21st century international relations and the idea of diplomacy and alliances is all based on national interest. The present international arena is faced with various crises ranging from Covid-19 to unstable economies to volatile borders. The emergence of China as a global influential power further complicates the situation.
India, one of the major countries in Asia plays a vital role in the international arena and with the recent conflict with China, India needs strong stable relations with the major powers including the United States.
This attitude of India has however compelled Russia who has strained relations with the United States to rearrange its South Asia policy and change its focus towards India’s neighbour Pakistan.
Revival of Russia-Pakistan Relations.
The Russia-Pakistan relationship can be described as a stagnant relationship or working at a snail pace for over decades which has suddenly in recent years changed gears and moved surprisingly faster. After the formation of Pakistan in 1947, the ties between the two nations can be described as distant mainly due to the Cold War and United States interest in Pakistan whereas the Soviet Union favoured India and the role played by Pakistan in the Afghanistan conflict with the Soviet Union. In comparison to India’s relations with Russia the relationship was minuscule in nature and has little but less impact.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the relations remained strained as Russia’s relations with India were improving after the Cold War[i]. The shift in the policies between Russia and Pakistan began with the visit of Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari on May 2011 to Moscow the first of its kind since the year 1974[ii] when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made an official visit to Moscow. This was followed by the Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar visit to Moscow in the following year whose focus was on various issues including the energy trade, defence deals and the revival of Pakistan Steel Mills which was constructed by Russia in 1974[iii]. Another important visit was the visit of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to Islamabad in 2014 where there was a signing of an important military cooperation deal[iv]
This was followed by what can be described as an important juncture in Russia-Pak relations which resulted in an agreement for establishing a gas pipeline connecting Lahore to Karachi[v] with Russia monitoring the entire project. This deal would be the first major pipeline deal between the two nations after a period of 30 years[vi].
Apart from the signing agreements, military exercises were conducted between the two nations and with the inclusion of Pakistan into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2017 there is now a space for the two nations to interact in the regional or organisational level.
What Russia Seeks to gain for the relationship.
Russia has tried to revive itself in the international arena particularly in the West Asia and South Asia, with its involvement in Afghanistan Peace deal (both Afghan Government and Taliban) particularly after United States troops withdrawal after 2014[vii], Russia needs to improve relations with Pakistan, a neighbour of Afghanistan, a beneficial step in the strategic and location aspect.
Pakistan, has lost a major chunk of support from the United States State Department in terms of military assistance and security aid due to its inactiveness towards terrorism[viii] therefore Russia sees a potential market in Pakistan for its sales of arms. Another benefit for Russia is that pipeline deals would be hassle free compared to European options and would also assist in constructing regional pipelines. Russia looking towards Pakistan to counter any evolving relations between India and the United States and would help hinder India’s chances of getting close to the United States[ix].
Should India worry about evolving Russia-Pakistan Relations?
When it comes to a comparative analysis between relations of Russia and the two South Asian nations, India’s relations are far superior as compared to Pakistan. It is highly unlikely that Russia would try to jeopardise the relations with India. India still garners major support from Russia in major issues in the international stage with Russia again backing India for the permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council[x] . With India also being a member of the SCO, Russia require India’s assistance in the regional sphere as Pakistan’s dependence on the United States is not completely over and it may not ensure greater trust from the Russian side.
Russia has also ensured India that though relations with Pakistan have evolved, India doesn’t need worry about the ties and that any relationship between the two nations are under the framework of the SCO[xi]. The moving ahead of the signing of the S-400 defence deal between India and Russia despite threats of sanctions from the United States[xii], their relations have not deteriorated.
Therefore, it can be concluded that the relations between the two nations though evolving would not impact India’s relations with Russia and it remains to be India’s ‘all weather friend’ however, it does act as leverage for Russia to ensure India pivot towards the United States is kept in check. There is no threat from the relations for India as Russia only sees Pakistan as an option for its pivot towards South Asia and not a major gamechanger.
[i] Azizian Rouben & Vasilieff Peter. (2003). “Russia and Pakistan: The Difficult Path to Rapprochement”. Asian Affairs, 30(1), Accessible from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30172570. p 36, Accessed on 18th February 2021.
[iii] Arif Rafiq (2015), Pakistan: Russia’s New Best Friend? The National Interest Accessed on 18th February 2021. Available on Pakistan: Russia’s New Best Friend? | The National Interest.
[iv] Uma Purushothaman (2015) “The Russia-Pakistan Rapprochement: Should India worry?” ORF. Accessible from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305033854_The_Russia-Pakistan_Rapprochement_Should_India_Worry p 4. Accessed on 18th February 2021.
[vi] Abdul Manan (2015) Karachi to Lahore pipeline: Pakistan, Russia seal $2 billion energy deal. Tribune. Accessed on 18th February 2021. Available on Karachi to Lahore pipeline: Pakistan, Russia seal $2 billion energy deal (tribune.com.pk).
[vii] Nivedita Kapoor (2019) Russia-Pakistan Relations and its impact on India. ORF Accessible on https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/russia-pakistan-relations-impact-india-52715/
[viii] Nancy A. Youssef (2018) U.S. Freezes Military Aid to Pakistan, Citing Inadequate Action on Militants. Wall Street Journal. Accessed on 19th February 2021. Available on https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-freezes-military-aid-to-pakistan-citing-inadequate-action-on-militants-1535925068
[ix] Tim Craig (2015) As the US moves closer to India, Pakistan looks to Russia. The Guardian. Accessed on 19th February 2021. Available on https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/03/pakistan-russia-us-obama-india
[x] Abhinav Sahay (2020) Russia backs India for permanent UN Security Council seat during RIC meet. Hindustan Times. Accessed on 19th February 2021. Available on https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/russia-backs-india-for-permanent-un-security-council-seat-during-ric-meet/story-myzQ36XAHhC6kMdOmMpXOM.html
[xi] Hindustan Times (2020) India should not worry about our ties with Pakistan, says Russia. Hindustan Times. Accessed on 19th February 2021. Available on https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-should-not-worry-about-our-ties-with-pak-says-russia/story-T0ZBWTQzgjRARrnwT6jHbM.html.
[xii][xii] Press Trust of India (2021) India’s S-400 deal with Russia may trigger US sanctions, says report. Business Standard. Accessed on 19th February 2021. Available on https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/india-s-s-400-deal-with-russia-may-trigger-us-sanctions-says-report-121010401468_1.html