Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Changing dynamics of Pakistan-Russia Relations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TAPI gas pipeline

Mains level : Russia-Pakistan affinity and its impact on India

The two-day visit to Moscow by Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan comes at a time when President Vladimir Putin is the bad boy of the world for his actions against Ukraine.

Pakistan–Russia Relations: A backgrounder

  • The Soviet Union and Pakistan first established diplomatic and bilateral relations on 1 May 1948.
  • For most of the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s relations with Pakistan have seen ups and downs during the different periods in the history of Pakistan.
  • Pakistan is credited for playing a key role for allying and supporting the West during this time period of the Cold War.
  • In recent years their ties have warmed as a countermeasure to warming ties between India and the United States.

Instances of Russia defying India

  • The two countries carried out their first-ever joint military drills in 2016 despite Indian requests to postpone due to the Uri attack.
  • Pakistan and Russia signed an agreement for the Pakistan Stream Gas pipeline from Karachi to Kasur, and reached a price accord by December 2016.
  • Pakistan has also granted Russia access to a warm water port in the Arabian Sea (Gwadar Port).
  • Their mutual partnership with China that has grown in recent years signals the undeniable development of a new axis in South Asia and Central Asia.
  • The two countries take the lead in projecting the Taliban as the rightful claimants to power in Kabul.

A timeline of relations

  • Cold war era: Pakistan’s relations with Russia have come a long way since the time it was a willing ally and treaty partner of the US bloc against the Soviet Union. It had helped the US repair its relations with China, which sent Beijing and Moscow further apart.
  • Paving way for India: In response, India and USSR solidified their ties with a defense pact and increased economic and people-to-people exchanges.
  • Afghan War: Pakistan saw itself as a frontline state against the spread of communism, and actively aided and assisted in the defeat of the Red Army in the first Afghan war, with the US and Saudi Arabia using the Pak Army.
  • Fall of USSR: The collapse of the Soviet Union led to major shifts in international relations. From their vantage points, Pakistan and Russia watched the US and post-economic-reforms India draw closer.

Pakistan parted with the US

  • Putin’s Russia began looking for new markets for its military hardware, as well as new international partners, began building ties with Pakistan.
  • By then, serious rifts had emerged between the Obama Administration and Pakistan.
  • The killing of Osama bin Laden in a stealth raid by US marines in Pakistan’s Abbottabad became the turning point.


(1) Helping the lonely Pakistan

  • In 2011, to New Delhi’s shock, Russia lifted its four-decade-old arms embargo on Pakistan — and within four years, would sell Pakistan its first MiG attack helicopters.
  • As a US defeat in Afghanistan began to look certain, both countries made common cause on Afghanistan, again to India’s dismay.
  • In September 2016, after the Jaish-e-Mohammed attack in Uri, Russia went ahead with a joint military exercise with Pakistan, ignoring New Delhi’s appeal.
  • In 2017, with Indo-Pak relations at their lowest, Russia sold more helicopters to Pakistan.

(2) Enters the old dragon

  • After its 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia found a friend in China, the long-time friend of Pakistan, triangulating the relationship.
  • Both Pakistan and Russia are participants in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
  • After the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the world has seen the three take common positions and in tacit acknowledgment of each other’s interests in that country.

Impact on ties with India

  • The Russia-India relationship is not what it used to be in the Soviet days, both sides recognise its continued mutual benefits. However-
  1. Russia is hardly starry-eyed about its relations with Pakistan.
  2. It has clear views against Pakistan’s patronage of terrorists.
  3. While it is supportive of the Taliban regime, Russia is concerned about radical terrorism expansion from Afghanistan.
  • Russia remains India’s biggest arms supplier, and India took the risk of being sanctioned by the US when it bought the Russian S 400 missile defence system.
  • New Delhi has not yet allowed its close ties with the US to tilt its delicate balance on the Ukraine issue.

Significance of Pak Visit

  • IK is visiting Russia on the Kremlin’s invitation sides to convey their own messages to the West about building partnerships in a changing world.
  • He will become the first foreign leader to visit Russia after Putin recognized two breakaway regions of Ukraine as independent republics.
  • He is also the first Pakistani PM to travel to that country since the landmark visit by Nawaz Sharif in 1999.

What does Pakistan seeks to have?

  • Pakistan wants Russia to invest in, and construct a $2.5 billion gas pipeline from the seaport in Karachi to Kasur in the Punjab hinterland, even though this pipeline is unlikely to transport Russian gas.
  • Moscow, however, appears to be more interested in the possibility of building the 1,800-km Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.


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