In the post cold war era Pakistan-Russia relations had already started improving. But Russia’s inclination towards Pakistan increased when it observed the successes of Pakistan in fighting the GWoT and it understood Pakistan’s strategic significance in the region in the context that Pakistan could play a central role not only to achieve peace in Afghanistan, but also in checkmating the spillover of terrorism from Afghanistan to the Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Russia.
Moreover, in view of the US pressure on Pakistan to do more in the war on terror and the US pressures to restrict the advancement of Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programmes without doing same to India, and due to the primacy being given to India by the US in South Asia, Pakistan also decided to diversify its foreign policy by building good relations with all major world powers, Pakistan also wanted to develop closer relations with Russia.
So, as both countries were convinced to build good bilateral ties, Pakistan-Russia relations started improving significantly. A significant improvement in China-Russia relations also helped in the advancement of Pakistan-Russia relations. Then recently, US Defence Secretary’s declaration that India was a defence partner of the US, enabling India to import sensitive nuclear and military technology and weapons from the US also goes against Pakistan and Russia’s interests.
This reality has also become a factor in bringing Pakistan and Russia closer. Russia seems to have realized that with the increasing imports of the US and EU major powers’ defence equipment, weapons and technology by India, in the long term Russia-India defence partnership would get diluted requiring Russia to explore new markets to export its military hardware. Although Russia would continue to draw economic benefits from India by keeping its commercial ties with that country.
In view of the above indicated unfolding strategic and regional scenario, there are significant indications that in the coming years Pakistan-Russia relations would likely progress at a faster pace. For example, during last about ten years, both countries’ senior civilian and military leaders have visited each other’s country frequently. In 2014 Russia removed its arms embargo against Pakistan. In 2015 Russia agreed to sell four MI-35M helicopters to Pakistan. The Russian Army has recently held the first ever military exercise with Pakistan Army troops. Pakistan could also be exploring the possibility of purchasing fighter aircraft from Russia. Russia has also supported Pakistan for becoming a permanent member of the SCO. Russia has already signed an agreement with Pakistan to invest in laying a gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore.
Russia has also favoured Pakistan at important world forums to counter India’s blame game, which India is doing in a bid to isolate Pakistan at regional and international levels. During his discussions at BRICS summit held in Indian October 2016, Indian Prime Minister Modi called Pakistan a ‘Mothership of terrorism’. During detailed talks of BRICS leaders, he pushed for the BRICS Summit Goa Declaration to specifically mention “cross-border terrorism and also the names of Pakistani-based terror outfits, which was not agreed to by the other heads of states. In his speech, President Putin of Russia did not mention the word terrorism at all. This clearly means that he did not support Modi’s assertions against Pakistan.
During the Heart of Asia conference held on December 4, 2016 in India, when Modi and President Ghani ganged up and blamed Pakistan for supporting terrorism in Afghanistan and India, the Russian representative attending the conference, diplomatically countered their statements by saying that while Pakistan was talking about peace in Afghanistan and the region, blaming Pakistan for supporting terrorism was not justified. Hence, Russia’s positive diplomatic support of Pakistan at important regional and world forums shows that in the near future Pakistan-Russia relations will advance at least at a speed at which India gets militarily closer to the US. Russia is also likely to keep relations with both countries, independent of their bilateral concerns.