Russia and Pakistan - Does Russia have a comprehensive policy towards South Asia
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Does Russia have a comprehensive policy towards South Asia, as it has remained more country-specific in the past? At this moment in time, Russia’s foreign policy in general is undergoing a transformation as Moscow transitions to a new paradigm of conducting its International Relations, which as described in the previous answer, is the fulfilment of what its leadership believes to be the country’s historic role in balancing affairs all across Eurasia. This can’t be accomplished if Russia shows partiality towards one or another state in a given region, which is why it’s been diversifying its relations in South Asia all across the board and with every single actor. In view of this, it doesn’t yet seem as though Russia has formulated a comprehensive policy for the entire region, though it does by every indication look to be crafting one right now.
Most directly pertinent to Pakistan is Moscow’s relations with Islamabad and New Delhi, both of which have experienced a notable change over the past couple of years. Russia’s balancing strategy isn’t directed against anyone, nor is it meant to be for anyone’s benefit either. Rather, it attempts to be just that – balancing, or finding equilibrium – in order to put Russia in the position to ensure stability in the various regions of Eurasia, in this case South Asia. It’s pertinent to compare Russia’s policy to India’s heralded one of “multi-alignment”, though unlike how the latter hides behind this slogan to overtly side with the US against China, Moscow has no such intentions whatsoever and is actually practicing the said policy as it’s supposed to be. The same also goes for Pakistan, which has a history of seeking diverse relationships in order to balance between multiple actors and especially Great Powers.
Because of Russia’s balancing vision, it understandably needs to have country-specific goals that its diplomats work towards achieving, and the broad nature of Moscow’s pan-Eurasian strategy means that this covers every country in the landmass, including all of those in South Asia. It was already described how Russia broadly goes about doing this as it concerns Pakistan and India, but a few words should be said about the other states in South Asia as well.
Bangladesh is the next most relevant state as it relates to Russia’s South Asian strategy, and the two sides are working together on arms shipments and nuclear energy cooperation, the latter field of which has become something of a diplomatic-strategic outreach tool for Moscow in recent decades. The entire mainland South Asian region stretching across Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh provides a plethora of business opportunities for Russian entrepreneurs, though the lack of economic integration between these three parties owing to the institutional failings of SAARC (attributable to Indian intransigence against Pakistan) means that separate strategies need to be crafted and implemented in each case. In addition, each country has different advantages that Russia sees in it – Pakistan is the closest geographic partner with the highest degree of future accessibility through CPEC and access to the Indian Ocean; India has countless infrastructure investment opportunities; and Bangladesh is one of the centers of the global garment industry.
All three share the need for more energy, which thus provides a crucial opening for Russia’s state-owned companies to enter into their respective markets, whether through building a gas pipeline like in Pakistan or nuclear reactors such as those under development in India and Bangladesh.
As is known, South Asia also includes Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, though Russian policy here is less defined and has no clear strategic stimuli. Russian tourists are known for their proclivity in visiting “exotic” non-Western vacation spots, so it’s possible that more of them might go to these destinations (especially Sri Lanka and the Maldives) in the future, which in that case could help form the foundation for developing bilateral state-to-state relations even further. Concerning the two Himalayan states, Russia’s federal officials would do well to consider ways in which they can encourage religious interaction between their indigenous Buddhist population in the Far East and their counterparts in Bhutan, which could help bring the two sides together in a unique and creative way. As for Nepal, it would be wise for Russia to craft a tangible policy towards this country in order to work on improving its position in this geostrategically crucial state at the literal center of the Chinese-Indian New Cold War, though for now, there aren’t any visible signs that this is a priority for Moscow.
Reflecting on the abovementioned insight, observers should recognize that Russia is making concerted efforts to diversify its South Asian relationships from their former Indo-centricity and to something more fair and balanced (“multi-alignment”). This transition will take some time because Russia’s Soviet-era specialists on the region are entering into retirement, and the new generation which is replacing them is still learning the best ways to fulfil their country’s grand strategic goal of Eurasian balancing. Nobody should expect this process to be a fast one, and it will undoubtedly experience twists and turns before it’s perfected, but the elaborated policies explain what Russia wants to accomplish and why it’s been adjusting its relationships in South Asia over the past couple of years.