While Russia is getting isolated by the US and allies through variety of sanctions after it annexed Crimea and Ukraine war started, it is re-orienting its geo-political ties towards new found partners which include China and Pakistan. Kremlin and China have come closer against the west despite being rival regional powers in the Central Asian region, especially with regard to their competition for sphere of influence. Since last few years, Russia is trying to cajole Pakistan as well.
History shows that Pakistan’s foreign ties have been premised on unprincipled pragmatism as it has shifted its allegiance on and off with short-sightedness and absence of any sustained commitment. Nothing could be more eye opening than a recent memorandum of understanding which a Pakistani company DMI Associates signed with Warsaw for transferring Pakistani weapons to Kiev through transit offered by Poland. In this deal, it is also likely that a Canadian firm would act as an intermediary facilitating the transfer of weapons.
However, the Pakistani decision to supply weapons to Ukraine to fight against Russia reflects on its unprincipled foreign policy, especially as Moscow has shown positive overtures for cooperation with Islamabad in energy and nuclear power sectors, besides food and agriculture. It is known from media reports that Islamabad is ready to export Anza Mark-II man portable air defense systems (MANPADS) to Ukraine via Poland. It is known that Pakistani and Polish companies Millennium Technologies (Karachi) and Omida Sea and Air (Gdynia) have agreed on the issue of transportation.
Pakistan had never been honest in its relations with Russia. In September 2022, evidence surfaced that the UK was smuggling weapons into Ukraine via a secret air bridge over Pakistan. Pakistan’s dubious role and hypocrisy did not spare even its time tested strategic partner, the US in the fight against terror. Frustrated by Islamabad’s insincerity on the fight against terrorism, the US had suspended the security assistance of about USD 900 million in 2018. The then President Donald Trump had tweeted in this regard on January 1, 2018 thus: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than USD 33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan with little help. No more.” The Joe Biden administration has also decided to continue with the suspension of the aid.
It is strange how Pakistan is again moving towards betraying Moscow which is coming forward to help salvage its energy problem. Russia getting isolated by the US and its Western allies after annexation of Crimea started exploring new partners to remain relevant to the new geo-political order. In April 2021, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited India and Pakistan together. The Russian Foreign Minister had then expressed readiness to supply “special military equipment” to Pakistan and hold more joint military exercises. Russia had also decided to supply Mi-35 attack helicopters to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s decision to supply weapons to Ukraine is not something which would please Russia. Moscow may back track from its promise of “firming up of a strategic partnership” with Pakistan. In seeking enhanced cooperation with Pakistan, Russia has also a danger of skewing its geo-political stance in South Asia where it has a long and reliable friend in India. India, despite western pressures has maintained neutrality in Russia-Ukraine war and urged both the warring countries to solve their dispute through peaceful means, including diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations. Many observers feel that India would be the best bait for Russia in South Asia as a long and time tested strategic partner even amid fluid geo-political situation and realities.
India has made it clear very explicitly that notwithstanding its upward looking ties with the US, it would not allow it to cost its traditionally tested ties with Russia. Russia still remains one of the mainstays of India’s defense purchases. Now, Russia is also one of the major energy suppliers to India. The past of India-Russia economic and technological cooperation has been glorious and none of them would like to jeopardise it. Going with enhanced ties with Pakistan at the cost of India would be a wrong policy option for Moscow. Also given Pakistan’s complicity in aiding and abating terrorism in South Asia and elsewhere may cause a reputation damage to Russia if Moscow comes closer in cooperation with Islamabad. Nevertheless, the most important thing to remember for Moscow while enhancing ties with Pakistan is that the latter is neither committed nor dependable as a friend due to its shortsighted and narrow and selfish interests. Since it is more vulnerable economically, it has become far more palpable now to be exploited by other countries against Russia. Russia, therefore, needs not to do anything against its time tested partner in South Asia, i.e, none other than India. As Pakistan is trying hard to win over US and China and its position on international ties could not be taken for granted as seen in the past, Russia should tread cautiously.