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  • 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

    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