By Sher Bano*
Despite their long history of troubled relationship that were based on certain dynamics, the bilateral relationship between Russia and Pakistan is seemingly on the path of improvement since the last decade in particular. The relationship has been further solidified through cooperation in the fields of economics, politics, and the military. During the recent visit of Russian Foreign Minister Mr. Sergey Lavrov to Pakistan on April 7th, 2021, both countries agreed on cooperation in diverse fields.
In this regard, the most significant outcome of the visit was an emphasis on cooperation in defence and counterterrorism. According to the statement by the Russian Foreign Minister, Russia is willing to provide Pakistan with special military equipment in order to further build potential in countering terrorism that would be in the interest of the whole region. In addition to this, both the states also agreed on having more joint military drills and exercises.
The interests of Russia and Pakistan are intertwined specifically as far as security is concerned. In the past, both states have suffered a lot due to terrorism; hence it’s high time that they join hands in combating this threat. Since 2019 Pakistan has been taking part in the international ‘multilateral military exercises’ being held in Russia. The most recent military exercise that Pakistan took part was ‘Kavkaz’ held in 2020.
Likewise, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee of Pakistan, General Nadeem Raza during his visit to Moscow in 2020 at the ‘Defence and Security Cooperation Conference’ has also discussed the importance of bilateral military cooperation among the two states in the context of regional security. Hence these joint military exercises between the two states have proven to be a testament to further increase the cooperation on counter-terrorism. In the future, there are prospects that Russia and Pakistan would form a joint mechanism for conducting joint operations and intelligence sharing. They can also create an ‘anti-terrorism superpower alliance’ according to the statement made by the Russian analyst Andrew Korybko during joint military drills DRUZBA in the year 2017. He opined that these joint military drills in the presence of the contemporary challenges and threats can lead towards both states becoming the ‘anti-terrorists superpowers’ and would ultimately enhance regional security. Further, Russia’s offer to provide special military equipment to Pakistan is significant vis-à-vis the enhancement of military cooperation. Since both states can benefit from each other by extending their expertise. This, in turn, would have a profound impact on counter-terrorism efforts at the regional and ultimately at the global level.
In past, both Soviet Union and the Russian Federation had a strict policy against selling weapons to Pakistan. Apparently, this was one of the reasons Pakistan was left with no choice but to rely on Chinese and Western weapons for its security. It was in the year 2014 that both countries had an agreement to cooperate in the defence field and Pakistan was allowed to purchase military equipment from Russia. Pakistan then bought four ‘MI-35’ attack helicopters to be used in counter-terrorism operations. Other than that two ‘MI-171E’ helicopters were also purchased by Pakistan. Later in the year 2015, Pakistan bought ‘Klimov RD-93’ engines for its JF-17 Thunder jets which were previously supplied by China. These acquisitions, though less in number, hold great significance for Pakistan to further enhance its military cooperation with Russia.
During the recent visit of the Russian Foreign minister to Pakistan both the states agreed on conducting more joint military exercises in the future. Such military exchanges and exercises would lead to better operational and tactical coordination between the two states and become the symbol of ’emerging military relations’. Given the complex regional security dynamics, where India being the biggest arms importer in the region, the security of Pakistan is being undermined. In this regard, Russia has emerged as among the countries that hold great strategic significance for Pakistan vis-à-vis its increasing defence needs. For instance, Pakistan is reportedly in talks with Russia to purchase the state-of-the-art Su-35 jets to balance the Indian Rafale jets that it has acquired from France. Moreover, India’s purchase of the Russian S-400 and Russia-India ‘BrahMos’ missile cooperation has been quite concerning for Pakistan. Having stronger military ties with Russia might create a possibility for Pakistan to procure S-400 from Russia in the years to come.
Hence, at the present, it becomes quite apparent that there is not too much being materialized if the bilateral relationship between Russia and Pakistan are to be analyzed. However, both the countries have time and again acknowledged the strategic significance of each other. The enhanced military cooperation between Russia and Pakistan for defensive purposes would help the latter to further ensure its security in the complex regional security environment. Further, both states can work collectively to fight the common menace of terrorism. The improved bilateral ties would not only create a market for Russian military technology and weapons but also allow Russia to import textile and agricultural goods from Pakistan. Lastly, as Russia is the second-largest nuclear weapon state in the world, it could support Pakistan in urging NSG ‘Nuclear Supplier Group’ to have a criteria-based approach for Pakistan’s induction into the group. In this regard, Russia can also provide Pakistan with nuclear equipment and technology that can be used for peaceful purposes.
*The writer is working as a Research Affiliate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.