Thursday, September 7, 2017

Russia’s CPEC dream is Pakistan’s dilemma

Russia would not take much time to join the project provided Pakistan and more importantly China let it join it


Pakistan should feel greatly heartened by the Kremlin statement in its favour after US President Donald Trump announced his new policy on Afghanistan. This is a testament to the growing bilateral relations between Moscow and Islamabad. Recently, there have also been reports of growing ties between Russian and the Afghan Taliban and supply of arms to the latter from the former. This noticeable policy shift in Moscow regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan may have many reasons but the most important factor behind this is the Russian desire to somehow take advantage of CPEC by linking itself to the project

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Russia would not take much time to join the project provided Pakistan and more importantly China let it join it. The fundamental reason for which Moscow would love to become, even an auxiliary, part of CPEC is that it is the long-cherished desire of Russian rulers to have access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Since the times of the Russian czar Peter the Great to the present-day Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, all have wanted to somehow provide Russia access to warm waters of Asia. Because most of the other seas surrounding Russia are not navigable. During the Cold War Soviet Russia could not match the military prowess of the US because, inter alia, the strategic advantage which the latter has had because of its geography. The US is surrounded by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans most of which are open for all navigational purposes. Therefore, access to warm waters of Persia and South Asia has always been extremely important for the economic and military strength of Russia. But times have changed irrespective of the agenda of Putin. Today Russia may not get any real military advantage after having access to the warm waters but it obviously would have large-scale positive impact on its economy. Beijing and Islamabad may not like Russia to gain any military advantage by joining but they would not mind Moscow getting a proportionate economic advantage.

Arguably Russia could only be part of CPEC if the Central Asian Republics are also linked to the project. Most of these states have shown their desire to join CPEC. Through its One Belt, One Road initiative China has massive plans of reviving the ancient Silk Route. Beijing would be more than willing to economically link Central and South Asia along with Russia because, in the final analysis, it would be China that would gain the most from these links.

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Pakistani strategists in order to take military and strategic advantage by having closer ties with Moscow so as to neutralise India’s grown relations with Washington, may want to rope Russia into CPEC. However, Islamabad should leave the decision of Russia’s association with CPEC solely to China. The project was conceived and funded by China; therefore, it is Beijing which should be given the control over its dynamics and stakeholders. Nevertheless, Islamabad may have some worries regarding Russia’s association with CPEC. Of these, the most important is Putin’s agenda of making Russia a superpower again. The way Russia has tried to prevent Ukraine from falling into the lap of the West, its military alliance Nato and its support to Syrian embattled ruler Bashar al Assad in Syria in his fight with the anti-regime forces in recent years point towards revivalist efforts for lost Russian power and status. Against this backdrop Pakistan must be cautious in facilitating Russia’s desire to associate with CPEC as it cannot afford to let go any of the benefits of CPEC. Because for Islamabad the immediate attraction of Moscow’s support to Pakistan may estrange Beijing as well as Turkey, a key ally of Islamabad. Pakistan has to walk a tight rope in this situation.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2017.

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