Emerging Pakistan-Russia Relations: Challenges and Way Forward

The term ‘realpolitik’ has rarely defined a relationship between two nations more accurately than one shared among Pakistan and Russia. On the individual level, the two nations could not be more unique from each other.They are being in two distinctly separate parts of the world, varying in all aspects of race, caste, and creed among their populations. However, when observed under the scope of an international lens, one would slowly discover a spider web with each thread being connected to every significant development in recent history.

Russia being the global superpower it has been, ever since its USSR days and long before, finds itself ever-linked to the unique geo-strategically located and relatively young country Pakistan. Since its inception, Pakistan has been under the western juggernaut that has often played an active role in the future trajectory of its foreign relations. Pakistan and Russia have seen each other as allies as well as critical deterrents on many occasions.

However, what makes this relation a treat to study for any ‘realpolitik’ enthusiast would be its exceptional dynamics. Both states 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’s’ national security like Pakistan adopted with India right from its inception. The ever-vibrant dynamic between the two states 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 United States (US) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (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, 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 would ensue accepting either one. The Prime Minister of Pakistan ‘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. Even the infamous U2 incident, where Pakistan was revealed to be assisting the USA in spying on USSR territories, was not enough to deter their efforts.

Even actively assisting India by providing them with military assistance in weaponry did not stop them from mediating a treaty after the 1965 war. The USSR also helped Pakistan to construct a steel mill in 1970 in Karachi; however, their sense of goodwill had  its limitations. Pakistani soon witnessed the repercussions of the decision Liaquat Ali Khan made in 1950. During the 1971 war, while Pakistan’s ally the USA held back, the USSR having allied with India did not. This ultimately culminated in the separation of East and West Pakistan, and Bangladesh came into existence.


In 2021 an agreement for the implementation of the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project (PSGP) was also signed, a $2.5 billion agreement, which had been lagging since 2015. Pakistan, being a developing country, especially expecting an increased demand with the completion of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), needs to fulfil its increasing energy demands. The PSGP will be expected to provide an annual gas capacity of 12.4 billion cubic meters. In 2021 the collective trade between the countries saw a record growth of nearly $600 million.

Still, even for the following years, Pakistan tried to keep it as neutral as possible. Trying its best not to place itself directly between the two conflicting foes and balancing both sides to the best of its abilities. However, this plan was soon made obsolete when the Soviets launched a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan. The USA could not afford to 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 also saw the threat as it would have been most likely the next target after Afghanistan and decided to step into the limelight finally. 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.’

While the Russians kept using their power to Veto the Kashmir issue away from Pakistan in the United Nations, it was not because of some want of revenge but because India was the largest market for Russian defense equipment, and they needed to rebuild better and stronger than before. In 2001 after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, there was a standoff between the two nuclear-armed nations. However, the President of Russia, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, offered to mediate between the two sides, which Pakistan welcomed. Pakistan and Russia both find themselves a part of The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and relations have been on a steady incline for the recent past.

Mutual Cooperation towards collective growth seems to be a policy shared by the two, especially in recent years. Ever since China’s President Xi Jinping revealed the BRI project in 2013, Pakistan-Russia 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’ signed in 2018. In 2017 Pakistan even received four MI-35 attack helicopters from Russia for $153 million.

In 2021 an agreement for the implementation of the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project (PSGP) was also signed, a $2.5 billion agreement, which had been lagging since 2015. Pakistan, being a developing country, especially expecting an increased demand with the completion of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), needs to fulfil its increasing energy demands. The PSGP will be expected to provide an annual gas capacity of 12.4 billion cubic meters. In 2021 the collective trade between the countries saw a record growth of nearly $600 million.

Imran Khan’s recent trip to Russia was a significant statement at a global level. Being the first trip by a Pakistani Prime Minister in 23 years, its reception on the Russian side was positive. The imagery of Imran Khan and President Putin sitting next to each other was a strong message considering it was coming right at the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine signals the end of the USA’s era as ‘leader of the free World’.  Both Pakistan and Russia’s leaders, having just come from meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing, may highlight that world powers such as Russia, China, and Pakistan are united aimed geo-economic interests. The global political sphere has shifted away from the US’s unipolarity to a multipolar setting. Furthermore, with The Belt and Road Initiative (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.

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About Wasif Maken 3 Articles
Wasif Makeen is Digital Editor at Voice of Melange (VOM)