Andrew Koribko. O Gasoduto de Fluxo do Paquistão eleva as apostas da Rússia no sul da Ásia

Imran Khan e Vladimir Putin em uma reunião. FOTO: AFP

Isso pode, em última análise, levar a Rússia não jogar mais segundo violino para a Índia no sul da Ásia

Andrew Korybko22 de dezembro de 2020

O acordo do mês passado para começar a construção no próximo verão do Gasoduto de Fluxo do Paquistão – anteriormente chamado de Gasoduto Norte-Sul – mostra que a Rússia está aumentando suas participações no sul da Ásia. Representa a evolução de sua aproximação rápida com o Paquistão e o movimento gradual para uma eventual parceria estratégica. A "diplomacia militar" entre os dois que começaram devido a ameaças de segurança compartilhadas decorrentes da presença do Isis no Afeganistão e, em seguida, estabeleceu as bases para os exercícios navais multilaterais AMAN-2021 planejados de fevereiro está agora se transformando em "diplomacia energética".

Moscou está visivelmente diversificando seus interesses regionais ao se envolver progressivamente em formas mutuamente benéficas de cooperação com Islamabad, o que não pode deixar de chamar a atenção de Nova Délhi. A Parceria Estratégica Russo-Indiana está sendo testada como nunca antes depois que o influente ideólogo bjp subramanian Swamy artigo anti-russo no mês passado expôs a divisão do partido no poder sobre manter ou não a relação privilegiada de décadas de seu país com Moscou. A resposta não oficial da Índia ao aviso do Ministro das Relações Exteriores russo Lavrov sobre a influência americana em Nova Deli pode ter agravado inadvertidamente a crescente desconfiança.

It’s against this backdrop that next summer’s planned construction of the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline begins to take on a much more strategic significance than most observers might have initially thought. It’s one thing for Russia and Pakistan to stage annual anti-terrorist drills in each other’s countries, as well as participate in multilateral naval drills, and another entirely to invest so significantly in a multibillion-dollar energy infrastructure project. Russia is sending the message that it won’t be deterred by India from establishing tangible stakes in Pakistan’s stability and helping it meet its pressing energy needs.

This is the largest Russian investment in Pakistan since the Pakistan Steel Mills project in the middle of the Old Cold War, which was initiated during a thaw in their relations at the time. Unlike then, however, no realistic chances for a geopolitical competition between the two exist anymore since they’re nowadays on the same page regarding Afghanistan, to say nothing of the USSR’s dissolution totally changing Moscow’s strategic calculus towards the region. This observation results in optimistic predictions about the future of their fledgling partnership since even more investments might soon be on the way.

Publicly financed Russian international media outlet RT reported a little over a year ago on 9 December 2019 that “Russia looks to invest in Pakistan in a big way” after a 64-member delegation led by Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov “inked their largest-ever cooperation deal, worth billions of dollars, to expand trade and business...It includes huge investments in energy, rail and steel industries.” The publicly disclosed details are scarce but the outlet did reveal that Russia promised to invest a whopping $14 billion in Pakistan’s energy sector, only $2.5 billion of which is for Pakistan Stream.

This very strongly suggests that the recently agreed project might be but the first in a series of similar megaprojects all throughout the country over the next decade, which would align with both countries’ complementary balancing strategies vis-a-vis one another. Russia can also show India that it has regional alternatives to that country in the event that New Delhi replaces Moscow’s presence in certain spheres with its Western competitors instead. To be clear, Pakistan is not a replacement for India, but is perceived by Russia as a complementary component of its comprehensive South Asian balancing strategy.

Unlike India which dishonestly claims to be “multi-aligning” in order to unconvincingly disguise its pro-Western pivot that it’s carrying out at China’s – and increasingly also Russia’s – expense, Russia is truly embodying that principle by not doing anything which genuinely harms Indian interests. While it’s true that the American-influenced zero-sum mind-set currently prevalent in that country would prefer for Pakistan to never meet its ever-growing energy needs, let alone from Russia, the multipolar-influenced win-win one that India pretends to embrace while engaging with BRICS and the SCO should praise Russia for helping Pakistan in this manner.

Officially speaking and overlooking Swamy’s hateful anti-Russian article, the Indian government regularly reaffirms how much it “trusts” Russia so there shouldn't be any problem with it engaging in an apolitical non-military investment such as the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline. The regional impact of this megaproject’s successful completion will actually strengthen South Asian stability by improving the lives of tens of millions of average Pakistanis in contrast to the regional impact of India’s de-facto pro-American military alliance through the Quad which stands to upset the regional balance of power with potentially devastating consequences.

Nevertheless, it’s understandable that the Indian leadership might feel uncomfortable about this project since they hitherto assumed that they had Russia wrapped around their finger so much that Moscow wouldn’t ever dare to do anything to improve the lives of average Pakistanis, yet the Eurasian Great Power is showing the aspiring South Asian hegemon that it truly practices an independent regional strategy. While the Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership is among Moscow’s most important bilateral relationships anywhere in the world and in fact even in its millennium-long history, the country won’t allow it to be exploited to impede its regional aims.

Those said aims are to restore a semblance of balance to South Asia after India’s de-facto military alliance with the US radically changed the status quo. Russia’s balancing act will naturally be imperfect since it doesn’t aspire to replace India with Pakistan which is unrealistic in any case, but it’ll still be important enough to simultaneously show New Delhi that it can’t boss Moscow around any longer while also signalling to Islamabad that it can count on the country for further investments. Russia won’t ever officially participate in CPEC in order to avoid “provoking” India, but megaprojects like Pakistan Stream represent its growing unofficial role in it.

The more tangible stakes that Russia obtains in South Asian countries other than India, be they Pakistan or whichever others might soon follow, the more diversified and therefore independent its regional strategy can become. This might ultimately lead to Russia no longer playing second fiddle to India in South Asia but actually becoming an equal player in its own right after showing that it doesn’t depend on New Delhi for relevance. It’ll of course take time for this strategic outcome to unfold and there are veritably several variables that could offset its success, but the prospects are still real promising and could thus revolutionise regional affairs.

Andrew Korybko

The writer is an American Moscow-based political analyst specialising in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare. He tweets at @AKorybko.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.