Russia’s Calibrated Strategic Pivot To Pakistan – Analysis

By Dr Subhash Kapila*

Russia’s strategic pivot to Pakistan is not an aberration arising from India’s growing proximity to the United States but a well calibrated long-term strategic gamble that Russia has resorted to, hoping that in concert with China’s over-sized strategic investments in Pakistan, strategic and economic dividends could accrue to Russia also.

This becomes abundantly discernible from a lengthy article in a premier Russian think-tank by Andrew Korybko entitled “Pakistan is the ‘Zipper’ of Pan-Eurasian Integration” published on September 15, 2015. In this lengthy article the author covers in two parts the geoeconomics and geopolitics gains that are likely to accrue to Russia of its geostrategic reach to Pakistan. In the second part, the author dwells in fair detail on the analysis of Russia’s imperatives to move strategically closer to Pakistan.

It is not the intention in this Paper to dissect each and every facet that the Russian author advances in support of Russia’s strategic pivot to Pakistan. It would suffice to quote excerpts from his lengthy article to give the Indian policy establishment and the strategic community the thinking that has gone into Russia’s strategic pivot to Pakistan in 2015, though it had been in the works for nearly a decade.

The excerpts quoted verbatim below make interesting reading:

  • “Russia recognises Pakistan’s prime potential and has thus manoeuvred to rapidly increase its full-spectrum relations with the South Asian gatekeeper”. ( emphasis mine; mark the word ‘manoeuvred’)
  • Russia’s overarching goal, as it is with all of its partners today, nowadays, is to provide a non-provocative balancing component to buffet Pakistan’s political position and assist with its peaceful integration into the multi-polar Eurasian framework being constructed by the Russia-China Strategic Partnership.
  • Pakistan is uniquely placed to ‘zip together’ a variety of economic blocs, taking advantage of both its convenient geography and China’s grand investment vision to make it happen”.

One does not to have to read between the lines or implicit impulses that went into Russia’s strategic gamble to set aside India as the fulcrum of Russia’s strategic formulations. Russia and China certainly cannot balance United States over Pakistan; hence what is being alluded to above in terms of “buffet Pakistan’s political position” is obviously aimed at India.

Remarkably, Pakistan which was at the forefront of spearheading the military exit of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan by using Islamic Jihadi militias emerges in 2015 in Russian perceptions as the “South Asian Gatekeeper”. This is not written out of any Indian pique on Russian change of strategic priorities, but to highlight the strategic fickleness of both Russia and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s positioning in the China-Russia Strategic Partnership as an essential component needs to be noted by Indian policy establishment. The strategic connotations are many and detrimental to Indian security.

Writing on the Russian-India Strategic Partnership, the author makes the following observations:

  • “By 2015, this process had progressed to the point that Pakistan is a stalwart ally, and India is a civilsational pole balancing between United States and Russia”.
  • “The thinking goes that if Russia were to compensate for its diplomatic “blind-spot’ with Pakistan and reinvigorate the bilateral relationship with Islamabad, then it could recover the role that it plays between India and China in also helping to balance the tensions between India and Pakistan”.
  • Understanding the pivotal importance of Pakistan and also eager to build a foundation of political trust with its leadership so as to better assist the managing Pakistan-India tensions, Moscow took the bold step in reaching to Islamabad and soliciting a strategic partnership”.

Please note that in Russian perceptions in 2015 Pakistan is perceived as a “stalwart ally” and India stands reduced to a “civilsational pole balancing between United States and Russia”.

Also noteworthy is that it was Russia which solicited a strategic partnership with Pakistan and the connotation here is intriguing. What pressures impelled Russia to “Solicit” a strategic partnership with Pakistan?

Further, has India requested Russia to manage India-Pakistan tensions? Or Russia has self-appointed itself? Or is it China that has prevailed over Russia to do so, aware of the fact that India would never cede that role to China?

These are questions which can best be deciphered by India’s National Security Adviser.

Contextual Comments on the Russian Article

Since the Founder of this think-tank is shown as the Russian President, it would be fair to assume that the author of the above article is echoing Russian official thinking on Russia’s strategic pivot to Pakistan in 2015.

Russia has evidently gambled heavily on this strategic pivot to Pakistan as the author himself acknowledges that both India and the United States are in a position to impede the successful outcome of the Russian formulation of ‘Pakistan is the Zipper of Pan Eurasian Integration”.

In this gamble, Russia stands to lose heavily if its gamble on Pakistan does not pay the intended dividend and Russia more importantly loses India as a trusted regional power ally.

That China has been able to virtually buy-into Russian strategic thinking was starkly evident to me two years back when invited to present a Paper at an International Conference in Moscow, virtually all the Papers presented by eminent Russian academics and scholars the Papier’s were all heavily slanted to Chinese formulations.

For India’s policy establishment, the challenge now is to divest themselves from mental mind-sets of multipolarity in international relations, as Russia and China are no longer separate ‘poles’ but a China-led ‘China-Russia Strategic Bloc’ whose strategic aims impinge on India’s national security interests.

Sometime back I had written that India should not get drawn into any China-Centric or China-led regional or international organisations. It is not in India’s strategic interests and I strongly maintain it. Let India not delude itself that China in the coming decades will ever adopt friendly stances towards India. Russia’s new found convergence with China on Pakistan, virtually seconding China’s policy formulations on Pakistan is a pointer.

*Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at [email protected]


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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

4 thoughts on “Russia’s Calibrated Strategic Pivot To Pakistan – Analysis

  • September 23, 2015 at 12:34 am
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    “In this gamble, Russia stands to lose heavily if its gamble on Pakistan does not pay the intended dividend and Russia more importantly loses India as a trusted regional power ally”.Well that’s just the Author trying to have his cake and eat it too. Why should Russia dance to an Indian tune when the latter seems to have just developed a taste for Country Western music? All strategic pivots are gambles in one sense or the other. You try and balance the risk the best you can. Russia has more to gain because the Economic and Trade benefits outweigh the risk in its opinion. That also comes from a sense of assurance that China will invest it its own strategic future regionally, somethings its done throughout history. India seems the odd man out this time. Not having the economic, political or strategic leverage to influence either the west or the east. Hence its dilemma and feeling of alienation.

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  • September 24, 2015 at 3:02 pm
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    Sir
    It won’t be Mikhail Gorbachev but President Putin who will be held by history for having sold the soul of Soviet Union to the “South Asian Gatekeeper” which was responsible for disintegration of that great nation; for what – to seat in the lap of China (become UK to US), for generations till Russians find themselves a great leader! Russia “Solicits” Pakistan to zip up its pants! Has Russia grown so weak that it has to look for help from someone who survives on doles from IMF, US and China through cunning acts? India has stood by Russia through raining days as Russia did in past; so why Russia is walking away? Has its thinkers forgotten that Kashmir is Indian territory legal merged into Indian Union and there is no scope for any meditation between its ‘old and trusted’ ally and new found ally – is it Russia’s ‘stalwart ally’ or Chinese ally? Out of the net earnings of $ 50 billion from defence export last year for Russia, $ 10 billion was from India. With rising defence budget of India, is Russian Defence industry mafia out of mind to let golden geese walk away! Is it great game once again for Afghanistan (trillions of minerals and Eurasian roundabout) with Russia-China-Pakistan on one side and rest on the other end?
    Thanks

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  • September 24, 2015 at 11:15 pm
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    In the rapidly changing climate of strategic affiliations its natural for Russia to side with Pakistan now that its traditional ally (india) is backstabbing by reaching over to the Americans .Pakistan on the other hand is desperate to end US dictation so its just a “enemy of an enemy is a friend “kinda thing. plus China is solidifying her position in Pakistan further ,so good news for pakistan rest of the world is more interested in a stable pakistan than pakistanis themselves. lol

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  • February 13, 2016 at 10:45 am
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    let’s think about this logically. What if India forms a strategic alliance with Russia-China-Pakistan? Think of this – technically these countries have half of Humanity living in them. If they integrate their economies like EU and then have a common currency these 4 countries can dominate this planet economically and Militarily.

    This makes more sense to me than India siding with the West and opening itself to risk of wars.

    Reply

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