (the P5+1) are currently giving push to the 'engagement' track with the latest round of talks which began on October 15, 2013 at Geneva. While existing unilateral and multi-lateral (UNSC and EU) sanctions are in place, no additional sanctions are as yet being contemplated as a part of the 'sanctions' track.

    The 'dual-track' policy of sanctions and engagement has till date not shown much progress in modulating Iranian behaviour. It is pertinent to note that in the past, as the nature and volume of sanctions increased, Iranian intransigence correspondingly increased. Iran for instance suspended its voluntary implementation of the IAEA Additional Protocol (AP) after its referral to the UNSC in February 2006.

    However, various reports as well as Iranian officials have acknowledged the vulnerable state of the Iranian economy and its currency as a result of trade and oil-related sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani's overwhelming victory defeating candidates like Saeed Jalili (who was the chief nuclear negotiator) has given rise to the strong perception that the Iranian public have rejected the confrontationist approach of the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Government. Supreme Leader Khamenei has also supported the path of dialogue, crucially in a speech to the IRGC commanders in September 2013. With the Obama Administration showing its commitment to the dialogue process, the hopes for progress at the current round of negotiations are huge.

    Possible outcomes could range from Iran signing the IAEA AP, temporarily suspending its enrichment activities, the shipping out of excess quantities of enriched uranium (a possibility alluded to by the Iranian Parliament Speaker) in exchange for graduated sanctions relief, provision of spare parts for its civilian aircrafts, among others in a 'grand bargain'.

    These elements are in the realm of the 'possible' given the unique circumstances surrounding the current negotiations, including Rouhani 'the pragmatist' being in power, Khamenei's support for negotiations, weak state of the Iranian economy, and the positive vibes generated by the renewed interactions between the US and Iran topped by the first telephonic conversation between presidents of the two countries in more than three decades.

    Northern Sea Route: Humming with Activity

    As the ice thins in the Arctic, the commercial feasibility of the northern sea route is increasing rapidly. Five years ago there was no activity; this year about 1.5 million tonnes of cargo will be transported through the NSR.

    August 27, 2013

    Sovereignty is the Key to Russia's Arctic Policy

    It was the privately-sponsored Russian expedition to the North Pole in August 2007 that opened a new competitive era in Arctic geopolitics, and the technologically elegant PR-trick with planting the flag into the crisscross point of meridians on the depth of 4,261 m produced a resonance that distorted strategic thinking about, and political interactions in the Arctic region.

    July 2013

    Future of Golden BRICS

    With the successful holding of the fifth summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) in Durban during March 26–27, 2013, this influential group of emerging economies completed its first important phase of genesis and evolution. The idea was floated in 2001 as an ‘acronym’ created by an investment banker of Goldman Sachs, Jim O'Neil who believed that the fast-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, China and India would be the single greatest game changers in coming times.

    July 2013

    Redhu Sekhar asked: Are Russia & China supporting the Syrian Army? If yes, then why?

    Rajeev Agarwal replies: Both Russia and China are supporting the Syrian regime, and have made all attempts to see that efforts of the US-led lobby to force President Bashar al-Assad out of power, politically or militarily, does not succeed. They have not let any UN resolution pass against the Syrian regime till now.

    As regards their support for the Syrian Army, Russia has direct military interests in the Syrian Armed Forces. It is one of the biggest suppliers of arms to Syria including the often disputed S300 missiles. It would, therefore, be fair to assume some sort of moral and equipment support from Russia for the Syrian Army. Direct support in terms of getting involved in fighting with or for the Syrian Army, is not yet reported or come out. Also, Russia is not likely to take that choice as it could blow out into a regional military conflict.

    As regards China, it has supported the Syrian regime ever since the uprisings broke out. It however does not have any military interest and is unlikely to support the Syrian Army directly. Some kind of technological or intelligence support can't be ruled out. However, China's support for Syria seems to be more based on certain ideological fears and on political grounds, contours of which are quite different from the possibilities of a direct support to the Syrian Army.

    Russia and the Geopolitics of Cyprus Bailout

    The Cyprus crisis has highlighted the existing geopolitical fissures between Russia and the European Union and raised the proverbial ‘east vs. west’ conundrum. President’s Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union project and Russia’s growing engagement with countries of Asia indicate the turning of wheels.

    June 14, 2013