GP Insights # 497, 11 April 2021
On 7 April, the Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov arrived in Pakistan for a two-day visit, the first in nine years. On his arrival, he met with the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who termed the meeting as the beginning of 'a new era' with Russia. The two held wide-ranging talks during which they reviewed their bilateral cooperation in energy, security, including counter-terrorism and defence, besides having an in-depth discussion on the situation in Afghanistan. Lavrov said Russia was ready to build further counter-terrorism potential by providing military equipment to Pakistan. He said: "This is in the interest of all states of the region," adding that both sides also agreed on joint military exercises and drills.
FM Lavrov also met Imran Khan and General Bajwa. Khan reiterated the importance Pakistan attaches to Russia's relations as a key foreign policy priority and reaffirmed Pakistan's resolve to expeditiously conclude the requisite legal process for the "Pakistan Stream" (North-South) Gas Pipeline project and commence the work soon.
What is the background?
First, the warming up of Russia-Pakistan relations. FM Lavrov's visit to Pakistan is the first by a Russian foreign minister in nine years, marking the recent shift of ties between them. Over the last few years, both have made a substantial effort to improve ties by building a stronger and mutually beneficial relationship through engagement at bilateral and multilateral arenas.
Second, the multifaceted expansion in the relations. The deepening relation between Pakistan and Russia is not restricted to a single domain. The relation between the two is moving into more significant economic engagement, defence cooperation, and a strategic component. For example, in 2020, trade between the countries stood at almost USD 350 million, a 45 per cent increase from the year before. Further, the two have also been involved in significant infrastructure projects, with Russia constructing a major gas pipeline along the length of Pakistan.
Third, the Russian and Pakistani interests in each other. Both Russia and Pakistan have their reasons for cooperating and strengthening ties with each other. Pakistan seeks to enhance defence cooperation and align itself with Russia, given the recent developments in Pak-US relations. Conversely, Russia is trying to make new allies in South Asia. Its multi-frontal engagement with Pakistan could be seen as efforts to secure its backyard in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Further, their interest in Pakistan lies in its strategic location, the CPEC project, the future of Afghanistan, markets for defence, and strategic sales, including space cooperation.
What does it mean?
First, a paradigm shift in Pak-Russia relations when compared to the 1980s. Although Pakistan and Russia have no history of a substantial relationship, their strategic realities have caused the current shift, which is a positive development for both Islamabad and Moscow.
Second, the Afghan factor is the start of something new. Their mutual interest in Afghanistan has brought the countries together. However, this factor can be seen as the start of bringing Russia and Pakistan towards further engagements.