On the fourth day of the February revolution Czar Nicholas abdicated in favour of his brother after being informed by his advisors that the army could no longer suppress the wave of revolution gathering momentum in the imperial capital of Petrograd. The weight of the crown fell by default on the head of Grand Duke Mikhail, the youngest of the sons of Czar Alexander III, who also abdicated after a day when he saw the army and imperial police defecting to revolutionaries placing his life in danger in the imperial capital. This revolution different from the Bolshevik variant was not planned but precipitated by the Petrograd Soviet comprising of factory workers mostly.
To the world briefly on 23rd and 24th June the shadow of something that can be likened to the events of February 1917 seemed in the offing when a man in charge of a private army openly challenged the Kremlin. The general atmosphere on social media in the west was that of excitement in stark contrast to those dwelling in Moscow and St Petersburg for whom it was business as usual. Just like the Great War in the 20th century, Russia this time was also involved in another, though on a smaller scale, war of attrition and speculations quickly circulated about a possible end to Putin’s government. It was another failure of the western community to gauge the psyche of Russian people and what may be normal for them. Later images went afloat of people taking animated selfies with Wagner tanks and troops in the city of Rostov-on-Don which was to much of the Westerners ‘under siege’ by Prigozhin’s forces. The Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, brother-in-law and advisor to Nicholas II once remarked ‘I have never met anyone who understood the Russians’.
The government of Pakistan refrained from issuing any formal statement on the event which was the most viable option for a country marred in political and economic crises trying to strike a balance in its foreign policy between the west and its rivals. For Pakistan’s geopolitical interests a working relationship with Russia is indispensable while honouring the territorial integrity of Ukraine chartered under international law. With the western sanctions fully in place Russia is looking for alternative markets for its exports which Pakistan could capitalize from, meeting its rising grain and energy demands. A lot has been deliberated about the prospects of economic cooperation between the two countries which both can profit from but there are other avenues that are yet to be explored which can build a lasting relationship. on people-to-people level.
Churchill described Russia that it is ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’. Millions of Pakistani youth have left the country in search of degrees and livelihood to various parts of the world. The Pakistani diaspora in Russia amounts to 1200 according to figures available on the Pakistan Mission to Moscow website. This figure is perhaps the lowest amongst the number of Pakistanis living in other major countries of the world. Historically, due to the Soviet’s controlled economic system, Pakistani workforce rarely turned to the cold and mysterious landmass towards the north. Also because of its relatively lower living standards and the Afghan war, the Soviet Union seemed less appealing compared to the west or the newly oil wealthy middle eastern economies. Today the USSR is no more, and the Russian economy is arguably at its strongest since 1991 despite the overwhelming number of sanctions. Compared to GCC countries where most of the Pakistani labour force is channelled, Russia offers similar if not better monetary incentives as well as a possibility for permanent settlement. Especially with the onset of war in Ukraine, Russian market is in dire need of young labour force for its large industrial hubs. With 12% of Muslim population, Islamophobia is an alien concept for the Russian. A recent statement by Putin on desecration of Koran in Sweden declared it a punishable offense in Russia which was welcomed by the international Muslim community.
Russian higher education system is very robust, and their universities have recently started offering a host of degrees in English language. Russia is a leader in the world IT sector and so many young Pakistani professionals can benefit from their expertise and bring those acquired set of skills and knowledge back home. The cost of studying and living there is more or less equal to that of any private university in Pakistan. The Russian education ministry has plenty of scholarships and tuition waivers to give out to international students in diverse disciplines ranging from natural sciences to philosophy.
In the 70s and 80s when planeloads of Pakistanis went to work in the gulf states, they brought back home a strictly conservative and radical view of Islam which became a contributing factor in the rise of extremism and sectarian intolerance.
A good starting point would be the establishment of Russian cultural and language centres in Pakistani universities and educational exchange programs in collaboration with the Russian Embassy. Promoting cultural and educational interaction would facilitate trade markets in the longer run and stabilize G2G relations. As opposed to cultivating ties largely in the defence sector, engaging in public diplomacy with Russia would also give Pakistan greater leeway in its dealings with the western world.