Category Archives: Russia

The Iran-Saudi standoff and the future of the Middle East peace process

Russia is fast emerging as a major power broker in the Middle East.

The world reeled from shock after two successive missile attacks targeted the Abqaiq oil facility and the Khurais oilfield in the Saudi desert last month. The real drama unfolded the morning after – thick smoke billowed from the wreckage, blotting out the early morning sun, and with it perhaps any hopes of restoring some amount of normality to Iranian-Saudi relations, at least for the foreseeable future. Over half of all the crude oil excavated in the Saudi kingdom is processed at Abqaiq. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that crude oil prices surged by 20 percent as global markets grappled with the biggest oil supply shock in decades. The Kingdom’s oil production is already running a historic low as its natural reserves face depletion, and the attacks at Abqaiq and Khurais managed to cut down global oil supply by a further 6 percent. Saudi Arabia called the September 14 attacks an act of war, and Iran stands accused of masterminding the offensive, a charge it vehemently denies. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned what he called Saudi attempts to provoke Iran into a full-blown military confrontation. The country remains economically besieged; heavily sanctioned by the US, with inflation in the country hitting new highs every week under the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy. Zarif holds the Houthi rebels responsible for the attack, based on a statement released by the rebel faction in Yemen. Nonetheless, Tehran has not been able to produce any concrete evidence apropos of the claim. The Saudis, meanwhile, have alleged Iranian involvement after examining misfired missiles that they claim were sourced from Iran. Less than a month after the attacks on the Aramco facilities, an Iranian oil tanker, the Sabiti, was attacked while cruising the Red Sea, just off the coast of Jeddah, causing oil prices in London to surge to 60 US dollars a barrel. Continue reading

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Filed under Discussion, Iran, Pakistan, Politics, Russia, Saudi Arabia, The Middle East, United States, Yemen

NATO: Disagreement continues to dog US-Turkey relations owing to S-400

In light of the history of US-Turkey relations, it might not be very difficult to decipher the crux of the developing differences between the United States and Turkey, and to understand the rationale behind the actions and intentions of the two countries.

The ongoing tension between the two NATO allies, the United States and Turkey, recently took a pivotal course when Turkey received its first shipment of “the Russian S-400 air defense system”, its parts and components, in Ankara, at the Murted military airbase on Friday, 12 July. Subsequently, the United States reportedly put forward plans to penalize Turkey for its purchase of a Russian air defense system. Before the actual delivery, Turkey was already being warned that it “could face possible sanctions and a block on its participation in the US-made F-35 fighter jet programme because of the Russian deal.” On Wednesday, 17 July, the United States officially cancelled the delivery and sale of the F-35 aircrafts to Turkey. According to The New York Times, “The White House informed Turkey on Wednesday that would not sell F-35 stealth fighter jets to its NATO ally, in retaliation of the country’s purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.”

A country’s actions and its relationship with other countries could be a demonstration of an interrelated and a convoluted web of several national and international experiences and developments. Hence, it might be interesting to observe how countries could be viewing and handling different issues in a variety of ways according to their economic, political, and social backdrop. Perhaps, the recent break in relations between the United States and Turkey could be analysed in a similar way. There is no doubt that disagreement continues to dog US-Turkey relations owing to the delivery of the Russian S-400 system to Ankara. The other side of the coin is that Trump is inherently against the NATO alliance and does not wish that the US should disproportionately bankroll the historic alliance which Turkish leaders cleverly joined in 1952. Continue reading

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Filed under Discussion, Russia, Turkey, United States

Qatar and the Global Energy Market: The Politics of Natural Gas

Pakistan’s position in this dilemma is unique; it enjoys ties with Qatar, as well as with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

On 22 June 2019, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani arrived in Pakistan on the invitation of Prime Minister Imran Khan for a two-day state visit. The state visit was specifically aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and improving cooperation in diverse fields between Qatar and Pakistan. In addition to the one-on-one talks between the Emir, Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi respectively, delegation-level meetings were also conducted between representatives of both countries. Notably, one of the most important results of this visit was the subsequent pledge for mutual cooperation with regard to gas exploration and the energy sector. The sheer competitiveness of the energy market is a stark reality. In a bid to secure a pivotal multi-billion-dollar supply contract, the Qataris reduced prices of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for Pakistan in May 2019.

With Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates both offering enticing offers concerning deferred oil and LNG payments for Pakistan, Qatar sought to modify LNG prices in order to successfully secure the deal. It is reported that presently, Qatar exports ‘500 mmcfd [million cubic feet per day] to Pakistan under a 15-year agreement struck at 13.37% of Brent crude price.’[i] Pakistan has been negotiating with a number of countries including Russia, Turkey, Malaysia, Azerbaijan and Italy with regard to attaining long-term gas deals. Saudi Arabia (and state-owned petroleum and natural gas company Aramco) has also shown interest in securing a gas deal with Pakistan. Continue reading

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Filed under Discussion, Economy, Energy, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, Politics, Russia, The Middle East

Alexey Dedov: ‘Russia is working with Pakistan to counter terrorism’

Russia has cut down its nuclear capacity by 85 per cent over the past 30 years, says Moscow’s envoy

Together with Moscow’s ongoing campaign against Ukraine, murky Russian involvement in the bloody Syrian conflict and the recent Novichock attacks in Salisbury, UK, have badly tarnished Russia’s reputation as a responsible global power. Equally, Trump’s new policy of maligning Pakistan despite its contributions to the causes of the western world have left Islamabad in a similar predicament. Below is the media reporting on the recent talk by the Russian Ambassador in Pakistan. Keeping his promise to return that he made during his first visit to The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs in 2015, Ambassador of the Russian Federation in Pakistan Alexey Dedov arrived at the PIIA on Friday evening to a very warm welcome. Since the ambassador’s last visit, the moderator of the event said there had been a great change in the global scene and “we look with interest at Russia’s role in world affairs, especially in Syria, and other global issues”. Discussing Russia’s “stabilising role” in South Asia, Mr Dedov, who has also served in India, Bangladesh and Iran, said that the modern world was undergoing a profound transformation.

He added that they were also witnessing dynamic changes in international relations. “Globalisation and technological progress contribute to the increased independence of nations,” he said. Talking about nuclear weapons, Ambassador Dedov said that the Russia Federation stood at the forefront of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. “Russia has made unprecedented contribution to the progress of this by cutting down its nuclear capacity by 85 per cent over the last 30 years,” he said. Another very important issue, according to Mr Dedov, is the prevention of the arms race in outer space and thus excluding it from becoming a new arena and yet another battleground for military confrontation. “Thus Russia, China and Pakistan along with many others are promoting this and are in negotiation to stop weapons from going into outer space,” he said, adding that Russia was also working with Pakistan to counter terrorism. Continue reading

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Filed under Afghanistan, China, Disarmament, Discussion, Pakistan Horizon, Russia

Dr Masuma Hasan: Two Centuries of Russia’s Institute of Oriental Studies

The Russian Institute of Oriental Studies marks not only 200 years of its founding but makes a statement about a changed world

Some institutions are resilient and survive the ups and downs of fate. Others cannot sustain themselves and fall by the wayside. A great survivor is the Institute of Oriental Studies (IOS) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which commemorates the 200th anniversary of its founding this year. The bicentennial was recently celebrated in October in Moscow with a congress. The congress itself, where I was invited to speak, was a gala event — essentially a Russian affair with marginal input from Western scholars, which is what made it remarkable. In Pakistan, we are used to only hearing about and from Western academics about the region. It coincided with Russian’s tilt to the East in world affairs, a celebration of the Asian part of its Eurasian identity. President Vladmir Putin did not attend the congress but a message from him was read out at the inauguration. As much as anything, the gathering signalled the increasingly multi-polar nature of our world.

The IOS was founded in 1818, in Russia during the reign of Emperor Alexander I. It has gone through many vicissitudes through empire, wars, invasions, revolution and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was originally established in St. Petersburg as the Asian Museum under the Imperial Academy of Sciences, as a depository of oriental manuscripts and a library facilitating scientific research. In 1950, the institute was shifted to Moscow, becoming a major centre of oriental studies. Today its depositories house more than one million volumes of ancient books and manuscripts. In 2008, the St. Petersburg (later Leningrad) branch was reorganised into a separate Institute of Oriental Manuscripts. The institute in Moscow is a unique venue for the study of the problems in history and cultures of the Orient, especially the countries of Asia and North Africa. Hundreds of experts work there. Continue reading

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Filed under Discussion, Karachi, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, PIIA, Politics, Russia

Speech by Dr Masuma Hasan: The East in World Politics – The New Power

Centennial Conference of the Institute of Oriental Studies Russian Academy of Sciences Moscow – 30 October 2018. Speech by Dr. Masuma Hasan: I wish to begin by paying a tribute to the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences on the 200th anniversary of its founding – to its resilience, the remarkable academic assets it has developed over two centuries, its proud history and the excellence and dignity of its scholars. It is an honour for me to have been invited to this great event. On this occasion, I want to acknowledge the scholarship of Professor Yuri Gankovsky who headed the Centre for the Study of the Near and Middle East and also recognise the work of the present head of the Centre, Professor Vyacheslav Belokrenitsky, and his colleagues. Turning now to our subject, “The East in World Politics – the New Power”, as we have seen in recent years, the new power in the East is the tilt towards Asia.

In terms of sheer numbers, two-thirds of the world’s population or more than 5 billion people will reside in Asia by 2050 but population is declining in North America and Europe. Some analysts believe that Asia might produce half the world’s GDP by 2050 with an expansion of human capital and production. It is dominated by the strategic interests of two great powers, China and Russia, and the pitch for regional and global status by India. Today, if the East is seen as a new power in world politics, it is undoubtedly mainly due to China’s phenomenal rise and its economic and global aspirations but also because of Russia’s assertive role in global politics and “turn East” policy. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is reflected in its six economic corridors along two routes: the New Silk Road Economic Belt running west through Russia and Central Asia and the 21st Century Maritime Road to reach Europe through South Asia and South-west Asia. One of these corridors, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor runs from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar in Pakistan and has been described as a game changer for Pakistan’s economy. Continue reading

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Filed under China, CPEC, Discussion, Europe, Pakistan, PIIA, Russia, Trade, United States

India-Russia-United States: A Triangle of Expediency

The relationship between Russia and India is beneficial not just to one party, but to both. Moscow needs New Delhi for revenue and New Delhi needs Moscow for military spare parts.

On the heels of the United States 2+2 strategic dialogue with India, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India on a three-day trip. The structured 2+2 dialogue was due to take place between the foreign and the defense ministers of both the countries. The External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Sitharaman were to due meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Willing to carry out the 6th September 2+2 discourse America invited India to Washington in 2017.  A decision to meet again in the first quarter of 2018 but this was postponed until April. Another unexpected event occurred when Rex Tillerson was fired and the Oval Office was running without a Secretary of State, prior to Mike Pompeo taking office as the new Secretary of State for the US. The 2+2 got further delayed, as 1+2 was not adding up. The following summer was rescheduled for another meeting but the United States cancelled again, this time reasons not explained. As it turned out, Pompeo was visiting North Korea, which gave the North Koreans precedence over the Indians.

New Delhi soon grew skeptical of America providing the defense military equipment to India. President Vladimir Putin arrived in New Delhi to attend the 19th Indo-Russian summit. The Kremlin is clear that it is open for business without sanctions. During the three-day visit to India, $5 billion deal was signed according to which, Russia would sell the prized S-400 Triumph missile system to India, which it needed for its air defense system. The S-400 missile system can knock and track down any kind of aircraft ranging up to almost 400 kilometers. It can instantly gather information of aircrafts that come under its radar, including the powerful US state of the art, multirole and multi-variant fifth generation F-35 fighter jet. Despite costing $400 million a piece, the truck mounted missiles have also been purchased by Turkey and Saudi Arabia and Qatar are also potential clients for Moscow. Continue reading

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Filed under China, Discussion, India, Pakistan, Politics, Russia, Sanctions, United States