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Russia’s Calibrated Strategic Pivot to Pakistan

Paper No. 6011                              Dated 21-Sept-2015

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Russia’s strategic pivot to Pakistan is not an aberration arising from India’s growing proximity to the United States but a well calibrated long-term strategic gamble that Russia has resorted to, hoping that in concert with China’s over-sized strategic investments in Pakistan, strategic and economic dividends could accrue to Russia also.

This becomes abundantly discernible from a lengthy article in a premier Russian think-tank by Andrew Korybko entitled “Pakistan is the ‘Zipper’ of Pan-Eurasian Integration” published on September 15, 2015. In this lengthy article the author covers in two parts the geoeconomics and geopolitics gains that are likely to accrue to Russia of its geostrategic reach to Pakistan. In the second part, the author dwells in fair detail on the analysis of Russia’s imperatives to move strategically closer to Pakistan.

It is not the intention in this Paper to dissect each and every facet that the Russian author advances in support of Russia’s strategic pivot to Pakistan. It would suffice to quote excerpts from his lengthy article to give the Indian policy establishment and the strategic community the thinking that has gone into Russia’s strategic pivot to Pakistan in 2015, though it had been in the works for nearly a decade.

The excerpts quoted verbatim below make interesting reading:

  • “Russia recognises Pakistan’s prime potential and has thus manoeuvred to rapidly increase its full-spectrum relations with the South Asian gatekeeper”. ( emphasis mine; mark the word ‘manoeuvred’)
  • Russia’s overarching goal, as it is with all of its partners today, nowadays, is to provide a non-provocative balancing component to buffet Pakistan’s political position and assist with its peaceful integration into the multi-polar Eurasian framework being constructed by the Russia-China Strategic Partnership.
  • Pakistan is uniquely placed to ‘zip together’ a variety of economic blocs, taking advantage of both its convenient geography and China’s grand investment vision to make it happen”.

One does not to have to read between the lines or implicit impulses that went into Russia’s strategic gamble to set aside India as the fulcrum of Russia’s strategic formulations. Russia and China certainly cannot balance United States over Pakistan; hence what is being alluded to above in terms of “buffet Pakistan’s political position” is obviously aimed at India.

Remarkably, Pakistan which was at the forefront of spearheading the military exit of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan by using Islamic Jihadi militias emerges in 2015 in Russian perceptions as the “South Asian Gatekeeper”. This is not written out of any Indian pique on Russian change of strategic priorities, but to highlight the strategic fickleness of both Russia and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s positioning in the China-Russia Strategic Partnership as an essential component needs to be noted by Indian policy establishment. The strategic connotations are many and detrimental to Indian security.

Writing on the Russian-India Strategic Partnership, the author makes the following observations:

  • “By 2015, this process had progressed to the point that Pakistan is a stalwart ally, and India is a civilsational pole balancing between United States and Russia”.
  • “The thinking goes that if Russia were to compensate for its diplomatic “blind-spot’ with Pakistan and reinvigorate the bilateral relationship with Islamabad, then it could recover the role that it plays between India and China in also helping to balance the tensions between India and Pakistan”.
  • Understanding the pivotal importance of Pakistan and also eager to build a foundation of political trust with its leadership so as to better assist the managing Pakistan-India tensions, Moscow took the bold step in reaching to Islamabad  and soliciting a strategic partnership”.

Please note that in Russian perceptions in 2015 Pakistan is perceived as a “stalwart ally” and India stands reduced to a “civilsational pole balancing between United States and Russia”

Also noteworthy is that it was Russia which solicited a strategic partnership with Pakistan and the connotation here is intriguing. What pressures impelled Russia to “Solicit” a strategic partnership with Pakistan?

Further, has India requested Russia to manage India-Pakistan tensions? Or Russia has self-appointed itself? Or is it China that has prevailed over Russia to do so, aware of the fact that India would never cede that role to China?

These are questions which can best be deciphered by India’s National Security Adviser.

Contextual Comments on the Russian Article

Since the Founder of this think-tank is shown as the Russian President, it would be fair to assume that the author of the above article is echoing Russian official thinking on Russia’s strategic pivot to Pakistan in 2015.

Russia has evidently gambled heavily on this strategic pivot to Pakistan as the author himself acknowledges that both India and the United States are in a position to impede the successful outcome of the Russian formulation of ‘Pakistan is the Zipper of Pan Eurasian Integration”.

 In this gamble, Russia stands to lose heavily if its gamble on Pakistan does not pay the intended dividend and Russia more importantly loses India as a trusted regional power ally.

That China has been able to virtually buy-into Russian strategic thinking was starkly evident to me two years back when invited to present a Paper at an International Conference in Moscow, virtually all the Papers presented by eminent Russian academics and scholars the Papier’s were all heavily slanted to Chinese formulations.

For India’s policy establishment, the challenge now is to divest themselves from mental mind-sets of multipolarity in international relations, as Russia and China are no longer separate ‘poles’ but a China-led ‘China-Russia Strategic Bloc’ whose strategic aims impinge on India’s national security interests.

Sometime back I had written that India should not get drawn into any China-Centric or China-led regional or international organisations. It is not in India’s strategic interests and I strongly maintain it. Let India not delude itself that China in the coming decades will ever adopt friendly stances towards India. Russia’s new found convergence with China on Pakistan, virtually seconding China’s policy formulations on Pakistan is a pointer.

 (Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at