Pakistan - Russia bilateral relations: Comprehensive review by Russian Analyst

Pakistan - Russia bilateral relations: Comprehensive review by Russian Analyst

Geopolitica.Ru is republishing the extensive interview on Russian-Pakistani relations that Andrew Korybko gave exclusively to Mr. Muhammad Taimur Khan of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI), and which was published in the July 2017 edition of The Diplomatic Insight.

1. A great shift has been witnessed in Pakistan-Russia relations lately. In your opinion, what are the reasons behind this change in the attitude of both the countries towards each other (given the soured relations between both countries in the past)?

Russian strategists and decision makers conceptualize their country’s 21st-century geostrategic role as being the supreme balancing force in the Eurasian supercontinent, owing both to Russia’s opportune position on the landmass and its history of leadership. This role can’t be fulfilled if Russia has problems with any of its counterparts in Eurasia, hence the urgent need to rectify any existing issues and enter into rapprochements with those parties. It certainly helps if there’s an overlap of contemporary interest in doing so, such as there is with Pakistan nowadays concerning the War on Afghanistan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the latter of which is understood more broadly by Russia as advancing the trend of Eurasian integration and is therefore in alignment with the country’s grand strategy.

To delve more deeply into the case of Russian-Pakistani relations, it must be understood that Moscow’s envisioned balancing role forms the guiding philosophy behind all of its outreaches towards Islamabad, and that all other convergences of interest proceed from there. Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS) has dangerously moved into Afghanistan over the past couple of years, and this presents a pressing threat to the security of the Central Asian Republics, some of whom have mutual defense agreements with Russia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan through the CSTO) or are part of the same general integration organization (all of the aforementioned plus Uzbekistan as per the SCO).

Russia fears being drawn into a Central Asian anti-terrorist quagmire and would prefer to proactively defeat terrorism in Afghanistan through the use of secondary forces, whether the Kabul government or more recently the interest in passively supporting the Taliban in this capacity. The costs of losing the anti-terrorist struggle in Afghanistan would be enormous for Russia, since the consequent destabilization of the Central Asian Republics would trigger an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the region which would likely manifest itself as a human tidal wave of refugees flooding over Russia’s largely unprotected steppe-Siberian border with Kazakhstan. For all intents and purposes, this could end up dwarfing the recent migrant crisis from the Mideast to Europe, and the strategic damage that this could wreak on Russia justifies describing the process in Harvard researcher Kelly M. Greenhill’s terms as “Weapons of Mass Migration”.

Therefore, it is of time-sensitive necessity for Russia to engage with Pakistan in cooperatively working towards a political solution to the War on Afghanistan, understanding that Islamabad must be an inseparable part of any conflict resolution process there. Moreover, the entrance of Daesh to the Afghan battlefield has completely changed Russia’s calculations towards that conflict and has encouraged it to see the pragmatism of Pakistan’s long-held position that the Taliban are effective anti-terrorist fighters which must be incorporated into any eventual solution to the war. All in all, the Afghan conundrum takes precedence in inspiring the Russian-Pakistani rapprochement and determining the contours of their future engagement, but there’s also another factor which must be included in the analysis as well, and that’s the premier role that the South Asian state is slated to play in the future of Eurasian integration.

CPEC has the very real potential of turning Pakistan into the zipper of pan-Eurasian integration because of the prospects that it holds for linking together China, the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAU), Iran, and SAARC, and furthermore it’s the flagship program of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) global vision of New Silk Road connectivity. OBOR has full strategic complementarity with the EAU and SCO, and it represents the practical hard infrastructural manifestation of Russia’s own Eurasian integration vision. Although CPEC won’t directly run through Russian territory, there’s the possibility that branch routes could be extended through Xinjiang to Central Asia and beyond in order to eventually connect to Moscow. Also, Russia’s “Pivot/Rebalancing To Asia” could see the Xinjiang-bordering Siberian territory of the Altai Republic connected to CPEC through a northern-focused branch route as well. This could help Russia develop its Asian/Siberian region by giving the largely landlocked resource-rich area access to the global marketplace.

To wrap it all up, Russia’s grand strategic vision of becoming the supreme balancing force in the Eurasian supercontinent motivated its leadership to look beyond its historical issues with Pakistan and bravely commence a game-changing and comprehensive rapprochement with Islamabad in order to tackle the common challenge of the War on Afghanistan (particularly after Daesh’s entrance to the battlespace) and work together in a win-win partnership through CPEC.

2. Does Russia have a comprehensive policy towards South Asia, as it has remained more country-specific in the past?

At this moment in time, Russia’s foreign policy in general is undergoing a transformation as Moscow transitions to a new paradigm of conducting its International Relations, which as described in the previous answer, is the fulfilment of what its leadership believes to be the country’s historic role in balancing affairs all across Eurasia. This can’t be accomplished if Russia shows partiality towards one or another state in a given region, which is why it’s been diversifying its relations in South Asia all across the board and with every single actor. In view of this, it doesn’t yet seem as though Russia has formulated a comprehensive policy for the entire region, though it does by every indication look to be crafting one right now.

Most directly pertinent to Pakistan is Moscow’s relations with Islamabad and New Delhi, both of which have experienced a notable change over the past couple of years. Russia’s balancing strategy isn’t directed against anyone, nor is it meant to be for anyone’s benefit either. Rather, it attempts to be just that – balancing, or finding equilibrium – in order to put Russia in the position to ensure stability in the various regions of Eurasia, in this case South Asia. It’s pertinent to compare Russia’s policy to India’s heralded one of “multi-alignment”, though unlike how the latter hides behind this slogan to overtly side with the US against China, Moscow has no such intentions whatsoever and is actually practicing the said policy as it’s supposed to be. The same also goes for Pakistan, which has a history of seeking diverse relationships in order to balance between multiple actors and especially Great Powers.

Because of Russia’s balancing vision, it understandably needs to have country-specific goals that its diplomats work towards achieving, and the broad nature of Moscow’s pan-Eurasian strategy means that this covers every country in the landmass, including all of those in South Asia. It was already described how Russia broadly goes about doing this as it concerns Pakistan and India, but a few words should be said about the other states in South Asia as well.

Bangladesh is the next most relevant state as it relates to Russia’s South Asian strategy, and the two sides are working together on arms shipments and nuclear energy cooperation, the latter field of which has become something of a diplomatic-strategic outreach tool for Moscow in recent decades. The entire mainland South Asian region stretching across Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh provides a plethora of business opportunities for Russian entrepreneurs, though the lack of economic integration between these three parties owing to the institutional failings of SAARC (attributable to Indian intransigence against Pakistan) means that separate strategies need to be crafted and implemented in each case. In addition, each country has different advantages that Russia sees in it – Pakistan is the closest geographic partner with the highest degree of future accessibility through CPEC and access to the Indian Ocean; India has countless infrastructure investment opportunities; and Bangladesh is one of the centers of the global garment industry.

All three share the need for more energy, which thus provides a crucial opening for Russia’s state-owned companies to enter into their respective markets, whether through building a gas pipeline like in Pakistan or nuclear reactors such as those under development in India and Bangladesh.

As is known, South Asia also includes Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, though Russian policy here is less defined and has no clear strategic stimuli. Russian tourists are known for their proclivity in visiting “exotic” non-Western vacation spots, so it’s possible that more of them might go to these destinations (especially Sri Lanka and the Maldives) in the future, which in that case could help form the foundation for developing bilateral state-to-state relations even further. Concerning the two Himalayan states, Russia’s federal officials would do well to consider ways in which they can encourage religious interaction between their indigenous Buddhist population in the Far East and their counterparts in Bhutan, which could help bring the two sides together in a unique and creative way. As for Nepal, it would be wise for Russia to craft a tangible policy towards this country in order to work on improving its position in this geostrategically crucial state at the literal center of the Chinese-Indian New Cold War, though for now, there aren’t any visible signs that this is a priority for Moscow.

Reflecting on the abovementioned insight, observers should recognize that Russia is making concerted efforts to diversify its South Asian relationships from their former Indo-centricity and to something more fair and balanced (“multi-alignment”). This transition will take some time because Russia’s Soviet-era specialists on the region are entering into retirement, and the new generation which is replacing them is still learning the best ways to fulfil their country’s grand strategic goal of Eurasian balancing. Nobody should expect this process to be a fast one, and it will undoubtedly experience twists and turns before it’s perfected, but the elaborated policies explain what Russia wants to accomplish and why it’s been adjusting its relationships in South Asia over the past couple of years.

3. Besides cooperation in defense terms, what other areas of cooperation exist, or could be explored by Pakistan and Russia to further strengthen their bilateral ties?

The significance of the incipient defense relationship between Russia and Pakistan mustn’t be understated because it forms the backbone of their developing rapprochement and serves as the most symbolic manifestation of Moscow’s new strategic thinking towards South Asia and Eurasia in general. What differentiates Russia from the US in this field is that Moscow’s” military diplomacy” is always aimed at reinforcing the existing balance of power between various parties and preventing one or the other from acquiring a decisive enough advantage that they’re compelled to initiate a war. For example, Russia sells weapons to Armenia & Azerbaijan, India & China, and China & Vietnam, three pairs of partners at serious odds with one another, though none of which have received any military wares from Moscow which could disrupt the balance of power.

This is important to reflect on because it could form the basis for an enhanced defense partnership between Russia and Pakistan, one which would obviously draw India’s ire but couldn’t reasonably be argued as “directed against” New Delhi or a “betrayal” of the Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership. Thus far, Russia’s defense exports to Pakistan have helped strengthen Islamabad’s anti-terrorist capacities, but the trust and goodwill that these shipments have thus far fostered could help form the basis of a more conventional military relationship in the future which might one day involve jets, tanks, and other munitions if the right circumstances unfold. Russia understands that India is one of, if not the, largest defense partners that it has, though the prevailing trend in recent years has been that New Delhi is “multi-aligning” its defense partnerships with those of the US, “Israel”, Japan, and France, all of which is chipping away at Moscow’s former market dominance in this strategic sector.

Understanding “which way the wind is blowing”, it’s sensible for Russia to seek out other arms markets in South Asia, and nowhere in the region is better than Pakistan because of the potential that this sort of an expanded defense partnership could bring in boosting Russia’s balancing credentials in Eurasia as per its grand strategic vision in the 21st century. This is why the existing small-scale defense relations between Russia and Pakistan mustn’t be dismissed, because further confidence-building exercises such as last fall’s historic Druzhba 2016 joint drills could put the two sides on an accelerated trajectory of deepening these ties in response to the ever-changing power dynamics of South Asia, all with the intent of solidifying Russia as the supreme balancing force in South Asia, unlike the disruptive one that the US and its “Israeli”-Japanese allies are becoming.

Having explained all of that, there are indeed other avenues of prospective cooperation that Russia and Pakistan can explore in the coming future, and the most important of course relates to Afghanistan. The Russian capital already hosted three Moscow peace conferences within the past six months, and Russia’s stance towards the conflict has markedly begun to align with Pakistan’s in terms of the envisioned political and anti-terrorist role of the Taliban. This represents a profound change in Russia’s strategic calculus and is mostly attributable to the fear that Moscow has of Daesh infiltrating into the Central Asian Republics and destabilizing them as per the scenario outlined in response to the first question of this interview. Lacking the political will and military capability to decisively intervene in Afghanistan once more, Russia prefers instead to leverage diplomatic solutions using the most directly involved regional stakeholders such as Pakistan in order to make progress on the anti-terrorist front.

Daesh can’t be defeated if the Taliban and Kabul are fighting one another more than their focusing on the terrorists, which is why the Moscow peace initiative sought to find some sort of implicit common ground between the two Afghan actors in order to see them redirect their military efforts against Daesh instead. Pakistan plays a pivotal role in all of this because of its historic relations to both parties and the simple fact that it shares the longest border with Afghanistan out of all of Kabul’s neighbors. Russian-Pakistani strategic coordination in the Afghan context will serve as the driver for further cooperation between the two sides, and is already becoming the crucible on which their new era of relations is being formed. The mutually beneficial convergence of interests in seeing the defeat of Daesh, the recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political actor in the Afghan context, and the war-torn country’s stabilization is bringing the two parties together at an astounding rate, and each side’s strategists deserve to be commended for successfully charting this new strategic course between the two.

Apart from mutual concerns surrounding the Afghan conflict, Russia and Pakistan also stand to deepen their cooperation with one another through the energy sector, which is already ongoing through the construction of the North-South gas pipeline. Russian specialists are world-renowned for their professionalism in this sphere, which is why it was to Pakistan’s best interests to contract them for this purpose. The developing energy cooperation between Russia and Pakistan is symbolic as well, since it demonstrates to the rest of the world that the two parties are working together in a realm of traditional cooperation between Moscow and its partners, though surprisingly in an untraditional geographic region. The North-South pipeline shouldn’t be seen as the full extent of their energy cooperation, but as the beginning, since it holds the potential of expanding their partnership into the import-export capacity sometime in the future.

For example, Russia’s rich Siberian resources could be piped south through Xinjiang and along the CPEC route to enter the Pakistani marketplace if political relations continue to develop along their presently positive trajectory and the right price can be met for this arrangement. There would, however, be natural competition with the TAPI pipeline, so this proposal should be seen as a possible idea and not as a concrete policy suggestion right now. If TAPI for whatever reason doesn’t get built, then the “Altai-Xinjiang” Pipeline would be the best alternative for satisfying Pakistan’s energy needs for a mainland pipeline route.

Additionally, Russia’s LNG exports from the Far East island of Sakhalin could be directed to Pakistan too, though it’s here where Moscow would enter into competition with Doha, which is also vying for the same marketplace. The changing Mideast power dynamics brought about by the Gulf Crisis/GCC Cold War are creating an opportunity to form a grand “gas OPEC” alignment between Qatar, Iran, and Russia, which could potentially see these three players bring Turkmenistan on board as well in “dividing” Eurasia up between them. If this comes to pass, Russia and Qatar might reach an LNG exporting arrangement between them to decide who sells to which South Asian state, so in that case, Moscow might export to India while Doha could sell to Pakistan.

Lastly, the final frontier of cooperation between Russia and Pakistan is through CPEC, both in its infrastructural but more likely commercial dimensions. Moscow is reluctant to officially get involved in CPEC due to New Delhi’s concerns about the initiative, and therefore Russia feels compelled to “balance” between the two South Asian states and abstain – at least for now – from formal participation in its projects. Understanding that, it shouldn’t be taken to mean that Russian companies won’t utilize CPEC upon its completion, since there’s nothing that the Russian state can do to prevent private companies from using the infrastructure of a foreign country. To the contrary, Moscow could encourage them to do this in order to help develop Central Asia and Siberia. There is still a long way to go before that happens, though, but the successful initiation of real-sector economic cooperation between Russia and Pakistan via CPEC and its prospective Central Asian and Siberian branches would cement the relationship between the two and give it a wide-ranging, robust, and comprehensive substance.

4. In your opinion, what opportunities and overlapping benefits lie in economic cooperation between Pakistan and Russia?

There are several forms of economic cooperation that can be discussed – energy, investment, financial, and commercial. The first one was described in answering the third question, and it’s that Russia’s construction of the North-South gas pipeline opens up future opportunities for the country’s state-owned energy companies in Pakistan, potentially going as far as making Moscow an energy supplier to Islamabad via an overland trans-Chinese pipeline or LNG shipments. The North-South pipeline is a mighty investment in Pakistan, but it shouldn’t be the only one to mark the renewed relations between both sides. Russia and Pakistan should work together to brainstorm other spheres of investment cooperation between the two sides, potentially in the transport sector. However, Russia will likely be careful to not be seen as formally participating in CPEC because of the damage that this could have for Russian-Indian relations. Nevertheless, it can be argued that all investments in Pakistan at this moment in time are in one way or another linked to CPEC, so Russia might not be able to get around that perception and should in that case partially embrace it.

Financial cooperation between the two erstwhile rivals could see the form of energy-related loans associated with new projects, or the use of national currencies in bilateral trade and investment. Pakistan’s inclusion in the SCO gives Russia the chance to work more closely with its new South Asian partner as the reformed organization takes on more of a multilateral integrational role, including in the economic sector. The tentative SCO Bank could function as the platform for Russia and Pakistan’s larger financial interactions with one another, as could the progress being made on clinching a free trade agreement between the Russian-led EAU and Pakistan (or one day, even more broadly SAARC). From the reverse perspective, Russia could also use Pakistani investments to complement Moscow’s courting of non-Western economic partners during the ongoing sanctions war with the West. The specific areas of investment would have to be determined by relevant professionals and experts, but it’s conceivable that agriculture could be something that Pakistan might be interested in.

About real-sector commercial relations, these will be greatly augmented by the completion of CPEC and its branch expansions to Central Asia and Siberia. If timed to coincide with the blossoming of bilateral investments in one another’s economies, this could see a harmonious exchange of commercial products between the two, such as the Russian import of Pakistani textiles and/or the Pakistani import of Russian agricultural products. Like the last answer concluded, the convocation of a strong real-sector economic/commercial partnership between Russia and Pakistan would cement their bilateral relations and in turn further the development of political, military, and ultimately strategic ones as well, so this should be seen as the ultimate goal towards which both sides should aspire. It won’t happen right away, and there are certain structural and geographic limitations to its development, but it’s certainly not an impossible task, and the outcome would be tremendously positive for each of them.

5. Pakistan and China enjoy strong and cordial relations with each other, so are Sino-Pak ties an encouraging factor to boost Pak-Russia ties too?

The fraternal relations between Pakistan and China most definitely encouraged the formation of stronger Russian-Pakistani relations, too. In fact, it can be reasonably speculated that China played an indispensable role mediating between the two parties at the beginning of their historic rapprochement, considering the high-level and comprehensive strategic relations that China has with both of them. Russia and Pakistan’s common friend in China made Beijing the “balancer” between them and allowed the People’s Republic to facilitate the initially cautious reconciliation between its two allies. It must have been reassuring to Russian decision makers to know that their trusted Chinese friends had vouched for Pakistan’s integrity in being adamantly opposed to terrorism in all of its manifestations, which clearly contrasts with the Indian-backed information warfare which had previously dominated the discussion on this topic. That alone may have given Russians pause to think about whether the Pakistan of today is still the Pakistan of the late-Cold War-era Afghan conflict, thereby helping them to come to terms with the present-day reality and dismissing the propaganda that they’d been fed about Islamabad across the past few decades.

China’s role in brokering the new Russian-Pakistani friendship can only be speculated, of course, but it makes sense that Beijing was Islamabad’s backer in talks with Moscow. Given the heavy dose of Indian influence in Russia, there are few other plausible scenarios except for China’s diplomatic intervention which could have succeeded in convincing Moscow that Islamabad wasn’t the “terrorist-exporting failed state” that New Delhi had consistently presented it as. Extrapolating further from this, the logical implications are that Russian-Chinese ties are taking precedence over what can now be seen in hindsight as the long-lost era of “Rusi-Hindi Bhai Bhai”, in that Russian-Indian relations are now purely transactional and have less to do with strategic coordination than cold hard cash benefits. Moreover, if China – as it convincingly appears – managed to persuade Russia to see the real Pakistan and look past the propagandistic one promoted by India’s soft power agents, then it’s obvious in hindsight what sort of ramifications that had on the Russian-Indian relationship, as Moscow would have then come to distrust New Delhi, which is exceptionally relevant as it relates to India’s “explanations” about its new military-strategic partnership with the US.

About that, Russia clearly understands that the US is its primary – and even existential – geopolitical foe, though it also accepts that its own partners have their own relations with Washington, and that Moscow has no right – nor interest – to interfere with this. The problem, however, comes down to perceived “double-dealing”, whereby one state’s new and unprecedented relations with the US stand the chance to offset the strategic balance in a given region, and the said state’s representatives offer flimsy – or outright false – “justifications” for it. India’s accelerated all-sector relationship with the US is a perfect example of this, as New Delhi tries to hide behind the slogan of “multi-alignment” while deliberately making moves to partner up with Washington against Beijing. Remembering how Russia envisions itself as being the supreme balancing force in Eurasia, it shouldn’t be difficult to see why Moscow distrusts New Delhi to a large degree, especially if China did in fact convince Russia that India was lying this whole time about Pakistan. Russia surely wouldn’t expand relations with a “terrorist-exporting failed state” such as what India presents Pakistan as being, so that in and of itself proves that Moscow no longer believes New Delhi’s rhetoric, both about Islamabad but also Washington.

The chief reason for Russia’s strategic rethinking towards Pakistan and India is China, and even other factors such as the geostrategic ones earlier expostulated upon in the interview also played a role as well, it was Beijing which crucially helped broker the rapprochement between Moscow and Islamabad.

6. Will the nexus between Pakistan, Russia and China (as displayed in the Afghan peace process) further consolidate in the near future, and how will it help in boosting regional cooperation in Asia?

Russia, China, and Pakistan are fast becoming a Eurasian power bloc in their own right, though one which doesn’t satisfy the “traditional” definition of an “alliance”. Instead, it’s better to conceptualize the three as sharing several key interests which drive their strategic convergence. The first has to do with Eurasian integration, which aligns with Russia’s grand vision and the outreach efforts of the EAU. It also plays out through CPEC, and China is the magnet which draws Russia and Pakistan into more closely integrating with one another via a forthcoming partnership between the EAU and CPEC (whether officially stated or de-facto). Secondly, all three Great Powers have very pressing concerns regarding Afghanistan, hence the formalization of their partnership through the incipient Moscow peace process. And finally, the third issue that brings Russia, China, and Pakistan together is India; Beijing and Islamabad face serious security challenges from New Delhi, while Moscow is seen by them as having the capability to “balance” the two sides and thus keep India restrained in order to ensure regional stability.

Altogether, the confluence of interests that Russia, China, and Pakistan share in furthering the goal of Eurasian integration, defeating terrorism in Afghanistan, and “balancing” the US’ new ally India creates a critical mass of strategic gravity which holds the three Great Powers together. Each of their shared goals is long-term and visionary, and none of them can be accomplished right away, which implies that their trilateral relations will expectedly strengthen as all parties leverage their respective advantages in pursuit of these objectives. In practice, observers can expect closer multilateral coordination between the three parties on merging the New Silk Road/OBOR (which includes CPEC), the SCO, and the EAU. They can also look forward to these Great Powers working together to offer joint creative solutions to the War on Afghanistan, which has already taken the form of extending differing degrees of political/normative support to the Taliban.

As for India, Russia will do its best to retain relations with its long-cherished partner in spite of the qualitatively changed nature of moving from top-level and holistic strategic coordination through “Rusi-Hindi Bhai Bhai” to accepting the purely transactional form that their relationship now takes. While it might seemingly look to some as though Russia is being “partial” towards India, nothing of the sort is actually taking place given the equally – if not more – positive substance of Russian-Chinese relations, to say nothing of Russia’s outreaches to Pakistan which have proven Moscow’s balancing intentions. It’s altogether better for Pakistan and China if Russia retains its influence in India because that could lead to Moscow exercising some (ever-lessening) degree of responsible influence over New Delhi that could ultimately play out to their collective benefit in indefinitely retaining the status quo in South Asia despite active American-“Israeli”-Japanese efforts to offset it to India’s favor.

7. Is there any chance in the near future of Russia formally joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project?

Russia more than likely will abstain from any formal government-to-government participation in constructing CPEC out of prudent consideration in protecting its relations with India, as per the previously explained reasons detailed in the answer to the last question. Nevertheless, the Russian government already expressed its indirect approval of the project after President Putin announced during the recent SCO gathering in Kazakhstan that his country will work to integrate the SCO and the New Silk Road/OBOR. This was undoubtedly a signal to India that it needs to behave responsibly as a newly inducted member of the SCO, meaning that if it doesn’t want to take part in CPEC and the Silk Roads, it doesn’t have to, but it shouldn’t obstruct them through the US-backed Hybrid War on CPEC otherwise this puts it at odds with Russia’s strategic vision for Eurasia.

It remains to be seen whether Modi will take Putin’s warning at heart or not, though there aren’t any grounds for optimism that he will, though that’s in and of itself a separate topic of discussion.

To return back to Russia’s possible involvement on CPEC, it’s already thus far been established that Moscow will not formally partake in constructing this project (at least not yet), but it can’t stop any of its private companies from doing so or utilizing this network after it’s been completed. Therein lies the nuance behind the Russian approach – on the one hand, Russia won’t visibly join CPEC in order to keep its relations with India in good standing, though on the other, it will silently make use of the project through its non-state actors after the fact in order to reap the expected strategic dividends, particularly as they relate to expanding Russia’s trade with its desired non-Western partners and eventually developing Siberia as per its “Pivot/Rebalancing to Asia”. In practical terms, Pakistan should understand that Russia supports CPEC, but is wisely playing its cards in the best manner possible by not being too open about it, as this in turn allows Islamabad and Beijing to benefit from the balancing/restraining influence that Moscow could have on New Delhi.

8. Why is Russia still reluctant to formally join the CPEC project even though it can immensely benefit from it?

Russia’s reluctance is totally attributable to its partnership with India, since New Delhi might have conveyed to Moscow that it would be a “red line” in their relationship if Russia were to formally get involved in the project. As was explained in the prior answer, this doesn’t prevent Russia’s companies from joining and utilizing CPEC, but just that the Kremlin itself must be careful to not appear as though it’s too openly backing such moves at this moment in time. The Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership is undergoing radical changes and has been evolving over the past couple of years, so there’s a chance that it might weaken as a result of the US influencing India to more assertively disrupt the strategic balance that it has with Pakistan and China. In such a case, and amid a possible fraying of the Russian-Indian relationship due to Moscow refusing a possible ‘ultimatum’ from New Delhi to overtly side with it over Islamabad and Beijing, then it’s indeed conceivable that Russia would rethink its official position towards CPEC and announce its formal involvement.

That, however, is only a speculative scenario, albeit one which mustn’t be ruled out given the prevailing trajectory of India’s relations with both the US and Russia, especially if Modi ignores Putin’s implied (key word) ‘warning’ against interfering with the integration of the SCO and OBOR through the Hybrid War on CPEC.

Whether Russia actively takes part in CPEC’s construction or not, the fact remains that the country and its companies will still be able to benefit from the project’s completion, so it’s ultimately a moot point to discuss the topic of Moscow joining this initiative. Surely, doing so would send a very strong symbolic message to India, and it would also provide a powerful surge to Russia’s soft power in Pakistan, but given the reasonable constraints influencing Russia’s decision on this topic, it might be for the “greater good” that it’s visibly keeping CPEC at arm’s length for now, at least on the official level. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the retention of Russia’s relationship with India is fundamentally important to China and Pakistan because of the “moderating” influence it could have over India, though this is admittedly lessening with time as the US-“Israeli”-Japanese strategic triangle stands to overpower the Soviet-era legacy of Russia’s hard and soft power in India. Still, for the time being and with an eye on the future, it’s more advantageous for Russia to give a wink-and-a-nod of approval to CPEC than to formally join it and damage its relations with India.

9. Do you feel the Indo-Russia relationship is changing? How would you analyze the relationship in contemporary times?

One of the fastest- and most profoundly-changing historic relations in modern times is the Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership, which has moved past its Soviet-era high point of full-spectrum strategic coordination under “Rusi-Hindi Bhai Bhai” to become mostly transactional in nature. The reasons for this paradigm shift are manifold, but it has to equally do with both parties’ changing strategic priorities. The dissolution of the USSR left the Russian Federation successor state in a poor position to attend to the needs of its historic Indian partner, which in turn pushed New Delhi to accelerate its prolonged Western pivot. It needs to be said at this time that India didn’t begin its outreaches to the US in the 1990s, but actually in the 1980s under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi and the tradition of having every single full-term Indian Prime Minister address a joint session of the US Congress, so what essentially happened was New Delhi simply exploited the changed geopolitical situation in the world to advance a trajectory that it had already been on, albeit with the original intent of “balancing” between both superpowers in the closing decade of the Cold War.

Moreover, the basis of the Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership is the 1971 Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which originally had a lifespan of 20 years and would then be automatically extended for five years thereafter unless either party decided to terminate it. For all intents and purposes, it’s symbolic that the Soviet Union dissolved the same year that the treaty was set to expire, as this created the ‘plausible’ pretext for India to more assuredly shed its “balancing” pretense and concentrate more thoroughly on what would eventually become the game-changing military-strategic partnership that it clinched with the US in summer 2016 through the Logistics Exchange Memorandum Of Agreement (LEMOA). What India wanted to do in the 1980s with the USSR is the same thing that it’s trying to do in the 2010s with Russia, and that’s apply the (then-presumed) slogan of “multi-alignment” to justify closer relations with the US at Moscow’s expense and get the two powers to enter into a fierce series of never-ending concessions for India’s loyalty which would play out to New Delhi’s ultimate benefit.

That didn’t happen in the 1980s because of the slow pace at which the policy unfolded, and nowadays Russia accepts that there are clear limitations to its relationship with India and that it can’t compete with the US on the economic-commercial front. In and of itself, Russia shouldn’t have to see the US as a competitor in the military or nuclear energy industries that Moscow has traditionally dominated in, but the fact that it does shows that India’s “multi-alignment” is actually preconditioned on diminishing Russia’s influence and replacing it with the US’, although more rapidly than during the 1980s when this seemed almost impossible to countenance. To be fair, though, Russia is also rapidly moving just as close to China as India is to the US, so the larger dynamic taking place here is that the New Cold War between the US and China is taking on Russian-Indian dimensions, though a few words need to be said about the Chinese orientation of Russian geopolitics right now.

Russia and China used to be heated rivals during the Old Cold War, and the US’ masterful “flipping” of Beijing into Washington’s camp during the last decades of that global struggle was a pivotal power play which made it all that more difficult for Moscow manage the American-directed “containment” against it. The Soviet dissolution in 1991 left a legacy of four now-independent states along China’s borders, with all of the attendant disagreements that this entails. The resolution mechanism for multilaterally solving the post-Soviet states’ border disputes with China was the Shanghai Five, which eventually transformed into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) following Uzbekistan’s 2001 inclusion and the Russian-Chinese Friendship and Cooperation Treaty of that same year. The US’ simultaneous Hybrid Wars against Russia and China in Ukraine and the South China Sea, respectively, in 2014 brought both sides together in an unprecedented way and strategically backfired against Washington. However, India also felt the consequences due to its hyper-nationalist Hindutva leadership’s “zero-sum” mentality as opposed to the Russian-Chinese perception of “win-win” relations.

India interpreted the grand Russian-Chinese alignment of 2014 as being a threat to its interests and implicitly aimed against it, given the obsession that New Delhi has with Beijing and its ally in Islamabad. In response, India doubled down on its pro-American pivot, capitalizing off of the nuclear energy cooperation agreed to under the Bush Administration to expand ties to the military-strategic sphere under Obama’s LEMOA. All told, a strong case can be made that the US is “poaching” India out of the multipolar bloc in a similar manner and with the same strategically decisive consequences during the New Cold War as it did with China in the Old Cold War. Russia somewhat belatedly came to this realization and woke up from the slumber that the “Rusi-Hindi Bhai Bhai” slogan had put most of its decision makers under until that point, aided as they were by China’s silent diplomatic intervention in helping to broker the Russian-Pakistani rapprochement due to their shared concerns surrounding Afghanistan. Again, instead of understanding events through the “win-win” prism that all genuinely multipolar countries are applying nowadays, India’s decision makers clung to their “zero-sum” interpretations in order to “justify” making further progress on their long-desired goal to clinch a military-strategic partnership with the unipolar US.

As it presently stands, both Russia and India understand that they’re “on opposite sides” of the New Cold War between the multipolar and unipolar “blocs”, with Moscow visibly closer to Beijing just like New Delhi is presently the same with Washington. Despite their strategic divergences, both Great Powers are of such geographic distance to one another that neither of them poses any sort of a “threat” to the other, which has helped to stabilize their relations during this somewhat tumultuous transition and actually given them a reason to deepen aspects of their (now-)transactional-dependent relationship through more weapons deals, nuclear energy cooperation, and the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) through Iran and Azerbaijan. Therefore, while the nature of their relationship has evidently changed in many ways, it still retains several common points of convergences which will likely stave off any significant or accelerated weakening in the coming future, barring any unforeseen American-inspired scenarios to sabotage this partnership. As such, Russia still has irreplaceable strategic value to China and Pakistan in being their only trusted partner capable of having a chance to influence India in a positive way and prevent the US from completely upending the strategic balance between these three interconnected parties.

10. Russia has been a very close ally to India. Will Indo-Russia ties impact Pakistan's bilateral ties with Russia?

Russia’s close relations with India are a godsend for Pakistan because it allows Islamabad the opportunity to leverage its growing relations with Moscow in having its new partner exert “balancing” influence between the two South Asian rivals. Seen from the “zero-sum” perspective common in Indian academic and decision-making circles, this is to the “benefit” of Pakistan and “detriment” of India, though if viewed from the “win-win” angle presently applied by Russia, this is mutually beneficial for South Asian stability because it can work to offset the US’ actions in trying to tilt the regional balance in India’s favor and encourage it to launch a war. It might sound unrealistic, but there are still some in the Indian establishment who are reasonable, level-headed, and don’t ascribe to the “zero-sum” mentality of the Hindutva nationalists. These individuals have plainly been sidelined ever since Modi came to power, but they nevertheless exist.

Moreover, the national interests of India shouldn’t be conceptualized by the ideology of whatever party is in power, but by the state’s enduring geopolitical position, which demonstrates that the country has infinitely more to gain by constructively integrating with its neighbors and maintaining peaceful relations with them than isolating itself from the New Silk Roads/OBOR and provoking regional tensions. Understood in this manner, then Russia’s balancing act in South Asia is more to India’s benefit than the Hindutva leadership might believe. Additionally, similar points can be said about Pakistan’s perspective concerning Russia’s Indian relations. It is to Islamabad’s benefit for Moscow to retain and even strengthen its ties with New Delhi in order for Russia to be stand any chance at “moderating” (to whatever degree it might eventually be) the ultra-aggressive policies of the ruling BJP Hindutva nationalists.

It’s of course very optimistic to expect Modi and his RSS backers in Nagpur to implement Russia’s constructive and implied advice, but it’s best for everyone for there to be excellent Russian-Indian relations in the event that another party eventually comes to power which is much more pragmatic than the BJP and genuinely supports the multipolar tenets of the SCO and BRICS. Therefore, while Indians and Pakistanis alike might be suspicious of Russia’s relations with their neighboring rival, such fears are unfounded and revealed to be exaggerations (no matter how apparently convincing to both sides) the more that one becomes acquainted with Russia’s 21st-century grand strategic vision of becoming the supreme balancing force in Eurasia.

11. In this globalized world, no country can live in isolation or aloof from its neighbors or regional countries. How is Russia planning to balance relations between India and Pakistan while maintaining the fragile state of peace and stability in the region?

Russia must proceed very delicately if it’s to succeed in managing relations between India and Pakistan and balancing between them, as the wrong move or too abrupt of a pivot in either direction could jeopardize its hard-fought relations with either party. As it stands, Russia is proceeding slowly but surely in carrying out a comprehensive rapprochement with Pakistan, one which is most immediately influenced by their shared interests in Afghanistan but which has the potential to evolve into a military-economic partnership with time. Concerning India, relations have been moving in the opposite direction as New Delhi steadily replaces Russia’s nuclear energy and especially military influence with that of the US-“Israel”-Japan unipolar trilateral, though Russia is still India’s dominant partner in both fields and the two Great Powers are trying to streamline the NSTC to reinvigorate their long-dormant economic-commercial relationship.

Russia’s apolitical relations with India and Pakistan shouldn’t raise any concern in either rival capital, but it’s when Moscow’s policies begin to take on political-stra