Russia’s Perspective on CPEC

Copyright 2016 by the Council on Foreign Relations.

The inclusion of CPEC with the Belt and Road Initiative is a concrete example of how the Xi Jinping’s idea became an initiative. In this whole context of OBOR, Pakistan’s membership of SCO makes relevant to Russia or the Eurasian Economic Union. Otherwise, it is a little direct importance to Russia. Apart from a trade corridor, CPEC is also about the construction of the main pilot projects and model projects. It is giving impetus to China and Pakistan to cooperate in many fields of infrastructure, energy resources, agriculture, irrigation, information, and communication. There are several reports suggesting that this corridor oil pipeline will carry one million barrels per day of Middle Eastern oil to China. Currently, China imports about 8 million barrels per day, out of which 6 million barrels per day are through sea routes. One thing which is more pertinent to discuss the Pakistan’s financial stability can be affected by the Silk Road Economic Belt projects or not and what about the repayment to China? As the strategic importance of CPEC to China as compared to Pakistan may be such that it is willing and prepared to take significant financial losses. The economic issue is also relevant to the belt and Road countries; there should be a concern for Pakistan that many projects will be not able to repay the funds received.

This 50 plus billion dollar project is not only the game changer for China-Pakistan and Asia as whole instead there is an apprehension that India can start a military conflict over CPEC, but it depends on how many countries are siding with the CPEC, however on the ground it is implausible that India would do that.

As far as Russia’s bid to join CPEC is concerned, there is an indication that Russia which has been the key weapon supplier to India for decades is leaving behind India to Join the CPEC and the triangle of China- Pakistan, and Russia will be keeping up. The CPEC project may be the Launchpad to form an alliance amongst Beijing, Russia, and Pakistan. I would say that CPEC is the foundation for the China-Pakistan Russia triangle.

Russia’s intelligence officials and Pakistan’s officials reportedly had discussions to strengthen their bilateral defense and military ties. These two countries Russia and Pakistan expressed their interests in reshaping the cooperation between their intelligence agencies. The Russian intelligence chief was said to visit Gwadar which is the key point of the CPEC-the mega project of a network of railways, pipelines that connect Kashghar and Gwadar.

It is evident that the economic opportunities offered by the CPEC and according to the media sources expressed the interests in using the Gwadar Port for international trade. It is an open and inclusive project, and Russia is invited to or to make investments in various sectors of Pakistan to deepen the economic ties. Because it is the economics which drives the states’ relations. Now the question arises that is the CPEC end of India and Russia’s friendship? Though Russia and Pakistan were never on the same page in cold war era they have immensely amended their bilateral relations in last two years. It could be said that this new friendship showing the military deals and joint military exercises would bring closer Russia and China as the latter is the all-weather friend of Pakistan.

On the other hand, Russia is well understood of the relations between the two belligerent countries India and Pakistan and strong opponent to the CPEC project and India cannot be happy on the closer ties between Moscow and Islamabad. As the inclusiveness of the project can not stop Russia to support the project. Russia’s welcoming attitude and joining the CPEC would be a concern for India.

On the other hand, Russia and Pakistan both share strategic interests as Russian wants to resolve Afghanistan dilemma because it has fears of the spill-over effects of the terrorism to its backyard in Central Asia from Afghanistan particularly the emergence of IS which threatens the stability of Russia itself concerning Chechnya. It also has fears of the presence of US forces in Afghanistan. Whereas Pakistan’s interests are starting from first; it wants to strengthen its position in the region by engaging with second nuclear power. Second; Pakistan seeks to a peaceful resolution of Afghanistan. Third; Pakistan seeks the prospects of giving Russia access to the deep-sea port of Gwadar and subsequent incorporation of Russia in OBOR. In a nutshell, in the South Asian context, Pakistan’s reach to Russia come out of the need to counterbalance India’s growing influence in the region specifically after the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between India and the US which seems to make India “linchpin” in this region.

As Indian access to US weapons alongside US support for Indian operations in the sea – Indian Ocean — represents an alarming signal to Pakistan to recalibrate its international relations and increase its outreach to regional powers to counter prospective Indian hegemony in South Asia. Simultaneously Pakistan should maintain its ties with the US on even keels because Pakistan’s shift to strengthen its strategic relations with Russia and China are not at the cost of Pakistan-US relations- the only objective is to counterbalance India’s hegemony in the region.