It is the beginning of a very public romance. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s two-day visit to Islamabad straight from Delhi is designed to make India a little insecure. This is Lavrov’s first visit to Pakistan in nine years.
Moscow and Islamabad have been inching closer since 2014 when Russia chose to lift the embargo on supplying weapons and military hardware. Russia's decision to supply Islamabad with attack helicopters was described as a “paradigm shift”. The 153 million dollar deal dates back to then chief of army General Raheel Sharif’s Russia visit in 2016.
Lavrov’s visit to Islamabad has only deepened the military cooperation. Moscow has committed to supplying more equipment to Pakistan. “We stand ready to strengthen the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including by supplying Pakistan with special military equipment,” Lavrov has been quoted as saying.
While there are no details as to what the equipment is, the reason for supplying the equipment is not going to sit well with Delhi. Nor will the claim by Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in his tweet: “Pakistan and Russia share convergent positions on several issues on multilateral agenda including peace & stability in Afghanistan. Shared w/FM#Lavrov our perspective on larger questions of peace & security in S Asia and worsening human right situation in illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir.”
The Kremlin's closeness to Beijing and its attempt to balance Pakistan with India add to the complexity of the Indo-Russian relationship. In the past few years, Russia has made it clear that it is not in its interest not to have a relationship with Pakistan. “Russia’s ties with Pakistan is independent in nature similar to our ties with India. We are going to develop this relationship (with Pakistan) further. We are focused on fighting terrorism, drugs smuggling and other issues. It is based on the same values based on which we have ties with India,” Russian Ambassador Nikolay Kudashev was quoted as saying at a press conference in December last year.
The shift has happened with India’s increasing closeness to the US as well as its involvement with the Quad—referred to as “Asian NATO’’. In his press conference in Delhi on Tuesday, Lavrov made it clear that the relations with China were the highest ever, but it was not likely to be a military alliance.
The relationship with India may have withstood time, but there is now a view in Russia that wooing Pakistan may have benefits. The two have come together to work on Afghanistan, especially with the withdrawal of the US troops from the country. Russia wants to remain a player in the region and Pakistan’s hold over the Taliban makes it more attractive to woo.
Despite the public wooing, the India and Russia relationship has survived decades. After all it was Russia that engineered a meeting between India and China at the height of the Galwan crisis last year. And the romance may come with the ardentness of the new, but there is something to be said for longevity.