The term ‘realpolitik’ has rarely more accurately defined a relationship between two nations than it has the one shared among Pakistan and Russia. The two nations on an individual level could not be more unique from each other. Being on two distinctly separate parts of the world, varying in all aspects of race, caste, and creed among their populations
However, what makes this relation a treat to study for any ‘realpolitik’ enthusiast would be its exceptional dynamics. The two do not share any long-standing historical synergetic relations built on trade and trust like Pakistan has with China, nor did the countries pose any preceding threat to each other national security like Pakistan adopted with India right from its inception. The ever-vibrant dynamic between the two has been shaped by one thing and one thing only, national interest.
The moment Pakistan and India achieved their independence in 1947 they appeared on the radar of the then two competing giants the USA and the USSR and their ensuing ‘cold war.’ As both sides were actively looking to recruit allies, the emergence of two new countries on the globe was an opportunity not to be wasted. As expected, in 1950 then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan found himself with a decision that could shape the nation’s foreseeable trajectory. He received an invitation from both USA and USSR.
While the invitations were just a simple proposal inviting the Prime Minister for a visit it was evident what consequences were to ensue accepting either one. It was then the Prime Minister ‘picked his poison,’ it was to be the side of capitalism in the USA. Despite the very public rejection the USSR chose not to take it ‘personally.’ They continued trying to woo Pakistan in the following years.
When the Soviets launched a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan. The USA could not afford to let them get away with this and was desperate to intervene. While it found itself on the opposite end of the world from Afghanistan, its immediate neighbor Pakistan was its only hope being the ‘most allied ally,’ it was.
Pakistan too saw the threat as it would have been most likely the next target after Afghanistan fell and decided to finally step into the limelight. What followed were the infamous ‘ghost wars’ as immortalized by Steve Coll. The result was a humiliating defeat suffered by the USSR and its eventual breakdown into separate states. What remained was Russia, which many would expect to bear a searing hatred towards Pakistan for the part it played in its downfall but that was not the case. As previously mentioned the Russians kept it strictly ‘just business.’
Mutual Cooperation towards collective growth seems to be a policy shared by the two, especially in recent years. Ever since President Xi Jinping revealed the BRI project in 2013 both countries realized that their national interest would be best served in looking towards the rising east rather than the declining west. One area where considerable progress has been made is defense cooperation. Multiple joint military exercises have been conducted in both countries with a ‘Defense Cooperation Agreement’ having been signed in 2018. In 2017 Pakistan even received four MI-35 attack helicopters from Russia for $153 million.
Imran Khan’s recent trip to Russia was a strong statement at a global level. Being the first trip by a Pakistani PM in 23years, its reception on the Russian side was clearly positive. The imagery of Imran Khan and President Putin sitting next to each other was a strong message considering it coming right at the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With the invasion signaling the end of the USA’s era as ‘leader of the free World,’ and both leaders having just come from meeting president Xi Jinping in Beijing makes clear that the new block including Russia, China, and Pakistan is united and the global political sphere has shifted away from US’s unipolarity to a multipolar setting.
With the BRI project nearing completion and more countries becoming a part of it, it is evident that Pakistan and Russia’s national interests have aligned in the foreseeable future.