Strategic realignment in South Asian politics
When Russian Ambassador to Pakistan Alexey Dedov recently spoke about the proposal to align his country’s ambitious Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) initiative with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project funded by China , worth 46 billion dollars (169.18 billion dirhams), Indian security experts have no time to connect the dots to predict an emerging axis between Russia, China and Pakistan.
Moscow’s support for CPEC, seen as a threat to New Delhi’s geostrategic ambition in the wider South Asia region, has virtually stoked a hornet’s nest in the Indian establishment, with a seasoned policy analyst foreigner and a figurehead of the ruling party in India Bharatiya Janata. , Sheshadri Chari, even calling for a total national effort to deter the Russians from embracing Pakistan. The seed of a strong Russian-Pakistani strategic partnership was in fact sown in the winter of 2014 during Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s trip to Pakistan – the first by the political executive of a Russian Defense Ministry. in 45 years – on the second leg of a tour. who first took him to Beijing.
In a clear sign of rapprochement, Russia has started to move closer to its Cold War enemy, lifting the self-imposed arms embargo and signing a one-of-a-kind military cooperation agreement, in addition to promoting geostrategic collaboration. and strengthening trade relations. More importantly, there is a convergence of views on most international and cross-regional issues, with Russia seeing Pakistan as an important partner in restoring regional stability – as evidenced by the frank and official admission of Russian General Valery Gerasimov. and the successful completion of the first Russian-Pakistani consultation on regional issues.
In fact, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, a former Russian foreign intelligence chief who served as his country’s deputy foreign minister and ambassador to India, also believes that the merger of the EAEU and the CPEC will help to throw the solid foundations for a multilateral Eurasian security partnership. A supporter of cooperative competition, Troubnikov told me, such an enterprise will consolidate the fight against international terrorism.
Certainly, a long-standing strategic ally like Russia, having supported India to the hilt in multilateral forums, slowly moving away from the New Delhi strategic framework is cause for concern, despite the shift in focus. India to Washington with the aim of becoming the linchpin of America’s backbone. to Asia.
A strategic realignment in the Indian Ocean region was inevitable in the context of India’s growing defense ties with America, Japan and Australia, both bilaterally and multilaterally. As New Delhi strives to re-shape the India-Japan-US-Australia axis in the Indo-Pacific, Russia is forced to explore the new frontiers of military cooperation with Pakistan and to bring it to a strategic level. In fact, it is now clear that Moscow and New Delhi no longer share common views on Pakistan’s role in global geopolitics, which is why Russia continued the joint military exercise with Pakistani forces, ignoring the formal objection from India.
Although it openly maintains some distance from Islamabad, the Kremlin’s realpolitik strategy is to elevate Pakistan’s regional status due to growing concern about an overflow of radical extremist elements into the resource-rich region of the world. ‘Central Asia in Russia’s backyard. The point is that a flourishing defense trade, which became the raison d’Ãªtre of strategic relations between India and Russia in the post-Cold War era, suddenly became a handicap.
As sanctions against Indian defense entities were lifted and high-tech export controls were gradually relaxed, thanks to U.S. diplomatic overdrive, an unequivocal message was sent to Moscow that New Delhi will no longer put all its eggs in the same basket with respect to the acquisition of defense. . There were telltale signs, signaling a sudden freeze in Indo-Russian defense ties as a whole, with Moscow consciously deciding to demote India to a “privileged partner” instead of an exclusive partner in the long-standing military-technical relationship. .
Today, the Russians, despite the multi-billion dollar defense agreement signed during President Vladimir Putin’s participation in the BRICS summit (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) held in India, no longer hesitate to arm Pakistan with an Mi-35 attack. helicopters, thereby consolidating Islamabad’s ability to cope with the growing threat from Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) in the delicate terrain of the Hindu Kush. Moreover, to stabilize the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, essential to safeguarding Moscow’s vital economic and security interests in the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Russian leaders have not even hesitated to drag China into the ring, by providing advanced Sukhoi-35s. fighter planes in Beijing.
For India, the Moscow-Islamabad military agreement or the call for the interconnection of the EAEU and the CPEC should not be of concern. Russian and Chinese efforts to integrate the Eurasian landmass are in their infancy. As Trubnikov frankly admits, it may take decades to fulfill the obligations of the EAEU Treaty, as the creation of a common economy and energy market is easier said than to do.
Moreover, New Delhi’s two-way trade with Moscow is expected to reach $ 30 billion by 2025, outside of lucrative business opportunities available in civilian nuclear power and other critical sectors that will inevitably attract Russian investment.
However, it is also imperative that India joins Russia, China and others in strengthening Pakistan’s capacity to counter the terrorist network operating in the region, if it does not want to isolate itself in the game of chess. geostrategic of South Asia.
Seema Sengupta is a journalist and columnist based in Kolkata.