Dost Muhammad Barrech
RUSSIA, underestimated by the US and Europe, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union now has accelerated its potent influence in international politics. The West after Cold War confined Russia merely to its neighbouring countries. Russia, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin since 2002, has involved itself in International Politics splendidly in regaining the prior ascendency. Moscow, since 2002, has engaged in shrewd diplomacy, military intelligence, and cyber warfare to have an unprecedented influence in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
A bona fide reason behind the Russian new adventurism is to undermine the US led- liberal International Order, and also showcasing its role as global power. The Russian annexation of Crimean 2014 was a strong message of Putin to erode the US-led democracy in Ukraine. The US support to Kiev was a geo-strategic gain but it was a matter of survival for Russia. Joan Mearsheimer, an Offensive Realist rightly says, every regional and global power desires to have a monolithic influence in its peripheries. Appropriately, Moscow, tries to expand the Russian foothold in its peripheries to perpetuate a buffer zone being pro-Russian. In Russian, peripheries Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are not under the tutelage of Moscow. Moscow, subsequently, engaged in enfeebling political transitions of aforementioned countries, stopping their ties with the West.
Moscow, on the other hand, is obsessed with growing Chinese influence in the Central Asia and leaves no stone unturned to expedite its influence in the region. Meanwhile, Moscow feels insecure in the presence of the Western Trans-Atlantic institutions, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), —the United States, and the European Union (EU) and has endeavored to create divisions within the US allies. Trump’s “America first” slogan further consolidates Putin’s contemplation of creating division and differences within the US allies. Alienated by the Trump’s unpredictable intention, the EU is hanging in the balance and seeks to de-escalate the US dependency too. Moscow assiduously exercises an opportunity, being created by the Trump administration.
Russia, by following the trajectory of the Soviet Union intends to have a role in the Balkans, playing the card of Christian Orthodox and nationalist approach to prevent the integration of Balkans in European structures. Meanwhile, supporting the regime of Bashar-al-Assad in Syria by the Moscow is attributed to gain the Russian domination in the Middle East and stopping the presence of Islamic State (IS). Russia also has a naval facility in Tartus in Syria, giving access to reach the Mediterranean Sea.
Iran and Turkey once at daggers drawn, now realized the potential of Russia to de-escalate Middle East’s chronic issues. Both, Iran and Turkey came on one page, by virtue of Kurdish referendum held in Iraq, on September 25, 2017, demanded independence from Baghdad. The independence of Kurd in Iraq poses a threat to the national integrity of Iran and Turkey as in both countries Kurds inhabit; the independence of Kurd state in Iraq might instigate Iranian and Turkish Kurds for the secession. Russia, in this regard plays a substantial role for Iran and Turkey to protect their national integrity. Russian influence is also pre-requisite in the region, to eliminate IS and to resolve Syrian crisis.
Saudi Arabia, an influential player of the Middle East also tilts towards Russia; Saudi King Salman premier visit to Russia demonstrates that Saudi Arabia is looking forward to evolving its foreign policy and seeing new markets for the consolidation of its economy. Saudi’s differences with the US regarding Iran nuclear deal, compels King Salman to have cordial ties with Russia. Putin, on that occasion, accentuated the significance of realpolitik and categorically said that “Is there anything in the world that stays unchanged?” Putin said “I think that all things changed”.
The Russian presence is increasingly expanding in South Asia, making alignments with China and Pakistan. Putin sees South Asia in the lens of Russian competition with the West. In Putin’s South Asian policy, Pakistan by all means a worthwhile asset. Both Russia and Pakistan held first joint military exercise in September 2016. Russia in 2014 lifted an arm embargo against Pakistan and had pledged to send Mi-35M attack helicopters to Pakistan. Trump’s recent tweet against Pakistan has already sparked the war of words between the US and Pakistan. Divergence of interest between the US and Pakistan has created convergence of interest between Russia and Pakistan. Trump’s belligerence approach seems to be further reinforcing the alignments between Russian, China and Pakistan.
The dilemma of Afghanistan for the Russia cannot be ruled out, particularly in the presence of IS in the region. Russia is exceedingly concerned about the IS foothold in Afghanistan and believes that Russian Muslims could be the best target of the IS indoctrination. There is a prevailing assumption that Afghan Taliban are being supported by the Russia to counter IS. The US and Afghan officials stated that since 2015, Russia had been providing funding and arms to Afghan Taliban.
Realistically speaking, change is the law of nature; yesterday’s foe can become today’s friend. In International arena, relations among intrastate cannot be taken for granted. Ground realities and changing circumstances put states under tremendous pressure to protect the national interest by evolving states’ relations. Russia, named Soviet Union during Cold War was a hostile state towards Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Turkey, now has become the best avenue for them to evolve and diversify their relations.
— The writer is Research Assistant, Institute of Strategic Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.