November 10, 2018

Russia Review: Ananta Center by P.S Raghavan

Ambassador P. S. Raghavan
Convenor, National Security Advisory Board
Former Indian Ambassador to Russia (2014-16)OCTOBER 2018 | VOL 03 ISSUE 10 | MONTHLY

•  Amidst persisting differences, another Trump-Putin meeting was announced

•  Russia-Europe bilateral and multilateral consultations progressed

•  Russian engagement with West Asia pursued political and energy interests

•  President Putin’s visit to India in the backdrop of CAATSA

Russia-US dialogue

President Trump’s announcement on October 20, that the US has decided to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia (as the successor state to the Soviet Union), had been expected for some time, but nevertheless provoked negative reactions from Russia (as also Europe, China and Japan). The US has insisted, with increasing intensity since 2014, that Russia’s deployment of a cruise missile (which the Russians call 9M729) violates the treaty. The Russians, while denying this charge, have in turn alleged that the US deployment of missile defence systems in central Europe violate the treaty, since they could be transformed into offensive weapons at short notice.

President Putin said in a public statement that the US decision would lead to a new arms race and issued a stark warning that any European country that hosts intermediate-range missiles would face the threat of a possible counterstrike from Russia. At the same time, Russia indicated that it is still prepared to discuss elimination of “mutual grievances” in the implementation of the treaty.

The European reaction was predictably negative, since it is the principal theatre of INF confrontation. It was strong European pressure that nudged the US into concluding the treaty in 1987: it addressed the nightmare scenario of missiles from launchers deep within Soviet territory hitting European targets within minutes. A European Union statement called for a reconsideration of the US decision, in view of its consequences for its own security and that of its allies. The exception to this European reaction was Poland: its President and Foreign Minister welcomed President Trump’s decision and offered to host US intermediate-range missiles on Polish territory.

President Tump added China to his justification for withdrawal from the treaty, asserting that its large-scale deployment of missiles targeting East Asia, requires a US response unhampered by the restrictions of the INF Treaty. Military experts point out that US air and sea-launched cruise missiles, which are outside the purview of the INF treaty, already enable an adequate response to the Chinese missile threat in the east. However, this China threat narrative is in keeping with an increasing US government effort to project China over Russia as a strategic challenge to US interests – and not only for its trade practices. This new emphasis was signalled by a speech of US Vice-President Pence on October 4, in which he denounced China’s predatory economic practices, extensive theft of US technology and military aggression, even accusing it of working assiduously to prevent the re-election of President Trump. A few days later, in an interview to the TV channel CBS, President Trump responded to queries about Russian interference in US elections by asserting that China also interfered in the elections and that it was a “bigger problem”. The strongest assertion of this sentiment was by US NSA John Bolton in a press conference on Russian soil on October 23, where he said, “… looking at everything China was doing, a very, very senior U.S. intelligence official said it made Russia look like the junior varsity” (sic).

Meanwhile, US criticism of Russia’s actions and motives continued, as did Russian accusations of the US, ranging from the plausible to the highly improbable: blocking political progress and humanitarian assistance in Syria; US creation of a “quasi-state” east of the Euphrates in Syria; promoting schism between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches; moving ISIS cadres to Iraq and Afghanistan; and funding biological weapons programmes in Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Amidst all this, there was also some dialogue: consultations on North Korea and discussions on the new START.

The most significant bilateral dialogue was during the two-day visit to Moscow (October 22-23) by US NSA John Bolton, when he had extensive discussions with his Russian counterpart Patrushev, Foreign Minister Lavrov, Defence Minister Shoigu and Presidential Foreign Policy Adviser Ushakov, before calling on President Putin. It was announced that President Trump and President Putin would meet on November 11 in Paris, where they would both be joining the international commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the post-World War I Armistice.

At a press conference in Moscow on October 23, NSA Bolton said his discussions included US-Russia cooperation on international developments, including coordination of policies on Syria and resuming dialogue on counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and human trafficking issues. He announced that the first meeting of a Joint U.S.-Russian Business Council (which the two Presidents had decided upon at their meeting in Helsinki in July) would take place in the first quarter of 2019. The question of what this Council can achieve, in the existing reality of extensive Western economic sanctions against Russia (with more on the way), remains unanswered.

NSA Bolton said Russian interference in the 2016 US elections was discussed, but said (in response to a query) that the FBI had not detected “anything like” that level of involvement in the forthcoming mid-term Congressional elections. His subsequent comment on Chinese interference (quoted above) deflected attention from this theme.

There has clearly been much more intensive preparation for the forthcoming Trump-Putin meeting than for their earlier Helsinki meeting in July. Indications also are that hostility to dialogue with Russia within the US political establishment may have diminished somewhat, with China being projected as the greater strategic threat. However, given recent history and their significant divergences, there remains uncertainty about progress achievable at the Paris meeting. Another imponderable is how the composition of the Congress after the November 6 elections will impact on the President’s room for manoeuvre vis a vis Russia.

Russia-Europe engagement

Russia’s bilateral dialogue with European countries continued, with the President of Austria (which currently chairs the Council of EU) and the Prime Minister of Italy (currently OSCE chair) visiting Russia. The progressive strengthening of their bilateral economic engagements was noted. Austria supports the trans-Baltic sea Nordstream 2 pipeline; Russia was also pleased that Austria supported (as President Putin announced) extension of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, including in areas under the control of the Syrian government – the US has pressured other Western countries to oppose this. Italy has also expressed the hope of dialogue leading to early lifting of sanctions against Russia.

Multilaterally, the Russia-Germany-France-Turkey summit in Istanbul (October 27) also showed some Russian success in getting France and Germany to share some of its perspectives on the Syrian political process (next section).

Meanwhile, both President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke at length in media interactions about how myopic US actions were driving Europe to seek political and economic independence of action vis a vis the US. FM Lavrov said President Macron’s ideas for EU reform, including the concept of a “multi-speed” Europe and independence of action in defence and security, are “very interesting” and “overdue”, adding that Russia is in favour of “a powerful and independent European Union” – the independence being of course from the US. President Putin was more forthright in describing as “certainly right” President Macron’s views on “the need to enhance the economic sovereignty of the European Union and reduce its dependence on the United States”, opining that it was an obvious consequence of the US effort “to gain competitive advantages in business by using political instruments”. He said the US was committing a huge strategic mistake by its coercive sanctions, which are leading countries to seek dollar-free settlement arrangements, thus undermining the position of the dollar as the sole global reserve currency. He attributed it to the over-confidence of an empire, unwisely over-confident of its own strength.

West Asia focus

Russia continued its effort to take forward its two main objectives in Syria: piloting the search for a political settlement through the UN-mandated Geneva process and securing international support for rehabilitation assistance to Syria, even while the political process continues. Moscow hosted the head of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) of Syrian opposition groups to discuss approaches in the Constitutional Consultative Committee to be convened by the UN Special Envoy. The Turkey-Germany-France-Russia summit in Istanbul also discussed this. Although the summit did not produce any spectacular results, it did signal acceptance by France and Germany of Russia’s pole position in the Syrian discourse. The joint statement recognized the urgency for humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and called on the international community to extend such assistance. The US has so far asserted that no humanitarian assistance would be extended to areas under control of the Assad government. It is not yet clear whether the joint statement reflects a change in US views or a defiance of it by France and Germany. Finally, the summit may have succeeded in reviving the proposal, first mooted by President Macron and blocked by the US, for coordination of policies and actions of the “small group” on Syria (US, UK, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt) and the Astana process (Russia, Turkey and Iran).

Russia is also likely to  leverage its intensifying political and economic links withSaudi Arabia to positively influence the course of the Syrian process. It refrained from taking any position in the controversy swirling around the killing of the Saudi journalist Khashoggi in Istanbul; the Russian MFA restricted itself to the view that a thorough investigation is required. At the height of the controversy, King Salman telephoned President Putin: the Kremlin reported that they discussed multifaceted bilateral cooperation, including in energy, Syria and “the situation around the Khashoggi case”. It was announced that Saudi Arabia would invest $5 billion in the LNG2 project in the Arctic of Russia’s independent gas firm Novatek. A Saudi wealth fund was also reported to be investing $500 million in a Russo-Chinese investment fund, which is also open for other investors. Russia’s coordination with Saudi-led OPEC for stabilizing oil prices by regulating output has proved successful beyond its original expectations. In a meeting with the Secretary General of OPEC, President Putin discussed the possibility of institutionalizing this cooperation. It may be noted that Saudi Arabia had facilitated the ouster of a stridently anti-Assad leader of the Syrian HNC and the election of a more moderate one (Review, 11/17).

During a Moscow visit, Egyptian President El-Sisi signed with President Putin an Agreement on Strategic cooperation, announced the construction of a Russian nuclear power plant (with Russian credit of $25 billion), Russian investment of $7 billion in an industrial and logistics park and expanded military-technical cooperation. President Putin sought Egypt’s support for taking the Syrian process forward; President El-Sisi sought Russian support for his vision for a Libyan political solution. Both agreed to coordinate their actions on these two issues. It may be noted that Egypt is a member of the “small group”, was instrumental in bringing a group of Egypt-based Syrian opposition groups to the HNC, and has influence over a faction of militants fighting in Idlib.

Even as it continued its diplomatic overtures to achieve its objectives in Syria, Russia continued to criticize American efforts to block progress, through support for separatist Kurds in north-eastern Syria and occupation of the al-Tanf region in the south. The Russians persisted in their allegations that the US was arming and encouraging ISIS terrorists to attack Russian and Syrian military targets.

All sides have generally agreed that the Consultative Committee should conclude its work of framing a new Syrian constitution and setting a roadmap for fresh elections by the end of this year. Russian activity is directed at trying to ensure that the membership of the Committee is “balanced” from its perspective. A new concern has been introduced by the abrupt resignation of the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, with whom the Russians were comfortable. MFA displayed anxiety about his replacement, expressing the hope that he would be acceptable to the Syrian government and would be neutral and impartial.

US actions will eventually influence the way in which all these Syrian strands intertwine. The Trump-Putin meeting, in which Syria will definitely figure (as confirmed by NSA Bolton), may provide some clues.

India-Russia summit in the shadow of CAATSA

President Putin came to India for the 19th annual India-Russia summit – his 15th – in what has become the usual backdrop to such summits: perceptions of drift in the relationship, of flagging defence cooperation and stagnant economic partnership, and of divergences in perspectives on key issues in India’s neighbourhood — Pakistan, Afghanistan and China — and on India’s strategic linkages with the US. However, the biggest question surrounding this visit was whether or not the deal for the S-400 air defence system would be signed, braving the threat of US sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), which applies to “significant” defence transactions with Russia. Over the past many months, US officials had been regularly warning, in bilateral discussions and in public media briefings, that the S-400 was too big a deal to ignore.   

In the event, the S-400 deal was concluded at the summit, though in a low-key manner. The agreement was signed behind closed doors, avoiding the glare of media cameras. It was not mentioned in the leaders’ press statements. A single sentence paragraph in the joint statement affirmed the signing of the agreement.  Other defence cooperation agreements expected to be signed —joint manufacture of Kamov helicopter, frigates, assault rifles and others — were apparently deferred to the bilateral meeting at Defence Ministers’ level to be held later in the year.

The cordiality between the two leaders, which was evident at their Sochi meeting in May, was demonstrated this time too, including at their tete-a-tete over a private dinner hosted by PM Modi. Both leaders emphatically declared the relevance of the strategic partnership and their commitment to broaden the canvas of cooperation. There was no evidence of the “wrinkles” in the relationship: Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, USA, Indo-Pacific. All of them had figured at their informal meeting in Sochi, when both leaders had apparently cleared the air and agreed to be sensitive to the core interests of each other. PM Modi summed up the discussions on these issues in a few sentences, indicating that all international issues of mutual interest had been discussed and that they have common interests in Afghanistan, terrorism and the Indo-Pacific.

The joint statement contains the usual affirmation of shared perspectives on major international developments. On Pakistan, one might note the nuance that the Joint Statement mentions cross-border terrorism, which some earlier Joint Statements did not. On Afghanistan, it confirms Indian support for Russia’s political initiative—the “Moscow format”, which seeks to involve regional countries and major powers in an effort to draw the Taliban into negotiations with the Afghan leadership. In its latest incarnation, the format includes the Afghan government as co-sponsor.  The US has boycotted this initiative, but pursues its own dialogue with the Taliban. The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been touring Afghanistan, Pakistan, UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, seeking (according to the State Department) “to coordinate efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table”. The US has not involved India in this initiative.

The joint statement lists out a wide range of economic priority projects—in mining, metallurgy, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, railways, infrastructure, aviation and space, among others. Russia will extend capacity building support for India’s manned space missions. Trade has shown an encouraging uptick, rising to about $10 billion in 2017, with a further increase of 20 per cent this year. Investments have also risen, mainly due to hydrocarbons investments. It has been agreed to open a single window clearance mechanism to further promote Russian investments in India.

The joint statement noted continued commitment to the ongoing talks between India and the Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia) for a Free Trade Agreement. It also reiterated that the two countries will work with Iran to activate the International North South Transport Corridor—the multimodal trade corridor from India’s west coast to Iran and onwards in spurs to Afghanistan, Central Asia and to Russia and northern Europe. This corridor would cut the time and cost for transport of goods between India and Russia (and Europe) by roughly half of that by the circuitous sea route to Europe through the Suez Canal. With fresh U.S. sanctions on Iran, progressing this project will require imaginative strategies.

Though the S-400 deal has presumably escaped the CAATSA net, there will remain a continuing threat to India-Russia defence cooperation. Every potential India-Russia defence deal could be subjected to a determination on applicability of sanctions. Actually, imposing sanctions would hurt U.S. defence sales to India, defeating one of the principal objectives of the legislation. The effort would likely be to achieve desired results with the threat of sanctions. India has to avoid a situation of having to seek a case by case waiver of CAATSA application for every Russian defence deal; this would be both demeaning and counter-productive. There is a sufficiently strong mutuality of interests in the India-US relationship (in spite of its asymmetry) to ensure that it survives and thrives without India having to cede its autonomy of action vis a vis Russia. It will remain a challenge for Indian diplomacy to establish this with the US.


(The views expressed are personal)
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November 09, 2018

Car man Jagdish Khattar says Bicycles change BHARA

Car man Jagdish Khattar says Bicycles change BHARAT. Very interesting data and thought to increase GDP.

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Understanding the strongmen

Source: AXIOS FUTURE, by Steve Levine

Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty


Across the globe, democracy appears to be on the wane and strongman-led populism on the rise. But while the direction is authoritarian, it does not necessarily mean dictatorship everywhere.

What's happening: The sharp turn to authoritarian politics appears to reflect the re-emergence of conservative forces buried by the post-Soviet democratic wave. "All the momentum is with the populists and nationalists right now," Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, tells Axios.

But authoritarianism comes in different shades, says Dan Slater, the head of the Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan, who writes about the issue in anew piece at Foreign Affairs.

They include:

"Electoral authoritarians" — election cheats who stop at nothing to stay in power.Illiberal democrats — who don't necessarily cheat, but dish out attacks on norms and institutions to make themselves more powerful.

The U.S. has taken on characteristics of both, Slater tells Axios: With his attacks on the Fed, courts, generals, intelligence agencies, other politicians and the media, President Trump behaves like an illiberal democrat.

And the U.S. has allowed an electoral authoritarian dynamic to take hold with the electoral college, which twice in the last two decades has allowed presidents to take power with a minority of the votes. "As soon as it becomes systematic that one party can win the entire executive branch with fewer votes it is a loser-take-all system," Slater said.

Voting restrictions — exact-match voter identification laws in Georgia, and a street address requirement to register in North Dakota — work with the electoral college to reinforce systemic authoritarianism.Slater does not think a full-on electoral authoritarian system is inevitable in the U.S. "It takes people willing to use the system in illiberal and authoritarian ways," he said.

When scientists get overloaded

Source: AXIOS FUTURE by Steve Levine

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios


Science is moving at a dizzying pace: around 2.5 million scientific journal articles are published a year around the world, and still the volume keeps climbingBut rather than propel science at an increasing clip, the flood has created information overload — and that threatens to hold back progress.

We have written about how artificial intelligence and faster computing are allowing scientists to go after much bigger problems.But part of the problem is also the mundane task of simply keeping up with their field in an age of too much data.

Axios' Kaveh Waddell writesMuch of what scientists do isread each others’ work — for the day’s trends, techniques, and outstanding questions. But the sheer volume means no one can read all the relevant work. Nor can anyone realistically find only the best papers.

This sets up an impossible choice, says Doug Raymond of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence: A scientist can take the time to understand where her field stands, and risk getting scooped, or publish fast with possibly only incremental results.

So several new projects are using AI to cast a wide net — searching the internet to sift out interesting scientific papers that may otherwise be buried.

Mikey Fischer, a Stanford PhD student, created Assert, a site that shows 10 papers at a time, scored by how much they are discussed by influential Twitter accounts and whether their authors published their computer code.Andrew Mauboussin, a Twitter data scientist, wrote PCA News, a feed that searches for tweets about AI-related papers, scoring them based on likes and retweets, the quality of replies, and the influence of the account.The Allen Institute yesterday announced improvements to Semantic Scholar, a popular search engine for academic research. Now, the site shows tweets, videos, presentations, news stories, and computer code next to research.

By turning away from the traditional peer-review system, these new projects reward research that sparks online buzz, and is verifiable by other scientists.

"I want a kid in their garage to publish a paper and for it to have impact," says Fischer.Raymond, who manages Semantic Scholar, said the new approaches are "making it easier for new scientists to break through with high-impact and high-risk research in fields where there is just an overwhelming amount of publications to sift through."

But, but but: The rigors of peer review can’t be replaced by 240 characters, and social media can be as much of an echo chamber as the ivory tower.

A focus on Twitter chatter means researchers with a large following will see a disproportionate boost.Assert aims for a middle ground by soliciting simple feedback: Readers can rate papers on their quality, leave comments, and ask researchers questions.