Moscow makes a move when US loosens the noose

Published: January 25, 2016
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When US President Obama was attracting Islamabad’s criticism for his remarks on terror, predicting ‘decades of instability’ in its longtime ally, Russian Army Chief General Oleg Salyukov approved holding military exercises with Pakistan codenamed Indestructible Brotherhood.

The first ever Russian-Pakistani special war-games in mountainous terrain are one of the seven international exercises planned by the Kremlin for 2016. A Russian military-technical cooperation team has just concluded its visit to Pakistan.

Russian Army to hold first mountain drills with Pakistan in 2016

Strengthening military-to-military relations

After overruling Indian objections against sale of four Mi-Hind gunship helicopters to Pakistan last year, Russia will now directly export Klimov RD-93 engines. Besides enhancing the capability of JF-17 Thunder jets, the engine’s direct import will earn the fighter jet greater confidence from foreign costumers.

Meanwhile, the order for the Russian gunship is likely to be jacketed up to 20 helicopters. The next test case for Moscow will be Pakistan’s desire to buy Su-35 fighter jets, which it’s delivering to China this year.

For Pakistan, Russia is an alternate source of sophisticated military weaponry. It hopes that Russian military transactions won’t come with political strings, Putin’s ambition for global leadership notwithstanding.

Though Pakistan is not Russia’s strategic partner, the relationship has improved after a decade of diplomatic efforts. In recent years, Washington has taken over Moscow to become Delhi’s top defense supplier. Partly for the same reason, Prime Minister Modi could not win Russian nod over purchase of fifth generation fighter jet, T-50 Pak-FA, during his tour in December. Amid heightened tensions with the west, Moscow wants to be sole operator of the latest stealth fighter. Alternatively, India might be buying F-35 lightning II.

Pakistan’s tricky foreign policy balancing act

Exposing hidden agendas

The Kremlin has neither forgotten Afghanistan nor the role Pakistan played in frustrating its ambitions. While it occupies east Ukraine and brutally bombs anti-Assad Syrians, armed or civilians alike, it is pursuing a more Machiavellian approach to Pakistan and Afghanistan. For now, Moscow seeks stability in both the countries. It has lauded Pakistani effort to curb extremism and to end insurgency in Afghanistan.

In pursuit of renewed quest for geopolitical dominance, Russia is bidding to win newer allies and markets. Faced with lower-than-expected oil prices and Western economic sanctions, the Russian ruble has nosedived to 78 against the US dollar. Countries like Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Algeria have a multi-pronged approach for the Kremlin.

Besides selling high-tech defense hardware, Moscow is exploiting its advances in the energy sector too. For starters, Russia will be laying a $2-$2.5 billion gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore. Rostekh Corporation will start building the pipeline next year.

A statistical look into Pakistan’s foreign friendships

Islamabad is also currently working to finalise a free trade agreement (FTA) with Russia. The success of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor may lead to a long envisaged transit trade agreement with Eurasian states. Pakistan has been aiming for a FTA with the Eurasian Economic Union. Russia and Pakistan have yet to sign an FTA, which was agreed earlier.

For all the right reasons, there is a lesser degree of warmth amongst members of the Pakistani business community. Recent economic sanctions against Turkey for opposing Putin’s policy towards Syria hint at Russia’s brinkmanship.

Setting the stage for continuing relations

Pakistan has so far treaded a fine line in its advances towards Russia. It has avoided commenting on the Russian annexation of Crimea. Islamabad has also exercised caution on Russian military intervention in Syria and resulting tensions with Turkey.

‘No reason’ for Russia to view US as threat: Pentagon

Russia and Pakistan neither share strategic partners, with the exception of China, nor have convergence of foreign policy interests. Due to a lack of business ties and absence of people-to-people contacts, the military-to-military dealings will remain an exception. For now, Moscow is not an easy capital to work with.

Learning from past experiences, Islamabad is least likely to choose sides between Moscow and Washington. Kremlin is in no hurry either. As Washington gradually disengages itself from Islamabad, Moscow has chosen to cautiously cozy up with Pakistan.

Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. He tweets @naveed360

Reader Comments (12)

  • Ahad
    Jan 25, 2016 - 6:41PM

    Russia is a very high self-esteemed and nationalistic country. Therefore, learning the language and cultural knowledge of theirs are a must to get something going. I personally believe Russia has a lot to offer if we get to know it better.

    Outside of the capitol oblasts, the eastern parts don’t tolerate a non Russian. Race and religion play a big role, but language and cultural know how can do the trick. The rest is blending in.

    P.S We cannot feel entiltled to things there like we feel entitled in English western countries. Recommend

  • Raghavan
    Jan 25, 2016 - 9:00PM

    “Prime Minister Modi could not win Russian nod over purchase of fifth generation fighter jet, T-50 Pak-FA, during his tour in December. Amid heightened tensions with the west, Moscow wants to be sole operator of the latest stealth fighter.”

    This is half baked truth. Russia itself not confident with engines and stealthiness of T50, Russia is planning to buy just 20 planes. This is trap for India to get billions of dollars deja vu INS Vikramditya. Also our 5th Fifth generation HAL AMCA is progressing at steady phase. Parrikar last month signed a deal for advanced engine procurement for HAL AMCA from US. We are looking F35-C for our carriers(Aircraft carrier) not land based

    Russia will keep India relationship, atleast in some strategic way, not fully towards Pakistan.
    Putin know the cost of going away from India, as India have already US/France/Japan/Israel in her basket for any advanced defense technologiesRecommend

  • cautious
    Jan 25, 2016 - 9:35PM

    Loosens the noose? Name a single instance where USA has objected to Pakistan doing business with China or Russia. Look hard because you won’t find one.Recommend

  • True
    Jan 26, 2016 - 2:24AM

    For Mother Russia!!!Recommend

  • a_writer
    Jan 26, 2016 - 3:17AM

    I love the title of the article – it sounds like Pakistan is forever sticking its neck out for a noose from one nation after the other!Recommend

  • Ravi
    Jan 26, 2016 - 5:05AM

    One thing the difference between US and Russia is Russians will not dole out free aid and free stuff like US, Pakistan has to pay hard cash, no charity like US tax payers money.Recommend

  • Ravi
    Jan 26, 2016 - 5:05AM

    One thing the difference between US and Russia is Russians will not dole out free aid and free stuff like US, Pakistan has to pay hard cash, no charity like US tax payers money.Recommend

  • Ravi
    Jan 26, 2016 - 5:05AM

    One thing the difference between US and Russia is Russians will not dole out free aid and free stuff like US, Pakistan has to pay hard cash, no charity like US tax payers money.Recommend

  • Sane Khan
    Jan 26, 2016 - 8:29AM

    @ Ravi,
    Oh dont worry!
    We have our ways…Recommend

  • Nadeem Khan
    Jan 26, 2016 - 1:30PM

    @Ravi
    so you are the TAX payer for USA,
    Do you have any idea about the Economy of Pakistan before and after 9/11.Recommend

  • Farhan
    Jan 27, 2016 - 11:27AM

    @Ravi – Pakistan receives less foreign aid than India. Just a fun fact :)Recommend

  • nasser
    Jan 28, 2016 - 11:11AM

    @Ravi:
    Please enlighten the readers about CHARITY doled out to Pakistan by the US. YOU will find none. US never doles out charity fund to anyone not even to Israel. In contrast former USSR doled out huge charitable funding to India not very long back if you are aware of the history. Recommend

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