Russia & Pakistan – A New Alliance

Pakistan’s warm reception from India’s old strategic and all time friend Russia means many fold. This about to start romance indicates something is missing between Russian and Indian relationship. Why dynamics and interests are changing after 68 years of independence of both the countries?


By M. Tahir Khan.

Russia's President Putin shakes hands with Pakistan's Prime Minister Sharif during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Ufa

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

If we look into the history of Pakistan and India, alliances are clear. Immediately after independence from British Rule in 1947, Pakistan was accepted and recognized by United States of America and was included in first few countries who recognized Pakistan. During Cold War era between America and Soviet Union (Now Russia) Pakistan aligned itself with America. In 1950, United States extended its hand

of friendship to Pakistan and invited Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan for a official visit, which was accepted and PM visited America for 23 days, during which Liaquat Ali Khan had positive interactions with President Harry Truman. After the first official visit of Prime Minister many senior political and military officials of Pakistan also visited America to strengthen relationship. Liaquat Ali Khan tried to extend relations with USSR at the same time but USSR had already established relations with India and reluctant to establish positive relations with Pakistan.

Joint Picture_01

In the meanwhile, if we give a close look at India and USSR relations, these were established in early 1950s in the same days Pakistan connected itself with USA. India’s relationship was firmly started in 1955 when Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru paid his first visit to USSR and in the same year Soviet Union President Krushchev also visited India and laid down stone of longer relations. Relations got further consolidate between both countries when USSR supported India’s position on Kashmir against Pakistan’s clear stance.

Joint Image Jawahar Lal Nehru

After initial buildup of relations, both neighbor countries have chosen their blocks, Pakistan in American block and India in USSR Block. The relationships remained intact; both sides kept them aligned in their blocks, Pakistan remained in US block in different tenures from the start, initially Liaquat Ali Khan, then Ayub Khan who created relations to further heights offered US to use Pakistan Army as their own. Afterwards all important leaders from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, General Zia ul Haq had good relations with United States of America. In General Zia’s tenure Pakistan fully supported America during Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and force USSR out of Afghanistan after more than nine years of war with the help of USA. USA supported Pakistan with cash, weapons, fighter planes and all kind of support against Russian aggression on Afghanistan.

Russian War on Afghaistan.

However, from 1988 to 2001 the relationship between both countries remained at low level, in 1998 USA imposed economic and military support sanctions on Pakistan after nuclear tests which Pakistan did in retaliation after India’s nuclear tests. Relations once again boosted after 9/11 attacks at USA when Pakistan decided to support US during their Afghanistan war. Pakistan aligned with United States with some ups and downs, and relied on US support in respect of financial aid and delivery of weapons as well.

The USSR remained committed with India in all times, whether its 1965 war between India and Pakistan or 1971 war on Pakistan which divided Pakistan into two. In 1965, USSR successfully broker peace between both countries and successfully took India out of trouble. Indian relations in different periods further strengthen with Russia. After Indra Gandhi’s death in 1984, Rajeev Gandhi visited USSR in 1985 and signed multiple economic agreements.

Russia also remained an important defense equipment supplier to India for several decades. Joint military exercises are regular feature of relationship between both the countries. Russia provided all major defense equipments to India to strengthen Indian’s defense.

In contrast, Pakistan-Russia relations during cold war era and afterwards remained at low level, however in 2007 relations started after the visit of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov who was first to visit Pakistan after post-Soviet era and held detailed discussion with President General Pervaiz Musharaf.

US President Barack Obama Visited India

In 2010, United States extended its relationships to further heights during President Obama’s first visit of India where US extended its warm gestures that they will back India’s seat on UN Security Council. In the same year Russian President Vladimir Putin openly described he was against building good relations with Pakistan because of their friendly relations with India.

Obama visiting India in 2010 - Copy

In 2012, Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Pakistan was also cancelled on the eleventh hour due to some crucial engagements, however in some sections of the Russian media it was reported that trip to Pakistan was postponed under Indian influence and President Putin sent his Foreign Minister to Pakistan.

After Russian Foreign Minister’s trip to Pakistan, relations started to build between both countries, Pakistan military and civil officials started to visit Russia. Pakistan Army Chief General Amjad Pervaiz Kiyani’s 2012 Russia trip also proved fruitful in bringing both the sides closer and enabled both sides to understand each other. The one other reason for Pakistan-Russia relations was India’s newer relationships with US as well.

New Era: Russia Lift Arms Embargo to Pakistan

In June 2014, Russia lifts arms embargo to Pakistan and started to hold talks to provide Islamabad with combat Helicopters MI 35. Arms embargo was enforced on Pakistan since Soviet era, and change in embargo was regarded as a major shift in Russian policy, whereas earlier policies were only focused towards India.

In November, 2014 Pakistan and Russia signed defense cooperation agreement. The deal was signed by Defense Minister Khawaja Asif and his counterpart Sergey Shoigu and regarded as a major milestone in the history Pakistan and Russia relations.

Pact Signed_

 India Strengthened Relations with US & West

During President Obama’s 2nd India trip in January 2015, there were a lot of gossip on Russia-India relations and Boris Volkhonsky, Head of Asia had openly said Obama’s India trip not a threat to Russia-India relations, in actual new buildup of relations also threatened Russia to think about their relationship with India as well.

India started to shift alliance from Russia to US and started to extend military and economic ties with US. India signed various defense deals for obtaining defense equipment including Chinook and Apache Attack helicopters etc. Furthermore India also signed defense deals with Israel, Britain and France.

Russian Annexation of Crimea

On March 18, 2015 Crimea a territory of Ukrine was annexed by Russia in a military intervention. This intervention and annexation took place after Ukranian revolution. Russian annexation ends up with multiple international restrictions from US and European Union on Russia. Sanctions targeted Russia’s state finances, energy and arms sector and impact of sanctions can be imagined from out flow of cash from Russia that is worth $75bn. US and European Union sanctions also forced Russia to explore new markets for weapon and businesses, Pakistan can also be greater opportunity for them to expand themselves in terms of business.

Pakistan – Russia relations reached new heights

February 15, 2015 China granted no objection certificate to Pakistan and enabled Pakistan to directly acquire RD-93 power engines from Russia to produce JF Thunder 17 fighter planes.

June 15, 2015 General Raheel Sharif visited Moscow, Russia for a three day official visit to meet civil and military relationship. This trip was considered as sign of warm relations between Pakistan and Russia.

July 9, 2015 Sartaz Aziz, Advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs while briefing the National Assembly of Pakistan had informed that Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted the invitation to visit Pakistan, which will be considered a major break through in relations of both the countries.

September 20, 2015 Pakistan discussed with Russia to buy Su-35 and Flanker-E fighter jets. It was considered largest defense deal between both countries.

October 15, 2015 Pakistan Russia sign $2.5bn accord for Liquefied Natural Gas pipeline for carrying it from Karachi to Lahore.

January 23, 2016 Russian Army’s Commander in Chief Oleg Salyukov announced first ever joint military exercises with Pakistan’s military in coming year. It is important to be noted here that earlier Russian military always had military exercises with India only.

General Raheel Sharif in Russia

India US Military Exercises

Alliance and interests shifts, Pakistan started to enjoy some positive relationship with Russia and on the other side, India started to build stronger military relations with America. Last year in December 2015, Indian Defense Minister visited US where he had finalized agreements and concluded that India will be participating in two major military exercises with US military forces.


Alliances & interests are crucial in determining the basis for relationship between two nations. Pakistan-US relations had a long history starting from 1947, but relations always remained deeper whenever United States interests matched with Pakistan or US had its own interests in the region. In the governments of General Zia and General Musharf US – Pakistan joined hands initially against Soviet Union and afterwards Pakistan supported US War on Afghanistan. It’s always interests and alliances that counts, Russia as larger stake holder kept itself aligned with India and protected India’s interests as well. However, after 2010 India tried to create alliance with US in response of assurance to receive support for getting UN Security Council Permanent membership, whereas US stressed economy is looking for new markets to grow and there is no other market than India which will support them in the times of recession.

Russia also reconsidered its position with regard to Pakistan and open up its markets, removed armed export embargo, furthermore it looks it has completely over hauled its view for keeping relations with both India and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s opportunities are open and it is considered as success for Civil-Military leadership that it has developed new growing relationship with Russia which matches Pakistan’s interests many fold, however, India looks in an odd position and their foreign policy looks being marginalized by Pakistan, while Pakistan also maintaining good relations with US. US approval to sell new eight F-16 to Pakistan is success of Pakistan’s foreign policy while India has failed.

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