Home News Analysis Pak-Russia Joint Military Drills, Defense Cooperation & CPEC

Pak-Russia Joint Military Drills, Defense Cooperation & CPEC

Under the banner of “Friendship 2019”, the armed forces of Russia and Pakistan are all set to hold joint military drills on Russian soil in October. Analysts, Jan Achakzai and Zaid Hamid underscore that Pakistan offers immense geo-strategic opportunities to Moscow, and Russia has a keen interest in Balochistan and CPEC

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The armed forces of Russia and Pakistan have agreed to hold joint military drills, under the banner of “Friendship-2019”, to be held on Russian territory in October. The announcement came from the Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday, informing that representatives from the two countries met to discuss the final planning of the exercise.

The press release issued by the Russian Ministry of Defence read, “The final planning conference of representatives of the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on the preparation and conduct of Friendship 2019 joint Russian-Pakistani exercise of special units was held on the territory of the Southern Military District in Krasnodar Krai.”

A delegation from Pakistan was received by the Russian military discussion, and a meeting was held to overview the preparations and conduct of the joint military drills, alongside the composition of forces, and armament of the armed forces from the two countries.

Russian desire to join the CPEC and re-exert its influence in Central Asia and Afghanistan makes it critical for Moscow to build its relations with Islamabad.

The delegation of the Pakistan Army was also taken to the location chosen for the joint military exercise, the Molkino combined-arms training ground. The press release noted, “According to the plan, mixed special units consisting of Russian and Pakistani military personnel will practice combat training tasks using Russian hardware.”

It further added, “The joint exercise will be held with to exchange experience between military personnel, developing and strengthening military and military-technical cooperation between the two countries.”

The press release noted that at least 50 servicemen from the Russian special forces unit of the 49th combined-arms of the Southern Military discuss will participate in the military exercise.

Pak-Russia Defense Ties

Pak-military defense cooperation has been the subject of international discourse and military engagements since the beginning of this year as the efforts of defense engagement have intensified.

Read more: Pakistan and Russia: New military alliance?

Earlier this month, on 2nd July, Commander in Chief of Russian Ground Forces, General Oleg Salyukov, called upon Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Head Quarters (GHQ).

The two military generals discussed matters related to intensifying security and training cooperation, and undertook a discussion on implementing measures to further expand joint military ties between the Pakistan and Russia armies.

A press release issued by the ISPR noted, “COAS said that cooperation between both countries will not only help in improving peace and stability in the region, but will also usher economic prosperity. Pakistan does not believe in zero sum games but rather, integration and cooperation.”

Anti-US Asian Power Bloc 

Speaking to Global Village Space, Zaid Zaman Hamid, Afghan war veteran and prominent defense analyst, shed light on the impact of Pak-Russia defense engagement on geo-strategic dynamics across the region, and the international arena.

The recent visit of the Russian Chief of Army Staff to Pakistan was hugely significant. Both countries have reached an understanding of the scope and limits of defence relations.

Zaid Hamid observed, “An anti-US Asian power bloc is now a reality. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is the new counter balance to an aging NATO and crumbling European Union (EU).”

The defense analyst continued, “In the new power equation, both Pakistan and Russia see a great opportunity to bury the past hostility and build a strategic partnership for 21st century.”

Underscoring Moscow’s desire to benefit from the wide-ranging economic advantages of CPEC, Hamid explained, “Russian desire to join the CPEC and re-exert its influence in Central Asia and Afghanistan makes it critical for Moscow to build its relations with Islamabad.”

Zaid Hamid explained that albeit at a slow pace, the two countries are progressing towards building diplomatic and military ties and overcoming the mistrust of the cold war days.

Read more: Pakistan military sets high standards for other institutions to follow

He noted, “Both sides are taking small but sure steps, coming close to each other slowly. There is a huge baggage of history between the two and US still exert huge influence in Pakistan, but there is a real understanding in Pakistan’s military establishment that a strategic partnerships with Russia is not just necessary but inevitable. Russians seem to agree as well.”

Defense & Strategic Relations

Speaking to Global Village Space, renowned geo-strategic analyst Jan Achakzai underscored that Pakistan and Russia have “found common ground on many strategic and geo-political issues while expanding relations from military to economic to cultural aspects of bilateral ties.”

The Baloch political analyst noted, “Starting from defence and strategic relations, Pakistani and Russian Military-to-military interactions have increased manifold. Though traditionally Moscow has stronger defence ties with India and supplied weapons to Delhi, for the first, Islamabad has received offers of light and heavy weaponry to meet the need of Pakistan army.”

Gwadar provides the shortest route to Russia to warm water. It has only two routes to access Middle East and beyond, first is Iran and the second, is Gwadar—Balochistan.

Achakzai continued, “The recent visit of the Russian Chief of Army Staff to Pakistan was hugely significant. Both countries have reached an understanding of the scope and limits of defence relations: one offer was to boost Pakistan’s surface to air defence capability through a creative mechanism and in a manner that could not alarm Indian sensitivity given Delhi is a bigger arms market for Russia.”

Jan Achakzai revealed that Moscow has also offered to provide “training on naval warfare, naval technical and tactics; officers exchange programmes like war courses, staff courses etc.”

Russia’s keen Interest in CPEC

Jan Achakzai, Chairman of the Center for Geo-Politics and Balochistan, noted that Russia has a keen interest in the ongoing developments in Balochistan and the regional game-changer that is CPEC.

Achakzai explained, “Russia has shown keen interest in Balochistan and agreed to invest in the emerging energy, economic and logistical corridor with only one caveat—not to use the word “CPEC” so as not to piss India off. This convergence is of great significance.

Read more: Balochistan and its fate in CPEC

Explaining Gwadar’s importance for Russia, Achakzai noted, “Gwadar provides the shortest route to Russia to warm water. It has only two routes to access Middle East and beyond, first is Iran and the second, is Gwadar—Balochistan. Since India has shunned BRI and CPEC, Russia has already embraced the BRI and now wants to integrate with the CPEC.”

Citing an example of Moscow’s support to Pakistan in February, Achakzai noted, “Of recently, Russia out rightly backed Pakistan when Islamabad’s relations deteriorated with Iran over a terrorist incident. It was Moscow which warned Iran and tiny Gulf state of Oman not to undermine the strategic environment in Pakistan’s soft belly—Balochistan.”

Jan Achakzai, geo-strategic analyst with close ties in diplomatic circles, further divulged, “The message had been conveyed at highest level in Moscow to Iranian Ambassador saying “we were shocked on the spat between Iran and Pakistan on the incident”. Moscow was indirectly playing host and resolving issues between Iran and Pakistan.

Moscow no longer views the Taliban as a threat to its security and stability. Pakistan fully backed Moscow Intra-Afghan Dialogue and urged the US to take Russia and China on board on Afghanistan.

Achakzai continued, “A Pakistan’s delegation led by Gen Ikram ul Haq attended the Bishkek  conference in April 2019, (i.e., one security talking point and agenda item between Pakistan and Russia was Omara as the Iranian delegation was also invited to join in).”

Moscow against Indian Agendas 

Achakzai underscored that given its strategic interests in Balochistan and CPEC, Moscow is keen to convey its concerns, not only to Iran, but to New Delhi as well.

The Baloch analyst noted, “On Balochistan, Moscow was also keen to underline its concern with even India. After surge in terrorist activities in the province supported by Delhi from Afghanistan and Iran, Russia clearly told Indians that Moscow supported Delhi on Pulwama incident and offered to rescue them through mediation but Russia’s stakes in Balochistan have gone up manifold due to CPEC. “We  fought for warm waters under USSR now we are getting access for free through CPEC” why would one  undermine CPEC?” was the gist of the stern message.”

Jan Achakzai noted that the Russian President Vladimir Putin had exerted pressure on New Delhi to de-escalate tensions in the wake of the military confrontation between India and Pakistan after the false-flag Pulwama attack.

Read more: Pakistan must ‘save’ CPEC before its too late

He observed, “The latest manifestation of closeness of ties between the two countries was following the standoff between India and Pakistan on Balakot incident. Behind the scene, Russian President Putin put pressure on Delhi to de-escalate, offered mediation and refused to acknowledge India’s right to reply after Pulwama (meaning attacking Pakistan) like the US backed India.”

Achakzai added, “Moscow was very much conspicuous in reducing tension between Islamabad and Delhi- this was an episode which underlined the burgeoning relations of Russia and Pakistan.”

Underscoring the Pak-Russia cooperation with regards to the Afghan peace process, Achakzai stated, “Unlike in the past, Russia and Pakistan have forged deep understanding on Afghanistan. Moscow no longer views the Taliban as a threat to its security and stability. Pakistan fully backed Moscow Intra-Afghan Dialogue and urged the US to take Russia and China on board on Afghanistan. This is why unlike Syria, Afghanistan has witnessed a geo-political cooperation rather than competition between Moscow and the US, courtesy Pakistani efforts.”

Read more: Russia to hold biggest military drills since Cold War

Achakzai noted that apart from energy and economic cooperation, Moscow also looking at other options, which are based “on pattern of Chinese Language Center, Russia is keen to foster cultural ties with Pakistan and establish a Russian Language Centre.”

Jan Achakzai concluded, “The latest drills are but a small piece of the jigsaw encompassing many aspects of bilateral relations of the two countries.”

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