Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated newly-elected Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday. This came a week after Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the recent political process in that country which ultimately led to him replacing former Prime Minister Imran Khan represented “another attempt of shameless US interference in the internal affairs of an independent state for its own selfish purposes.” Some observers were thus surprised that the Russian leader would congratulate what his own Foreign Ministry implied was a US-backed political figure who just replaced its prior Russian-friendly leader. This development, therefore, deserves to be clarified.
For starters, everyone should recognize that Russia practices an informal policy of what can be described as “regime reinforcement” towards its partners. This refers to the political support that it provides to those internationally recognized authorities who are under American pressure for their independent foreign policies, especially when such pressure is imposed upon them as punishment for their friendly ties with Russia former Prime Minister Khan claimed. There’s nothing unique about this approach per se since all countries actually practice it towards their partners whenever they suspect that another country is trying to pressure them to change their policies in a zero-sum way.
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Understanding the matter better
Such was the way in which Russian authorities interpreted the recent sequence of political events in Pakistan considering the international and domestic contexts that were considered from afar to be interconnected due to the former Prime Minister’s accusations. About those, one school of thought is that everything might have actually just been a misunderstanding of sorts whereby US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu – who was portrayed by the former premier as the villain in this plot – innocently made some observations about US interests in these contexts that were then misperceived by the then-incumbent due to his own innocent perspective.
The other school of thought is of course that the former Prime Minister accurately assessed these dynamics and thus correctly concluded that they were interconnected, believing that Lu’s supposedly innocent comments implied a more nefarious intent considering the sensitive domestic and international context in which they were shared. Whatever the reality may be, from the Russian perspective, the public accusations by an incumbent leader whose government had overseen a geostrategically game-changing rapprochement with them would naturally be taken for granted as the truth, especially since the sequence of events conformed to Moscow’s assessment of US intentions.
Nevertheless, Russia is also a Great Power with centuries of world-class diplomatic experience and therefore knows how to pragmatically react to all situations, even those that evolve in directions that it might not have expected nor preferred from the perspective of how it might have interpreted such events considering what was known to it at the time and its own perspective on everything. This explains why President Putin congratulated Prime Minister Shehbaz despite the scandalous events surrounding his election and his own Foreign Ministry spokeswoman’s publicly expressed concerns that aligned with Russia’s policy of “regime reinforcement” (which to remind everyone, isn’t exclusive to it)
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The reader should also be made aware that President Putin expressed a similarly pragmatic position towards former Brazilian President Michel Temer who also scandalously replaced his predecessor Dilma Rousseff in a sequence of events that were also assessed as a US-orchestrated regime change. Several days after President Temer entered office, he met with his Russian counterpart during an informal BRICS Summit in Hangzhou ahead of that Chinese city hosting that year’s G20. President Putin addressed his Brazilian counterpart, thus tacitly extending credence to him in spite of the scandalous events that brought him into office, which speaks to Russia’s pragmatic flexibility in the face of dramatic events.
The Wiki leaks conundrum
Several months later, President Putin was asked by a reporter about WikiLeaks’ revelation in 2011 that President Temer used to be a US informant. The most relevant part of the Russian leader’s response to the present analysis was that he said, “I don’t know who has been recruited and where, and I don’t care. You know, people at a certain level are guided by the interests of their own country, state and people. I cannot imagine, even theoretically, that a different approach is possible. I simply cannot even imagine it. We always work with representatives of a government, and we try to build positive and trustful interstate relations.”
WikiLeaks has literally never been proven wrong so it should be assumed that their revelation about former President Temer’s past as a US informant was accurate, which President Putin was probably informed of by his intelligence agencies upon his counterpart coming to power. Nevertheless, the Russian leader stayed true to his Great Powers’ centuries-long world-class diplomatic traditions of remaining pragmatically flexible in the face of dramatic events, including those that might at least superficially be considered contrary to its presumed interests such as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif replacing Imran Khan after the latter accused the opposition of being part of a US regime change plot.
It’s unimportant in this context whether one agrees with the former premier’s interpretation of events or not since the significance lies in the fact that Russia responded in a diplomatic way aimed at maintaining the enormous progress in bilateral relations that was achieved by the prior government. That’s why President Putin said in his brief congratulatory note that “Our countries share friendly and constructive relations. I hope that as Prime Minister you will seek to further promote closer multifaceted cooperation between Russia and Pakistan, as well as partnership in the Afghan settlement and countering international terrorism.”
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Any other response would have been counterproductive.
The multipolar flagship projects of the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP) and February 2021’s agreement to build a Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway are mutually beneficial and not aimed against any third party like the US. The same can of course be said for their cooperation on containing Afghan-emanating Hybrid War threats like uncontrollable refugee outflows and terrorism. Regarding the second-mentioned, it’s important to note that their yearly anti-terrorist drills that rotate between one another’s countries began in 2016 under the government that preceded former Prime Minister Khan’s, which shows a continuity of interest across administrations to improve ties with Russia.
So too is it sincerely hoped by Russia that the latest administration will build upon the progress of its predecessors in order to maximize the mutual benefits of their multifaceted cooperation over the past few years. Once again, it’s unimportant in this context however one interprets the latest sequence of political events in Pakistan since Russia has no influence over them and is thus compelled to pragmatically respond to what just happened in the most flexible way that ensures both parties’ objective interests. The Kremlin truly hopes that Prime Minister Sharif will continue the course pioneered by his predecessor and perhaps even take relations to their next level with time.
Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst, radio host, and regular contributor to several online outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. The article has been republished and the views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.