VIF News Digest: USA, Europe, Eurasia, Russia & CARs (Vol 2 Issue I) | Vivekananda International Foundation
VIF News Digest: USA, Europe, Eurasia, Russia & CARs (Vol 2 Issue I)

January 1-31, 2018

Contents

1. Mueller Interview with Trump is said to be Likely;
2. Trump puts Immigration Meeting on Display amid Questions about his Mental State;
3. Steve Bannon's War with US President Donald Trump can only end in Tears;
4. Trump’s Push on Pakistan;
5. American Aid Cuts to Pakistan won't Change its Policy toward Terrorism;
6. Next big thing in India-America Ties will be in Economic Sphere: US Envoy;
7. Mattis Unveils US Defence Strategy;
8. US Senate confirms Jerome H Powell as next Federal Reserve Chairman;
9. Donald Trump signs Funding Bill, ends 3-day US Government Shutdown;
10. Trump’s State of the Union Address;
11. Gazprom to start LNG Supplies to India’s Gail in 2018;
12. Russia begins Delivery of S-400 Missile Systems to China under 2014 Contract;
13. US President Trump Forced into making Anti-Russian Decisions - Foreign Minister Lavrov;
14. Moscow, New Delhi have Potential for Boosting Military-Technical Cooperation, Localizing Production in India – Rosoboronexport;
15. India Orders over $4 bn worth of Russian Weapons – Rosoboronexport;
16. Kazakhstan’s Presidency of the UNSC Concludes;
17. Kazakhstan President Visits US;
18. Foreign Ministers of US and CARs Meet in C5+1 Format;
19. Uzbek Prime Minister Visits Tajikistan.

USA

Mueller Interview with Trump is said to be Likely

On January 8, US special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, told President Trump’s lawyers that he will probably seek to interview the president, setting off discussions among Mr. Trump’s lawyers about the perils of such a move, two people familiar with the discussion said.

No formal request has been made and no date has been set. White House officials viewed the discussion as a sign that Mr. Mueller’s investigation of Mr. Trump could be nearing the end. But even if that is so, allowing prosecutors to interview a sitting president who has a history of hyperbolic or baseless assertions carries legal risk for him. Mr. Mueller has already brought charges against four of Mr. Trump’s former aides. All face accusations of lying to the authorities.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers have long expected that Mr. Mueller would eventually ask to speak with the president. Ty Cobb, the senior White House lawyer on the case, has for months pledged full cooperation, saying Mr. Trump has nothing to hide in an investigation into whether his campaign worked with Russian operatives to try to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers are expected to try to set ground rules for any interview or provide answers to written questions. If Mr. Trump were to refuse outright to cooperate, Mr. Mueller could respond with a grand jury subpoena. [ Back to Contents ]

Trump puts Immigration Meeting on Display amid Questions about his Mental State

For nearly an hour on Jan 9, President Donald Trump presided over an unusually public negotiating session on the subject of immigration, running the meeting while TV cameras rolled in an apparent effort to knock down reports that he is less than a fully capable Commander-in-Chief.

Surrounded by 25 lawmakers inside the Cabinet Room, Trump held court over the meeting, alternately inviting Democrats and Republicans — by name — to address the bipartisan group. He ran point for 55 minutes over a relatively free-flowing discussion between lawmakers about the future of the DACA program, border security and the possibility of immigration reform. “You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform,” the president told the group.

The meeting gave Trump a chance to appear in control, and featured substantive discussion—unlike televised meetings with Trump’s Cabinet and other allies in which participants have showered the president with praise, most recently last week — designed to allay Washington chatter about Trump’s fitness. [ Back to Contents ]

Steve Bannon's War with US President Donald Trump can only End in Tears

Steve Bannon went to war with Donald Trump. At least, he tried to. In recently published excerpts from Michael Wolff's new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Bannon lashed out at the administration, taking special aim at the campaign's connections with Russian operatives, which he deemed "treasonous" and "unpatriotic". Trump slapped back in a written statement, saying Bannon "has lost his mind".

Since the release of the excerpts, Bannon has mounted a strategic retreat, calling his former boss "a great man". Coincidentally, Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of mega-funder Robert Mercer, and a minority shareholder in Brietbart News, distanced herself from Bannon's remarks, leading to speculation that his job at Breitbart was under threat.

While the feud was largely fueled by Bannon's desire to stay relevant in the aftermath of his dismissal from the White House, it also came at a pivotal moment in the Trump presidency. Having styled himself an economic populist, Trump has just signed into law a tax bill that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest Americans. A year into his presidency, he has little to point to in terms of legislation that aids the working-class Americans he purports to represent. [ Back to Contents ]

Trump’s Push on Pakistan
The New Year has brought renewed troubles for the already faltering relationship between the US and Pakistan. On New Year's Day, US President Donald Trump issued a tweet accusing Pakistan of "lies & deceit" despite receiving $33 billion in US aid for its cooperation in the war in Afghanistan. The next day, the White House announced that it would continue to withhold the $255 million worth of aid that had been earmarked for Pakistan in 2016, citing insufficient action against anti-NATO militants. And on Jan. 4, the White House said it would suspend $900 million in security assistance promised in 2017 and place Pakistan on a list of countries violating religious freedom. [ Back to Contents ]

American Aid Cuts to Pakistan won't Change its Policy toward Terrorism

On Jan 4, the State Department announced a freeze on most of Washington’s security aid to Pakistan. The decision won’t torpedo the US-Pakistan relationship, as a rupture in relations would more likely result from a more drastic measure, such as designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror.

Still, a fragile partnership, already on tenterhooks, will now grow ever more tenuous, especially because cutting aid to the Pakistanis is unlikely to compel them to crack down on the terrorists that target American troops in Afghanistan. In other words, Pakistan won’t do what America wants it to do. That’s because Pakistan’s links to the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, groups based in Pakistan that stage attacks in Afghanistan, serve longstanding national interests that are all but immutable. [ Back to Contents ]

Next Big Thing in India-America ties will be in Economic Sphere: US Envoy

The US regards India as a "leading power" in the Indo-Pacific region and declared it would not tolerate cross-border terrorism or safe havens for terror. "We have a strong mutual interest in eliminating this threat to our societies. President Trump and other US leaders have been clear that we will not tolerate cross-border terrorism or terrorist safe havens anywhere," said Kenneth Juster, new US ambassador in his first policy remarks after taking charge in New Delhi.

But looking forward to building what has become the most consequential bilateral relationship, he said, "It is time to put a strategic lens on our economic relationship - just as we have done with our defence relationship." After the nuclear deal and the growing defence and strategic relations between India and US, Juster believes the next big thing in the US-India relationship would be in the economic sphere, currently the most troubled spot in bilateral relations. [ Back to Contents ]

Mattis Unveils US Defence Strategy

On Jan 19 while releasing the US Defence Strategy, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that America is facing "growing threats" from China and Russia, and warned that the US military's advantages have eroded in recent years. Mattis's assessment came as he unveiled the Pentagon's vision for the future detailed in a document called the national defense strategy.

"We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models," Mattis said as he unveiled the unclassified section of the document. "Our military is still strong, yet our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare -- air, land, sea, space and cyberspace -- and is continually eroding," he added.

President Donald Trump and his administration worry that the vast US military force is feeling the effects of years of budget shortfalls and atrophy, and needs a full reboot to restore it to an idealized strength. Part wish list, part blueprint for the coming years, the Pentagon's national defense strategy seeks to increase the size of the military, improve its readiness and work with allies -- all while operating across multiple theaters including in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

The new defense strategy follows on from Trump's national security strategy that he released last month which, similarly, highlights the role of China and Russia in the global security environment. [ Back to Contents ]

US Senate Confirms Jerome H Powell as next Federal Reserve Chairman

On 23 January, the US Senate confirmed Jerome H Powell as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, a powerful post having an influence on global economy.

Powell (64) will replace Janett Yellen, whose term ends in February. He was confirmed by the US Senate by an overwhelming vote of 84-12. Currently a Federal Governor and former financial-firm executive, Powell is expected to mostly continue with Yellen’s policies.

The Wall Street Journal said Powell inherits an economy on the upswing fuelled by a booming labour market and strong global growth. “His task will be to sustain the economy’s expansion without letting it pick up so much momentum that the Fed would be forced to cool it off with sharp rate increases, risking a downturn,” it reported.

According to The Washington Post, Powell will oversee an economy in which unemployment is at 4.1 per cent, job growth steady but unspectacular and inflation at or below the Fed’s targets. [ Back to Contents ]

Donald Trump signs Funding Bill, ends 3-day US Government Shutdown

Claiming a "big win", on January 23, US President Donald Trump signed a bill to end a three-day government shutdown after striking a deal with Democrats to hold a debate on the future of over 700,000 young undocumented immigrants. Trump signed a bill into law after the House of Representatives voted 266 to 150 to extend federal funding for another three weeks.

Senate Democrats dropped their opposition to the plan after receiving a commitment from the ruling Republicans toward securing the fate of hundreds of thousands of so-called "Dreamers" illegally brought to America as children. The stop-gap funding, passed both the Senate and House by large margins last night. The spending bill passed the Senate by 81-18.

The measure funds the government till February 8, before which the Democrats and Republicans need to agree to a long- term solution to the government funding and on issues related to illegal immigration. [ Back to Contents ]

Trump’s State of the Union Address

Immigration, tax reform, national security, infrastructure and trade were the focus of President Donald Trump's more than 80-minute State of the Union address in Washington DC on January 30. A four-pillar immigration plan, the decision for Guantanamo Bay prison to remain open and references to the North Korean "menace" attracted plenty of attention in media coverage of the speech. The big announcements were accompanied by familiar mentions of making America "great again", and a series of economic and employment numbers to evidence a successful first year in office. [ Back to Contents ]

Russia,/strong>

Gazprom to Start LNG Supplies to India’s Gail in 2018

Gazprom Marketing & Trading, a selling arm of Russian gas holding Gazprom, and India’s state-owned oil and gas company Gail confirmed the starting time of liquefied natural gas (LNG) deliveries to India in 2018, the Indian company said on Tuesday. "The 20 year LNG supply deal will commence in 2018 as originally agreed in 2012," Gail said.

"I am excited to announce that we agreed to deliver on our original promise and begin LNG supplies in 2018. We look forward to strengthening a mutually beneficial partnership with Gail going forward," Vitaly Vasiliev, CEO of Gazprom Marketing & Trading, said in a comment. It was reported earlier, in October 2012 Gazprom and Gail signed the sale and purchase agreement for supply of 2.5 mn tonnes of LNG per year to the Indian company during 20 years. The contract was later extended to 25 years.

"The two parties have agreed to an adjustment to the price and volume of LNG supply thus enabling Gail to develop incremental gas markets to offtake these volumes thereby mitigating volume risk," Gazprom Marketing & Trading said. Deliveries will start in the second quarter of 2018, the company reported. [ Back to Contents ]

Russia Begins Delivery of S-400 Missile Systems to China under 2014 Contract

Moscow has begun the delivery of the S-400 Triumf air defense missile systems to China under the 2014 contract, a source close to the Russian system of military cooperation told TASS on Thursday. "The implementation of the contract has begun, the first shipment has been sent to China," the source said.

According to the source, the shipment includes a control station, a radar station, energy and support equipment, spare parts, various tools and other elements of the S-400 system. The source also said that the contact with China stipulated neither technology transfer nor licensed production. In 2017, Russia trained a group of Chinese military servicemen to use the S-400 systems. Meanwhile, Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation has declined to provide any comments. [ Back to Contents ]

US President Trump Forced into Making Anti-Russian Decisions - Foreign Minister Lavrov

According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in an interview with Russian Daily Kommersant, US President Donald Trump is forced to make anti-Russian decisions under the pressure of his national political opponents. He said, "When US President Donald Trump received me in the White House, when he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg and later they held telephone conversations, I did not see US President Trump’s charge for any sort of actions, which could undermine his election campaign slogans that he wanted good relations with Russia."

The Russian foreign minister said the current stance of the United States in regard to Russia was the result of three factors, which are the defeat of Hillary Clinton at the presidential election, the non-system character of Donald Trump and the need to explain why not everything goes well for the US on the international arena. Trump is forced into making anti-Russian decisions under such conditions, according to Lavrov. "One should probably understand that under conditions when bills are passed by the majority of votes (95 percent), the President comes to think not about the essence of the draft law, how real it is, legitimate or decent, but that his veto would be eventually overrun," Lavrov said. [ Back to Contents ]

Moscow, New Delhi have Potential for Boosting Military-Technical Cooperation, Localizing Production in India – Rosoboronexport

India and Russia are stepping up their military-technical cooperation and focusing on localizing production in India, Rosoboronexport Deputy General Director Sergei Goreslavsky said. "Russia and India have the potential to boost mutually advantageous cooperation in the supply of weapons and military hardware for the Ground Forces and the Navy, localize production in India, and modernize military products supplied in the earlier period," the company press service quoted Goreslavsky as saying. India and Russia "are implementing about 100 joint research-and-development projects," he said.

Many of the countries' achievements in bilateral military-technical cooperation are rooted in Rosoboronexport's activity at exhibitions in India, he said. Rosoboronexport has been designated the organizer of Russia's exposition at the Defexpo India 2018 Land, Naval & Internal Homeland Security Systems Exhibition, which will be held in Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu on April 11-14, the Company said in a statement shared with Interfax-AVN on Thursday.

"Defexpo India 2018 will be special, as Rosoboronexport will seek to promote Russian security systems and counterterrorism gear," Goreslavsky said. The media reported yesterday that Russia and India had yet to conclude a contract on the supply of S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft missile systems. [ Back to Contents ]

India Orders over $4 bn worth of Russian Weapons – Rosoboronexport
India is set to purchase over 4 billion dollars in Russian weaponry, Rosoboronexport deputy head Sergei Goreslavsky said at the presentation of a book on Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation at the Russian Foreign Ministry.

"The overall cost of [arms] deliveries [to India] has exceeded $65 billion over the years of cooperation, and the current book of orders tops $4 billion," Goreslavsky said. Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation is constantly developing and evolving "from the seller-buyer format to the level of joint design and production of advanced weapon systems," he said. "Cooperation has been developing in every possible area: navy, ground forces, combat aviation, helicopters, air defense, artillery, ammunition, and many other fields related to weapons and military hardware. Joint ventures are at work, and the licensed production of military hardware is up and running in India: our relations have truly been tested and strengthened by time," Goreslavsky said. [ Back to Contents ]

Central Asian Republics (CAR)

Kazakhstan’s Presidency of the UNSC Concludes

Kazakhstan has concluded its Presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for January 2018. The Central Asian Republic (CAR) had assumed its Non-Permanent Membership of UNSC for two years from January 2017. Under Kazakh presidency, a UNSC delegation led by Kazakh ambassador Kairat Umarov visited Kabul on 13-15 January; this being the first UNSC visit to Afghanistan since 2010.

The thematic briefing was held on ‘Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Confidence-Building Measures’ on 18 January, and was chaired by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. On 19 January, the UNSC held a ministerial-level debate on “Building Regional Partnership in Afghanistan and Central Asia as a Model to Link Security and Development”. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Finance Ministers (FM) of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, deputy FM of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan Permanent Representative to the UN and high-level representatives of other UNSC members participated in the briefing. [ Back to Contents ]

Kazakhstan President Visits US

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev paid a State Visit to the United States (US) from 16-18 December. During visit, he was hosted at the White House by the US President Donald Trump, making him the first Central Asian leader to receive this privilege under Trump Presidency. The two leaders elevated the US-Kazakhstan relationship to the level of enhanced Strategic Partnership. They signed three intergovernmental agreements, including an agreement on non-deduction of charges for air navigation, a protocol to the agreement on commercial railway transit through the Kazakh territory, and an agreement on improvement of international tax compliance. The countries also signed more than 20 commercial documents on investment, trade and economic cooperation. [ Back to Contents ]

Foreign Ministers of US and CARs Meet in C5+1 Format

The Foreign Ministerial meeting of the CARs and the United States (US) in the C5+ 1 format was held on 20 January 2018 in New York. US Deputy Secretary of State J. Sullivan, FMs of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and the Permanent Representative of Turkmenistan to the UN took part in the meeting. The sides discussed regional security issues. The C5+ 1 forum was created by US and CARs in 2015 to discuss issues of regional cooperation. [ Back to Contents ]

Uzbekistan President Signs the Defense Doctrine

President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed on 10 January, the law "On Defense Doctrine" outlining the principal approaches and directions of the state policy in the defense sector. The doctrine draws out country’s national interests, and highlights key principles and vectors of training, development and use of the armed forces. It includes the dynamics of the development of the situation in the world and the region, and the need for an adequate response to emerging challenges and threats. It further demonstrates the openness of Uzbekistan's foreign policy, and the priority of developing constructive relations with neighbors.

Uzbek Prime Minister Visits Tajikistan

Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Abdulla Aripov paid an official visit to Dushanbe on 10 January, and was received by the Tajik President Emomali Rahmon. The two deliberated on the state and prospects of further expansion of bilateral cooperation. Issues of border delimitation, eliminating trade restrictions, simplifying bilateral trips of citizens, reducing tariffs for goods, opening border crossing points, etc. were discussed. This visit laid the groundwork for Uzbek President Mirziyoyev’s visit to Tajikistan in March 2018. [ Back to Contents ]

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