Home Digital Magazine The State of Russia-Pakistan Relations in Late 2018 – Andrew Korybko

The State of Russia-Pakistan Relations in Late 2018 – Andrew Korybko

The Russian-Pakistani rapprochement is speeding along as it finally diversifies beyond its original purpose and approaches a genuine strategic partnership.

Russia-Pakistan
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Andrew Korybko |

It’s taken a couple of years to happen, but what was at one time regarded as a political fantasy is now in the process of becoming a political reality; the prospect for a genuine Russian-Pakistani Strategic Partnership. It’s difficult to define exactly what constitutes a strategic partnership, though most people know it when they see it, and Russia and Pakistan are finally on their way to eventually reaching one if their relations continue proceeding along their current trajectory. Ties between the two countries started strengthening in the mid-2010s, as they both came to realize that they face similar security threats stemming from Afghanistan, particularly after Da’esh began to appear in the last couple of years.

Their incipient anti-terrorist coordination has since sprouted into a conventional military partnership as evidenced by Russia’s sale of several helicopters to Pakistan and its reported talks to provide more military equipment to its new South Asian partner. The two sides have even carried out joint military drills, named ‘Friendship drills’ with one another every year since 2016, and it was announced at the end of August that Russian Military academies will train Pakistani troop which signifies just how close they’ve come in the past two years alone. This would have been unthinkable a few years earlier, but the world is changing so fast that it’s now nothing out of the ordinary for Russia to supply a radar station to Pakistan for defending its nuclear power plant, as recently happened.

Military ties developing at a slow but comfortable pace are likely to continue improving year after year. Diplomatic and energy relations are excellent and are currently at the forefront of these Great Powers’ rapprochement.

Quite clearly, the conventional military partnership between Russia and Pakistan is flourishing, though it is yet to reach full potential as strategic partners. Moscow is still very sensitive to New Delhi’s concerns. The multi-billion dollar arms trade with India makes it obvious that Russia has a financial incentive to not “rock the boat” and upset its decades-long partner for fear of losing out on its present bonanza. Despite the adverse impact on Pakistan’s security, Russia went ahead with S-400 deal with India. The S-400 is defensive in nature, even if it inevitably boosts the confidence of the Indian Armed Forces to carry out offensive operations against Pakistan in the future. Still, there’s nothing surprising in the fact that Russia sells high-level strategic weaponry to India, and no rational observer ever expected Moscow to pass up on such a profitable deal and implicitly surrender this contract to its American competitors instead.

Russian-Pakistani relations are not “held hostage” by India, but Moscow must be very careful in balancing South Asian affairs, in order to not inadvertently undermine its very profitable relationship with New Delhi, which is already being wooed by the likes of Washington and Tel Aviv, to progressively replace Russian equipment with their own. This power paradox is one of the reasons why Russia started selling military wares to Pakistan in the first place, trying to progressively compensate for future market losses in India. The conclusion reached in this respect is that Russia will probably continue expanding its military partnership with Pakistan but at its presently cautious pace. Should India behave more “aggressively” in trying to “balance” Russia and the West; this results in an even faster loss of market share for Moscow, then it’s conceivable that Russia will accelerate its conventional military partnership with Pakistan.

Read more: World’s longest straight-line sea route connects Pakistan to Russia

Looking beyond the military dimensions of the Russian-Pakistani partnership, both countries are trying to tacitly “normalize” the Taliban’s participation in Afghan peace talks, although Moscow still designates the group as “terrorists”. Russia’s reconceptualization of the on-the ground situation has a lot to do with Da’esh’s creeping expansion into the country and recruitment of Central Asian nationals to wage jihad there, which poses a serious security threat to what some have described as Russia’s “soft underbelly”. The Taliban is hands-down the most effective anti Da’esh fighting force in Afghanistan. Russia has been politically encouraging the Taliban to continue fighting Da’esh, but not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

The fake news fearmongering regarding weapon supplies to Taliban by Russia holds no credible grounds. Given the game-changing effects of Russian-Pakistani partnership in the region, this disinformation campaign depicts nothing but fear the US and its allies have. There’s nothing new in either Russia or Pakistan being victimized by international mainstream media smear campaigns, but their cooperative political engagement with the Taliban represents the first time that both of them have been grouped together on the same side and targeted by external forces for perception management ends. But instead of weakening their rapprochement and making the rest of the region wary about it, this has actually strengthened and validated the future potential for better relations between Russia and Pakistan.

Their incipient anti-terrorist coordination has since sprouted into a conventional military partnership as evidenced by Russia’s sale of several helicopters to Pakistan and its reported talks to provide more military equipment to its new South Asian partner.

The duo upset the US enough to the point where it felt compelled to indirectly act against their partnership. One of the reasons of US concern is the fast developing Russia-Pakistan energy sector collaborations. The two sides recently signed a MoU that will see Russia carry out a feasibility study for building a $10 billion gas pipeline to Pakistan from its Rosneft-controlled offshore fields in Iran. With Saudi Arabia’s inclusion into CPEC as a third strategic partner, Moscow and Riyadh one day building a CPEC-parallel pipeline to China can become a reality. The People’s Republic has already constructed several pipelines from Turkmenistan across Central Asia but needs to obtain reliable access to the Middle East’s energy reserves to become truly independent in the strategic arena.

It’s only speculative at this point, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Russia and Saudi Arabia – which are in the midst of their own rapprochement as it is and already cooperate very closely through the OPEC+ format that revolutionized the global energy industry – were to seriously consider this proposal at some future point in time. Although Russia hasn’t officially endorsed CPEC due to Indian sensitivities, this shouldn’t be interpreted as Moscow rejecting the project. To the contrary, it could still participate in large-scale infrastructure investments in Pakistan as long as it does so without openly affiliating itself with the CPEC brand. As it relates to the prospective joint pipeline with Saudi Arabia via Pakistan to China, a consortium could be created which makes it so that the other countries construct the segment transiting through the Pakistani-administered areas of Kashmir that India claims as its own, thereby avoiding any awkwardness in Russian-Indian relations.

Read more: Indo-Russia S-400 deal: Implications for Pakistan – Shahid Raza

The state-to-state cooperation between Russia and Pakistan in the military, diplomatic, and energy fields is very impressive, but their relationship will never reach the level of a strategic partnership without improving their commercial and civil society engagement with one another. A very promising development took place in mid-September suggesting active efforts are underway to make this happen, and that was the first-ever high-level Pakistani journalist delegation to Russia for a week-long trip. Their meetings with members of the Russian academic and journalist communities– in an attempt to forge new relations on the people-to-people level–were very successful. Much work remains to be done, but the first step was symbolically taken, and new relationships were established as a result of the visit.

One message that was conveyed during that time was that each country’s people needed to be able to interact with one another without the meddling influence of third-party actors, who had previously manipulated the perception of the other in one another’s societies. There is no reason for both the countries to rely on biased Western media sources to read about each other. It’s high time that the two sides directly engage with one another across all informational domains. Since Russia and Pakistan have both been victimized by A very promising development took place in mid-September suggesting active efforts are underway to make this happen, and that was the first-ever high-level Pakistani journalist delegation to Russia for a week-long trip. Their meetings with members of the Russian academic and journalist communities– in an attempt to forge new relations on the people-to-people level–were very successful.

Given the game-changing effects of Russian-Pakistani partnership in the region, this disinformation campaign depicts nothing but fear the US and its allies have.

Much work remains to be done, but the first step was symbolically taken, and new relationships were established as a result of the visit. One message that was conveyed during that time was that each country’s people needed to be able to interact with one another without the meddling influence of third-party actors, who had previously manipulated the perception of the other in one another’s societies. There is no reason for both the countries to rely on biased Western media sources to read about each other. It’s high time that the two sides directly engage with one another across all informational domains. Since Russia and Pakistan have both been victimized by

The creation of new trade avenues between them would, in turn, incentivize entrepreneurs to explore one another’s market potential. The minuscule trade relations between Russia and Pakistan would greatly expand if Afghanistan is stabilized and a northwestern branch of CPEC ran through the country, though that doesn’t look to be likely anytime in the near future. Therefore, it’s possible for them to trade via the Chinese autonomous province of Xinjiang and Central Asia, but even that’s a roundabout of a route that might not be to the liking of many traders. Therefore, an innovative proposal would be to use Indian-built infrastructure along the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) instead.

Read more: What can Pakistan learn from Russian reforms?

To elaborate a bit, trading routes in the modern day are strictly apolitical because their use isn’t exclusive to one or another nationality, meaning that the successful completion of the NSTC could realistically see Russian-Pakistani real-sector economic ties improve in parallel with their Russian-Indian counterpart because there’s nothing preventing Russia or Pakistani companies from using this trans-Iranian corridor as a shortcut to their marketplaces. This strategy wouldn’t be any different than India using Chinese-built infrastructure in East Africa to enhance its economic presence in that region, which is natural for it to do for the aforesaid apolitical reasons concerning trade corridors.

Overall, the state of Russian-Pakistani relations in late 2018 is very positive but a lot of work still needs to be done before they become truly strategic partners. Military ties developing at a slow but comfortable pace are likely to continue improving year after year. Diplomatic and energy relations are excellent and are currently at the forefront of these Great Powers’ rapprochement. The only thing that lacks is better commercial and civil society engagement, though it’s precisely these promising fields that need to be most urgently developed. They luckily hold a lot of promise, though, so it’s conceivable that a Russian-Pakistani Strategic Partnership might finally come into force by the end of Prime Minister Khan’s first term.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.

Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, radio host, and regular contributor to several online outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. His other areas of focus include tactics of regime change, color revolutions and unconventional warfare used across the world. His book, “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change”, extensively analyzes the situations in Syria and Ukraine and claims to prove that they represent a new model of strategic warfare being waged by the US.


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