Russia’s Search For A New Ground In Pakistan – Analysis


By Adarsh Vijay*

Russia is all set to rebuild its relations with Pakistan, a move that could be a game-changer for both Pakistan and South Asia. Given the dynamic strategic parameters in South Asia and a policy transition that might overcome the long drawn US-Russia Cold War rivalry that had also disconnected Russia from Pakistan, Moscow is now busy resetting the balance of power in South Asia. What induces this new attitude? Does the move lead to derail the Russian proximity with India? Is Moscow making a wrong choice?

Pakistan: Russia’s Emerging Imperative

The Russian experiment with Pakistan is purely a product of Moscow’s emerging strategic calculus. Moscow’s move could also be read as a sign of proscribing the growing rapprochement between Washington and New Delhi. Through this move, Kremlin seems to be signaling to India to reconsider its increasing camaraderie with the US and to re-tilt relations in Russia’s favour.

Moscow’s refusal to call off its first-ever bilateral military exercise with Pakistan on India’s request, following the terrorist attack on the military base in Uri in September 2016, revealed the change in Moscow’s psyche. In another instance of this change, at the Heart of Asia conference held in Amritsar, India, on 3 and 4 December 2016, the Russian Envoy disapproved of branding Pakistan as a “terrorism-sponsoring state.” Similarly at the October 2016 BRICS Summit in Goa, India, Russian President Vladimir Putin made no mention of Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism which India had specifically emphasised upon at the meeting.

However, Moscow’s policy is also indicative of the vitality it associates to Islamabad’s cooperation in the efforts to stabilise Afghanistan. Kabul’s stability is an add-on to peace in Central Asia. Russia’s hunt for sprawling markets in the region to sell Russian-manufactured goods is threatened by the political instability and the dangerous security situation in Afghanistan. While Pakistan will play an indispensable role in the Afghan peace process, Russia can also take Pakistan’s help to leverage its commercial linkages in the region in the long run.

Is Moscow at Cross-purposes with New Delhi?

Russia is wise enough not to keep India in abeyance. Yet, the rapprochement between Moscow and Islamabad will create apprehensions for New Delhi. However, Russia remains India’s largest arms supplier and so long as this relationship thrives, Russo-Indian ties might still remain strong. The recently concluded Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between Washington and New Delhi has been a wake-up call for Moscow. The agreement gives the US access to some of India’s military facilities, including air and sea port establishments, for refueling and replenishment to meet logistical needs. It similarly gives the Indian military access to some US military facilities for the same purpose. To Kremlin, the LEMOA with India reflects the US’ intentions for containing both Russia and China in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

In a hypothetical scenario in which India moves into the American sphere of influence and distances itself from Russia, it would be critical for Moscow to ensure a strong foothold in the IOR. The new template has invoked a sense of caution for New Delhi. Moscow is clear about the fact that the Russian proximity with Pakistan would serve an alarm for India. This new strategic layout might synergise the traditional amity between India and Russia, which obviously realigns US-India relations.

Pakistan: The Emerging Balancer?

Pakistan’s leverage in South Asia grows through its “all-weather friendship” with China and ties with the US, and now with the Russian rapprochement. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has offered Pakistan a strong economic and political fall-back in the event of deteriorating relations with the US.

Russia is likely to empower Pakistan with a higher degree of strategic autonomy in its relations than the US does. Apart from the recent joint military exercises, Islamabad had also been working on finalising the procurement of Su-35 aircrafts from Moscow. Interestingly, a Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation statement denied any negotiations in this direction. In spite of this setback, Islamabad managed to clinch the deal for the delivery of four Mi-35 attack helicopters from Moscow. Although Russia has dismissed claims of secret negotiations with Pakistan for joining the CPEC, Russia would still be interested in accessing the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, given that Russia is mostly surrounded by cold waters. Kremlin’s interest in linking the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) project with the Chinese Silk Road was misinterpreted as Russia’s claim to be part of the CPEC. It is to be seen whether the ‘rumours’ about the Russian interest and stakes in the economic corridor would indeed materialise.

The complex setting in which South Asia operates makes this evolving Russia-Pakistan relationship an unpredictable one. The US President-elect, Donald Trump, has already hinted at a pro-Russian attitude and the new US administration might even soften Moscow’s perception of the US-India relations. Nonetheless, it is perhaps premature to analyse the exact nature of the emerging Russian endeavours in Pakistan and their repercussions. Even then, it would only be a relief for New Delhi if Islamabad does not indeed substitute it as Moscow’s South Asian friend.

* Adarsh Vijay
Postgraduate Student, Madras Christian College, Chennai

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

6 thoughts on “Russia’s Search For A New Ground In Pakistan – Analysis

  • December 27, 2016 at 5:38 am

    I think the author has the answer to his questions but like most indians these days, ignores it because it doesn’t suit his notional perspective. For one, India is Russia’s largest Arms buyer so as long as the orders role in India will enjoy some level of indulgence in the short term but the US pivot bodes ill for this long term . Second, Russia has wanted access to the Arabian Sea since the days of Great Game and in Pakistan’s overture sees it finally happening. Third, Russia sees value in the Chinese OBOR plan and wants to capitalize on it sooner rather than later. In response, India has no compelling counter narrative nor plan except for some half baked overtures to regional states that are at best reactive in nature. Concurrently,india has entered a phase in its geopolitical engagements where unilateral self interest is its new goal. In this self delusion, it has created a self reinforcing narrative where everything starts and ends with Indian interests. Thus it reacts with incredulity when other nations look at their own interests before India’s.

    It appears a more pragmatic and accommodative coarse correction is the need of the hour but this may not be possible while India is drunk with the Modi spirit of ‘enlightened’ self interest.

  • December 27, 2016 at 6:54 am

    Every players in South Asia & Indian Ocean looking to secure their own interests….Non has a clear vision because it is a troubled water….anyone has a slight vision can win by coordinating with others….but it wont be successful if they don’t have stamina to resist the element of surprises. there will be too many of surprises awaiting to see…Don’t conclude it very early. What you need the stamina to resist the element of surprises and survive!

  • December 27, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    An informed citizen. I rarely agree with people’s comments posted but your comment is spot on! Good analysis. Modi has decided to align with USA which has pushed Russia closer to thr already strong partnership between Pakistan China. So it may very well be, Russia Iran for Eurasia. China Pakistan for South and Central Asia. And India may join later on. Mr modi has been a blessing in disguise for Pakistan. Modi has done to India what zia ul haq did to Pakistan 40 years ago. Now Pakistan is going the other way and India seems bent on taking Pakistans place as Americas new junior defense partner.

  • December 28, 2016 at 2:34 am

    Russia is a spent force… already half the economic size of India and will be relegated to one-tenth the size of India by 2040.
    India needs to rapidly build its relationship with US, Japan and Australia in the Indo-Pacific region as Russia gets close to China and its allies in the region.
    The economic and strategic benefits for India by aligning itself with US, Europe, Japan, etc is far greater than remaining stuck to Russia while it cozies-up with China which is an adversary to India.

  • December 28, 2016 at 8:28 am

    Pakistan made a terrible mistake of aligning with the USA, resulting in its involvement with Afghanistan. Now, with more stable democratic governments in place, Pakistan seems to be on the path to redemption. Russia has realized this and is seeing a future partner. India on the other hand, is drifting towards the USA and repeating the mistake that Pakistan made some fifty years back.

  • January 1, 2017 at 7:00 am

    in my view i don’t see Russia will take a risk to lose a key growing market and future biggest importer of oil like India. thats why Putin and modi got involved personally in essar-Rosneft deal.According to few sources in Saudi the Saudi Aramco was almost there to finalise the deal.It was CEO igor sechin who came personally to new Delhi to start negotiations on behalf of Putin.We all know how deperately oil companies are eager to capture Indian market. secondly india has very big potential economically. what pakistan is going to offer Russia except CPEC and warm waters or few defence deals of million dollars that is the question.

    but still there is lot of scope for Mr Modi to look into this matter and handle the situation delicately,becasue next year Russo-India friendship will complete 70 years of it friendship.
    If we take the closer look at the USA and russian economies both are looking out to capture major arms importers like India and pakistan to boost their own economies by selling arms to both India and Pakistan. This is upto india and pakistan to start bilateral talks again and calm down the tensions between their borders as soon as possible. we must see what happened with Iraq and iran and how USA made huge business to boost their own economy by selling arms to both countries .


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