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February, 16- 28, 2017
Second Round of Astana Talks and its Outcome
The second round of two days Astana talks took place on 16 – 17 February 2017. The key players of the talks remained Russia, Turkey and Iran. The talks were attended by Syrian Arab Republic Delegation headed by Syrian Permanent Representation in the UN – Bashar al Jaafri, Syrian Armed Opposition delegation represented by nine groups and headed by Jaish al Islam leader, Mohammed Alloush. Representatives of the US, Jordon and UN attended the talks as observers. The outcome of the talks were as follows:
a. The adoption of a final document that would guide the activities of a joint operational group to be formed by Russia, Turkey and Iran, despite reservations from the Syrian opposition groups.
b. The document is meant to guide confidence building measures among the opposition.
c. To build a mechanism to exchange corpses and prisoners.
d. Kazakhstan indicated that it would contribute to the efforts of Syrian settlement and address global and regional security issues.
e. Mechanism to establish control over the ceasefire.
Geneva Talks on Syria, 2017
The Geneva talks organized by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) under the auspices of the UN. The talks were convened by UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura. The office of special envoy in Syria stated at the outset that the UNSC Resolution will be the “specific basis” of talks in Geneva while talks will also be held on governance, a new Constitution and elections. The office also stressed that the “the entire agenda for the Geneva negotiations will be framed by the broader corpus of Security Council resolutions”. The UNSC Resolution 2254 will also be the focus of the talks. Resolution 2254 was adopted unanimously in 2015 endorsing a road map for Peace Process in Syria and setting a timetable for further talks.
The Syrian Opposition is, however, not satisfied with the recent developments. According to Mohammed Alloush (negotiator and member of the Jaish al-Islam rebel group),“The Russians did not fulfill the ceasefire agreement despite the promises from the highest levels of the Russian delegation”. The head of the opposition delegation, Nasr al-Hariri, after a meeting with Staffan de Mistura, UN mediator, said that Moscow was shifting its stand while he wanted to see more constructive support. He also stated that he had submitted two documents detailing the humanitarian situation and ceasefire violations.
Russia and China Veto UNSC Resolution against Syria
In a recent move, Russia and China have both vetoed the UNSC Resolution, drafted by Britain, France and US calling for the blacklisting of 11 Syrian military commanders, 10 entities allegedly linked to the chemical weapons attack in 2014 and 2015, and the supply of helicopters to Damascus. The draft received nine up votes. While Russia, China and Bolivia opposed, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia and Egypt abstained. This is the 6th and 7th such resolution against Syria blocked by China and Russia, respectively.
The US Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley said the resolution was “very appropriate”. She further said that the Russian Federation and China had made an outrageous and indefensible choice in not holding Bashar al-Assad responsible for the use of chemical weapons and that they were ignoring facts. Vladimir K. Safronkov, the Russian representative, said that the resolution was based on “odious and erroneous” concepts more in line with the Western states. Liu Jieyi, Chinese representative, said that the draft was based on conclusions over which the parties still had differences, and the Council had been forced to a vote, which was not conducive to finding a solution or to the Geneva peace talks.
CENTRAL ASIAN REPUBLICS (CAR)
Putin Pays Visit to Three Central Asian Republics
Vladimir Putin paid official visit to the Central Asian Republics (CARs) of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan on 27-28 February 2017. This tour of the three CARs by the Russian President marks the occasion of the 25th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and the CARs. The three CARs, which are chosen by President Putin for his Central Asia tour, are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Moreover, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are also members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU); and Tajikistan has also been bidding for its membership. Also, these three CARs share borders with China. These aspects make them key actors in Russia’s engagements in the Eurasian region.
Putin visited Astana on 27 February, which was the first destination of his Central Asia tour. Russia- Kazakhstan relationship is based on friendly neighborhood; and the two countries are leading economic and political partners. The current high-level meeting between Putin and President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan mainly stressed on two key issues. Firstly, the two leaders discussed bilateral relationship, with major focus on expanding economic cooperation. They also stressed on enhancing Eurasian integration within the EEU framework. Secondly, Putin appreciated Kazakhstan’s role as neutral mediator in the Astana Talks on Syria. They also pledged cooperation on important international issues in the UN Security Council, of which Kazakhstan has recently become the non-permanent member.
After concluding his Kazakhstan visit, Putin went to Dushanbe and held talks with the Tajik President Imomali Rahmon. The two leaders discussed bilateral issues including trade, investment, cultural and educational relations. They signed agreements on cooperation in environmental protection and peaceful use of nuclear energy. The two presidents also exchanged views on regional security and stability. Currently, Russia maintains a military base in Tajikistan with about 7000 personnel permanently stationed. Tajikistan is the strategically important country for the region. It has history of the bloody Civil War, and faces increasing threats of terrorism, extremism and radicalization. It also shares long border with Afghanistan with ethno-cultural spillovers. In the current meeting, Putin and Rahmon also decided to step up joint efforts to defend the Tajik-Afghan border.
Last destination of Putin’s Central Asia tour was Kyrgyzstan, which he visited on 28 February. He held talks with the Kyrgyz President Atambayev, and discussed range of bilateral issues covering economic, political and humanitarian spheres. They held discusses about implementation of the joint projects and prospects for expanding economic cooperation, especially within the EEU framework. Economic engagements between the two countries has increased manifold after Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the EEU in 2015. Russia is number one trading partner of the Kyrgyz Republic. In the current meeting, the two presidents also agreed to step up military and technical cooperation and arms trade. Russia, which maintains a military base at Kant near Bishkek, is seen as the security guarantor by the Kyrgyz Republic.
Turkmenistan Adopts Foreign Policy Concept for 2017-2023
President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was sworn into office on 17 February, following his re-election for the third consecutive term. Immediately after taking oath to the presidential office, Berdimuhamedov approved the Concept of Foreign Policy of Turkmenistan for 2017-2023. The Concept lays basic principles and objectives, and identifies specific areas and tasks for the conduct of country’s foreign policy. It reiterates Turkmenistan’s status of permanent neutrality. It aims at strengthening Turkmenistan’s role and reputation in the world, and attain a qualitatively new level of interaction with other states and international organizations. President has instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the ambassadors of Turkmenistan to adhere to the Concept while conducting country’s foreign policy.
Turkmenistan’s foreign policy is based on its permanent neutral status, which was recognized by the UN in 1995. Recently, UN General Assembly has declared 12 December as the International Day of Neutrality. Based on neutrality, Turkmenistan stresses on its domestic development, and peace, security and sustainable development at the international level. It has built strong bilateral relationships with its neighbors, regional and global powers. In recent years, Turkmenistan has worked in close coordination with other countries in developing energy and transport connectivity. It is also positively contributing in enhancing economic integration of the regional powers. However, pertaining to its neutrality, it has opted to stay out of any regional groupings like CSTO, EEU and SCO.
Vice President Hamid Ansari visits Rwanda and Uganda
Vice President Hamid Ansari returned to India after concluding his five-day visit of Rwanda and Uganda. He along with wife Salma, travelled with Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Vijay Sampla, four MPs - Kanimozhi, Ranvijay Singh Judev, Ranee Narah and P K Biju - and senior officials. According to the Vice President the visit was part of a “conscious effort” by the Indian government to “intensify interactions” with Africa. He mentioned that the team from India was received with exceptional warmth. During his two-nation tour, he visited Rawanda from 19th – 21stFeburary, 2016. India signed three agreements in Kigali in the fields of innovation, aviation and visa regime. During his visit he held bilateral talks with President Paul Kagame and President of the Senate Bernard Makuza. He attended India-Rwanda Business Forum where India and Rwanda signed three MoUs to boost bilateral cooperation in areas of innovation, aviation and visa regime, which includes setting up of an entrepreneurship development centre in that country and starting of a direct flight to Mumbai.
Vice President Ansari arrived in Kampala, Uganda on February 21st, after winding up his three-day visit to Rawanda. During his visit the Vice President met the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament and presented a copy of the Indian Constitution, besides holding bilateral talks. He held bilateral talks with the top leadership in Kampala, including President Yoweri Museveni and Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi. After the talks, India and Uganda expanded their cooperation in the field of energy sector and training of personnel for space programme and peaceful use of atomic energy. Also, the resource-rich East African country pitched for Indian companies to manufacture automobiles locally to discourage import of cars. At the India-Uganda Business Forum, the Vice President emphasised that business ties with Uganda is a “key pillar” of the bilateral relationship and India is going to step up engagement with that country to send out a strong message to business communities on both sides to avail opportunities not just in Uganda but entire East Africa.
This was the first high-level bilateral visit to Uganda from India since 1997 and first high-level visit to Rwanda. The Vice President held bilateral talks with top leadership of both the countries to further strength ties with the two countries as part of the government’s conscious effort to intensify engagement with Africa.
About 4.9 m people in Urgent Need of Aid as Famine Hits South Sudan
Famine has been formally declared in some parts of South Sudan by the United Nations. There is a warning that more than 4.9 million people which is more than 40% of South Sudan’s population are in urgent need of food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Attributing this catastrophic condition to war and a collapsing economy, Serge Tissot, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative in South Sudan, in a news release issued jointly with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) has mentioned that famine has become a tragic reality in parts of South Sudan and the worst fears have been realised. The worst-affected people are predominantly farmers who have lost their livestock, even their farming tools. As per the media reports the South Sudan famine is being regarded as the worst hunger catastrophe since fighting erupted more than three years ago between rival forces – the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Salva Kiir and the SPLA in Opposition backing First Vice-President Riek Machar.