THE breakup of the Soviet Union should not be taken to underestimate Russia’s economic power and its geopolitical influence. Its resources and high scientific technological assets are still intact and in order to achieve its financial gains, Russia is seeking new partners in Asia. It is said that 21st century is Asian century and Asia will become the engine of global economic growth. Two Asian giants, Russia and China, appear as influential states in Asian politics.
It is an open secret that Russia and Pakistan‘s relations have been stained by historical slip-ups. Our neighbours had played a crucial role in alienating Pakistan from Russia. It is also evident from historical records that in South Asia, only India has remained largest recipient of Russian military equipment. However, India’s recent defence deal with the US depicts its new alignment of military ties. This move has triggered Russia to warm up its relations with Pakistan.
Moreover, in Europe, Russia is enmeshed with the West over the issue of Ukraine. The Western sanctions on Russia, in the wake of the Crimean accession, pushed it to reduce its reliance on Europe and to shift towards Asia. In other words it can be said that the EU-NATO alliance against Russia has been instrumental in steering Moscow closer to Asian states. Now, it is in Russia’s interests to prove that isolation does not surround it and new actors are willing to establish relations.
In Asia, where huge opportunities and markets are flourishing, Pakistan appears a pivotal state, its geopolitical situation is making it important for Central, South, East and West Asian States. Despite its structural problems, Pakistan is a growing economy and seeking reliable partners in economic and defence sectors. Hence, these changing regional and international dynamics have rendered new opportunities to Moscow. Therefore, Russia no longer sees any impediments to establishing a strategic relationship with Pakistan.
In the post 9/11 era Moscow-Islamabad relations began to grow and gradually both came closer to each other to thwart the threat of terrorism by joining Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Last year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Russia to attend summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and met President Vladimir Putin for the first time and set forth for cooperative agreements. Recently, significant steps have been taken signalling improvement in bilateral relations.
Considerably, Russia has entered into a defence cooperation agreement with Pakistan. Moscow has lifted self-imposed embargo on arms sale to Pakistan and signed deals in defence and energy sectors. A landmark military agreement has been signed by Moscow and Islamabad which allows exchange of information on politico-military issues, collaboration in counter terrorism and initiating businesses with each other. In August 2015, a defence deal between the two countries shows that bitter past is fading away and it ensures an opportunity for Pakistan, keen to modernization, to get defence equipment from Russia. Russia sold four Mi-35 helicopters (yet to deliver) to Pakistan and a sale of Sukhoi Su 35- fighter planes is also reserved.
The partnership goes beyond military deal and cooperation in energy and economic sectors is also evident in strengthening ties between two. It is widely expected that Russia will help Pakistan to solve energy crisis, in this regard an agreement has been signed in which Russia shall lend $2 billion (aprox.) for the construction of a pipeline to carry Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from Karachi to Lahore. Besides, an invitation has been extended from Islamabad to Moscow for the inauguration of North-South gas pipeline. CPEC is another rewarding project which is not only meant for China and Pakistan but it is going to benefit all regions. Hence, Russia’s investment in this project will improve regional economic and security situation and foundation of regional bloc could be the end result.
The instability in Afghanistan is compelling two sides to move beyond their wobbled past. It is widely believed that spillover effects of terrorism could invite a lot of trouble for Russia in its backyard. Hence, the vital interest of Russia, Pakistan and China is to work together in the field of security and economy. Most of the surrounding states of Afghanistan, including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan are great target of terrorist activities. The dire need of time is to strengthen Asian security architecture to speed up economic activities. Indeed, the SCO is already in place in strengthening economic and security bonds between two states.
It is evident that Islamabad and Moscow are keen to broaden its economic and security ties. The improvements in Pak-Russia relations in economic, defence and energy sectors illuminating that ice is melting. Russia has realized the potential of Pakistan and start looking to Pakistan as an investment platform. Moreover, to fight war against Terrorism, Pakistan cannot be ignored as Kremlin is concerned with the threat of spillover violence emanating from Afghanistan. However, in order to manage bitter past, Moscow and Islamabad must go for cultural contacts and fruitful dialogues.
— The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad.