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CWA # 625, 12 December 2021

The World This Week
The Biden-Putin, and Modi-Putin Summits

  GP Team

The World This Week #149, Vol. 3, No. 50

Padmashree Anandhan and Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan


The US and Russia: Biden-Putin video conference
What happened?
On 7 December, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in a video conference in a diplomatic effort to reduce the building tensions in the eastern border of Ukraine. 

The US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said: "President Biden was direct and straightforward with President Putin, as he always is. He reiterated America's support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. He told President Putin directly that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures. He also told President Putin there's another option: de-escalation and diplomacy." 

The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: "I believe that Ukraine's victory is that the United States has always supported Ukraine, our sovereignty, our independence, and we enjoyed bipartisan support. But, most importantly, we now see that there is a personal, real reaction and role of President Biden in resolving this conflict, the war in the east of our country."

Russian President Putin refused to make a clear statement on the incursion of troops into Ukraine. However, he firmly said that Russia would not sit back while NATO grew stronger.

What is the background? 
First, the search for a Russia strategy by the US. The post-2014 US towards Russia began to shift when Trump wanted to strike a balance between sanctions and rapprochement with Putin and Russia. The Biden administration now continues this strategy. On the one hand, Biden held a virtual conference with Putin. On the other hand, Biden is also conducting a democracy summit and calling other democratic nations to defend democracy, with Russia and China in mind. 

Second, the China factor. With the rise of China and the growing closeness between Moscow and Beijing, the US is redrafting its foreign policy towards Russia and Putin. The Biden-Putin meeting for the US is a strategy to smoothen relations with Russia. To compete with China and for any UN-based approach, having Russia by its side is an advantage for the US.

Third, Ukraine as a trigger. Ukraine is only a spec in America's agenda, as the US aims to have positive relations and redraft its foreign policy towards Russia. For Ukraine, the meeting is not a breakthrough. 

What does this mean?
The virtual meet is timely as Russia assembles tens of thousands of its troops in the Ukrainian borders. For the US, the primary aim is to prevent Russia from joining hands with China, especially when the US might need Russia's support in the UN.



India and Russia: Modi and Putin try to rekindle the bilateral relations
What happened?
On 6 December, India and Russia held their first 2+2 dialogue format in Delhi. The bilateral meeting involved foreign and defence ministers discussing bilateral, regional and international issues. 

Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held discussions with their Russian counterparts, Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Shoigu, a few hours before heads of the two countries met. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. Putin visited Delhi on a short visit for the 21st annual summit between India and Russia. The discussion is the first in-person meet between the two leaders since they met on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in November 2019. 
Prime Minister Modi, during the meet said: "Despite the challenges posed by Covid, the pace of relations between India and Russia has not changed". At the same time, Putin mentioned India as a "great power and a time-tested friend," as the two countries signed 28 agreements during their discussions. 

What is the background? 
First, the seesaw relations. The bilateral relations between the two countries have witnessed closeness and also growing uneasiness. The primary cause of discontentment for the Russians was India joining the Quad. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about the West influencing India by "trying to engage India in anti-China games by promoting Indo-Pacific strategies". Nevertheless, the two countries have shared good relations historically. In recent years, India extended a billion-dollar line of credit to invest in Russia's Far-East. Russian direct investment was used to manufacture the Sputnik-V vaccine in India. 

Second, the primacy of defence, in bilateral relations. Russia is said to deliver the S-400 missile defence systems to India, giving Delhi a strategic deterrence to counter China and Pakistan. Russia is India's top defence partner, with defence contracts to USD 9-10 billion. Russia has also participated in the make in India program, transferring defence technologies and investments only to Indian sectors to generate employment. Russian cooperation on the defence investments created and expanded the Brahmos missile system, which is the world's fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation. 

Third, shared concerns on Afghanistan. Both countries have concerns about the future of Afghanistan and the potential use of its soil for terrorism which could impact their countries. Over a telephone call in August 2021, Modi and Putin discussed the formation of an inclusive government in Kabul and reiterated their support for a peaceful, stable and secure Afghanistan. Russia also participated in the National Security Advisers Conference on Afghanistan hosted by India in November 2021. In addition, the countries previously discussed the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and pledged immediate support for the Afghan populace; India had offered to send 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat via Pakistan. 

Fourth, the China-Russia-India triangle. India-China relations have been tense lately, with the recent clashes. China and US ties have been deteriorating, which has led to Beijing and Moscow moving closer. However, India's trade with China is about USD 100 billion as Indian corporates focus on China and America. At the same time, Russia needs India's help to gain influence in Eurasia.  

What does this mean?
First, India and Russia have historically shared close ties since India's independence. Even with strains, the relationship is likely to continue and grow. Second, India and Russia are currently working on Brahmos Mark II, and with the deliveries of the S-400 missile defence systems, the defence relations will thrive. Third, the countries have decided to extend support to Afghanistan and have a joint view for its future. Fourth, the China-Russia-India triangle will continue as the countries are intertwined in border issues, trade and mutual self-interests. 


Also, in the news...
By Sukanya Bali & Avishka Ashok

East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Re-establishes ties with Nicaragua
On 10 December, Nicaragua and China re-established their diplomatic ties after the Central American country broke relations with Taiwan. Reuters reported, China Foreign Ministry announcing the decision after meeting Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega's sons with the finance minister and said the "country had made the correct choice." In response, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said, the island will uphold democracy and freedom and "march towards the world." She further added: "The more successful Taiwan's democracy is, the stronger the international support, and the greater the pressure from the authoritarian camp."

China: Fitch Ratings label Evergrande group as a defaulter 
On 9 December, China Evergrande Group was officially labeled as a defaulter by the Fitch Ratings. The real estate giant failed to meet two coupon payments worth USD 1.2 billion. Fitch Ratings announced: the company is downgraded to "RD (Restricted Default) from C rating." According to Aljazeera, the credit assessor said: "the downgrade may trigger cross defaults on Evergrande's $19.2 billion of dollar debt."

China: Shenzhou-13 taikonauts delivers first Tiangong class
On 9 December, three taikonauts from Shenzhou-13 spaceflight delivered the first session of Tiangong class. This marked the beginning of the first extraterrestrial lecture series, to popularize space science. Global Times referred to the China Manned Space Agency reporting, a total of 1,420 students took part in the video conference. According to the CMSA: "Taikonauts will carry out such missions on a regular basis from the China Space Station."  

Hong Kong: Jimmy lai and two others convicted over Tiananmen vigil 
On 9 December, Jimmy Lai, Gwyneth Ho, and Chow Hang-tung were found guilty over unauthorized Tiananmen vigil last year. Hong Kong district court convicted the three on charges including 'inciting and taking part in an unauthorized assembly. Prior to this, 16 politicians and activists were sentenced to six to 10 months in jail over their participation in the vigil. 

Australia: Joins diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games 
On 8 December, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia would join the US in a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. Reuters reported Morrison saying: "The decision was made due to Australia's struggles to reopen diplomatic channels with China to discuss alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Beijing's moves to slow and block imports of Australian goods."

New Zealand: Defence forces warn rising threat from China in the Indo-pacific 
On 8 December, New Zealand defense forces warned of rising security threats from China in the Indo-Pacific region. According to a recent defense assessment report, "New Zealand faces a world in which strategic competition is increasingly the background for states' relationships," highlighting China's rising power as the major push for such competition. According to Reuters, the report also expressed its concerns "over developments such as the building and militarisation of features in the South China Sea." 

Indonesia: Volcano eruption kills 45; Maritime authorities consider fishermen on patrol in the South China Sea 
On 6 December, Mt. Semeru, the tallest mountain on the island, erupted, killing more than 45. Reuters reported the head of the Semeru Volcano Observatory saying: "Semeru is one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia. Before and after the 4 December eruption, it will continue to be active...People need to be more vigilant because the potential threat is still there." According to data received from the task force, "there are currently 6,573 displaced persons, 2,970 affected houses, and 33 damaged public facilities, including a bridge that connects the districts of Lumajang and Malang."
On 11 December, Maritime Security spokesperson, Colonel Wisnu Pramandita said: "the state will train and pay fishermen to join patrols by the agency and the navy" to report the irregular activities near Natuna Islands, amid Beijing's demand that Jakarta stops drilling for oil in the South China Sea.

Myanmar: Aung Suu Kyi sentenced to prison for a four-year term; Rohingya refugees sue Facebook for USD 150 billion
On 6 December, Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to a four-year jail term, on the charges of incitement and violation of Covid-19 restrictions. According to the report on MRTV, the sentences would be applied "at their current detention places." The state TV also reported: "The sentence was reduced after a partial pardon from coup leader and army chief Min Aung Hlaing."
On 7 December, Rohingya refugees in the US and UK sued Facebook for USD 150 billion, claiming the social media network failed to stem hate speech against the vulnerable minority. A complaint was lodged in California court. The court document stated: "The undeniable reality is that Facebook's growth, fueled by hate, division, and misinformation, has left hundreds of thousands of devastated Rohingya lives in its wake."

South Asia This Week
India: CDS General Bipin Rawat among 13 killed in a helicopter crash
On 8 December, India's Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, his wife, and 11 other defense personnel were killed, after their helicopter crashed in Tamil Nadu. The Russian-made Mi-17V5 helicopter crashed near the town of Coonoor while en route to a military college in Willington. One person survived the accident. In 2019 the Modi government appointed General Bipin Rawat as India's first Chief of Defence Staff. The position was set up to integrate India's three military services - the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. 

Pakistan: Sixth round of Pakistan - EU Strategic Dialogue 
On 8 December, the sixth round of the Pakistan-EU Strategic Dialogue was held in Brussels. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Vice President Josep Borrel co-chaired the meeting. During the dialogue, issues like bilateral trade, investments, regional peace, and stability were discussed. They also reviewed the implementation of the project of strategic partnership agreed between them. 

Afghanistan: Islamic Emirate denies pledge over an inclusive government
On 9 December, the Islamic Emirate denied a report over officials' pledge to US diplomats that "they would form a roadmap for an inclusive government by March 2022." Deputy spokesperson Bilal Karimi said: "What has been published in this regard, we don't confirm it...The Islamic Emirate takes independent decisions regarding its government. This is the right of the people to make the decision about the formation of their government."  

Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa This Week
Kyrgyzstan: Election Commission releases results post manual count
On 7 December, the Central Election Commission of Kyrgyzstan released the final results of the elections that took place in November 2021. The results included the outcome of the manual count from all the ballots that led to six parties joining the new legislature. The report by the election commission reveals that three pro-government parties won entry into the Jogorku Kenesh (Supreme Council): Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) Kyrgyzstan, Yntymak (Harmony), and Ishenim (Trust). Three other parties were also cleared to enter the council. 

Iraq: US combat mission against ISIL comes to an end
On 9 December, the national security advisor of Iraq Qassim al-Araji announced that the US-led combat mission, which was aimed at fighting the influence of ISIL in the country, had come to an end. The mission concluded after a formal round of technical talks with the Iraqi officials. The mission will now continue as an advisory body and provide assistance and training to the Iraqi forces as and when necessary. Qassim al-Araji said: "We are officially announcing the end of the coalition forces' combat mission." 

Saudi Arabia: Crown Prince Salman visits Doha
On 8 December, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudia Arabia arrived in Doha and was received by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Haman Al Thani. The two gulf leaders held a meeting on the occasion of Saudi crown prince's first visit after years of blockade. The Sheikh tweeted his welcome to Mohammed bin Salman and said: "the brotherly relations and cooperation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia are based on solid foundations of history and a common destiny." The two leaders discussed the ways to enhance cooperation between the two countries and showcased interest in supporting stability in the region. 

Iran: The US plans to send its delegation to Vienna 
On 8 December, the US State Department spokesperson Ned Price announced the US would send a special envoy to join the indirect nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna. The US has decided to send Robert Malley and his delegation to the talks. Price said: "We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is possible. That is why we are returning for the next iteration of talks, the continuation of the seventh round in Vienna." 

Ethiopia: The US and Western countries issue a joint statement on illegal detention
On 6 December, the US, Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK released a joint statement and expressed their concern regarding reports on unlawful detention of citizens in Ethiopia on the grounds of ethnicity. The statement said: "The Ethiopian government's announcement of a State of Emergency on 2 November is no justification for the mass detention of individuals from certain ethnic groups." The country declared an emergency after the TPLF claimed advances on a highway connecting the capital. The UN has also halted its food aid in Kombolcha and Dessie Towns after the WFP staff was held at gunpoint and looted off of supplies. 

Burkina Faso: President removes Prime Minister amid rising tensions
On 8 November, the President of Burkina Faso Roch Marc Christian Kabore removed Prime Minister Christophe Dabire from his position after the security crisis in the country escalated and resulted in protests calling for his resignation. The recent flare-up is credited to an attack by the al-Qaeda affiliated group that led to the deaths of 49 uniformed men and four civilians. The President had previously initiated reform to his army leadership, but the people demanded the resignation of Dabire. 

Libya: High State Council calls for postponing elections
On 8 December, the High State Council urged the country to postpone the Presidential elections to February. The elections are currently scheduled to be held on 24 December. However, due to the continuous debate over determining the rules and norms of the election, the advisory body suggesting postponing the elections. The body does not hold much power in the politically unstable country, but the statement reveals the current state of affairs and showcases the insecurities surrounding the election. 
 
Europe and the Americas This Week
France: President claims boycott of Olympics is only symbolic
On 9 December, the French President Emmanuel Macron rejected the debate surrounding France joining the US, Canada and Australia in the boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China. Macron claimed that the boycott would not lead to any significant results and would be merely symbolical. The US, Canada, and Australia have decided not to send their officials in an attempt to stand up against the allegations of abuse against the Uighurs and other minorities in China. 

France: President Macron visits Saudi Crown Prince 
On 4 December, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomed the French President Emmanuel Macron in Jeddah, where leaders held talks. Macron became the first Western leader to visit the country after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The two leaders discussed the Iranian nuclear threat and the Lebanon crisis. Macron reiterated that the multiple layered crises in the region cannot be resolved by ignoring Saudi Arabia and said: "We talked about absolutely everything, without any taboos and we were obviously able to bring up the question of human rights." 

Russia: Economy faces highest inflation rate in six years 
In November, the inflation rate in Russia shot up to 8.4 per cent as the prices kept rising exponentially due to the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic. On 8 December, the Rosstat national statistics service announced that the country's inflation rate was the highest in almost six years. The report by Moscow Times said: "Inflation is now running at well over double the Central Bank's official target of 4%, rising from a reading of 8.1% in October to its highest level since January 2016."

Germany: New Chancellor elected to the Bundestag
On 8 December, Germany welcomed its new chancellor Olaf Scholz as Angela Merkel moved out. Scholz was elected with a 395-majority voting for him out of a total of 707 votes. On 9 December, the new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock initiated her first official trip to France and Belgium and stressed the importance of working on climate change in her diplomatic agenda. She congratulated Olaf for being elected and said: "I know from personal experience what a moving moment it is to be elected to this office." 

Peru: President Castillo escapes impeachment due to lack of majority 
On 7 December, President Pedro Castillo escaped the impeachment initiated by the right-wing parties in the country in October 2021. The motion received 46 votes in favour of the impeachment, while 76 voted against. On the same day, Peru witnessed protests for the impeachment as well as against the impeachment. One of the leaders took to Twitter after the vote failed and said: "The impeachment motion failed, fascism failed, the parliamentary blow to democracy failed."

The US: Treasury Department imposes sanctions on El Salvador
On 8 December, the US Treasury Department imposed sanction on two officials from EL Salvador for negotiating with local gangs in order to hide secrets and gain political support in the country. The Chief of the Salvadoran Penal System and Vice Minister of Justice and Public Security Osiris Luna and The Chairman of the Social Fabric Reconstruction Unit Carlos Marroquin were associated with the MS-18 and Barrio 18, agencies that have been declared as a transnational threat to by the US. The President has however, denied all allegations and called the claims a lie. 

The US: The UK loses Julian Assange's extradition case 
On 11 December, the BBC reported that the London high court had ruled in favour of the US in the case of extraditing Julian Assange to the US for his key involvement in the Wikileaks case. Although Julian's lawyers have said that they will seek appeal, the victory of the US is a big blow to Assange. The court found that the lower judge had given her judgement to prevent Assange from being kept in highly restrictive prisons in the US due to his mental state of mind. 

The US: The Mississippi abortion law awaits judgement in the Supreme Court
On 10 December, the National Public Radio reported on the on-going-case to overturn the Roe v. Wade judgement. At the core of the issue is the Mississippi law of 2018 that provides for a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Gloria Steinem, one of the key activists in the fight, said: "The question is whether it will be done in safety or not. That is the simplest way of putting it, and that is what the court has to decide." The case in currently in the Supreme Court and awaits judgement. 


About the Authors
Sukanya Bali is a doctoral candidate at OP Jindal Global University. Ashwin Dhanabalan, Padmashree A and Avishka Ashok are Research Associates in the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. 

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