EXPLAINED: Why is Russia supporting Pakistan-China trade corridor against India's wishes

Russia’s ambassador to Pakistan has expressed support for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC), even proposing that Moscow should consider expanding the scope of the CPEC to include Russia and some former Soviet republics.

The suggestion has drawn sharp reactions from foreign policy experts in India, who are calling on the Modi administration to caution Moscow against indulging Islamabad, which India sees as the main backer of terrorist activities in the region.

Here’s a quick guide to the contentious Chinese trade corridor and what implications Russia’s involvement could have for India and South Asia.

What is China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)?

  • It is a $46 billion project funded by the Chinese government. The CPEC involves a network of roads and railway lines and other developments. The project intends on connecting Xinjiang in China’s West to the warm water port of Gwadar in Pakistan. The road and railway networks pass through some of the world’s highest, as well as most restive, regions.
  • The CPEC is part of ‘One Road One Belt’ initiative of the Chinese government. At its core, the OROB envisions to connect China and other East Asian countries to economies of Europe and Africa through a network of road, railway and maritime routes. Beijing views it as a way to access overseas markets for Chinese manufactured products.
  • The OROB is seen as complementing the growing military power of China on the international stage. The level of importance China’s ruling Communist Party attaches to the trade project is reflected in the fact that it features in the Communist Party’s thirteenth 5-year plan.

Why is India worried about the CPEC?

  • The CPEC passes through the disputed region of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which is claimed by India. New Delhi has objected to the Chinese developments in Kashmir, but so far China hasn’t ceded any ground as it continues its building activity.
  • India is also concerned that Gwadar, the Pakistani city lying on the western end of the CPEC, will be used by Beijing to counter New Delhi’s influence in the Indian Ocean. India considers the Indian Ocean as its own backyard and views any foreign activity in its waters with suspicion.
  • “The Gwadar port and the CPEC built by China have direct and serious security implications for India. Despite India’s objections of CPEC passing through PoK(Pakistan-occupied Kashmir), China has gone ahead with it,” Seshadri Chari, the convenor of the foreign policy unit of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), noted.


What’s Russia’s role in the CPEC?

  • Moscow is trying to forge closer trade and military ties with Pakistan, and that is not going down well with India which has long viewed Russia as a strategic ally. On the other hand, India and Pakistan have fought three wars since both countries’ independence in 1947 and share a disputed border in Kashmir.
  • It is feared that Russia’s intertwining of its economic interests with that of China and Pakistan could affect India’s leverage in the region. Russia is already investing $ 2 billion in Pakistan to build the North-South gas pipeline, which would transport gas from Karachi to Lahore.


  • A recent statement by Russia’s envoy to Pakistan, Alexey Y Dedov, stating support for the CPEC, and moreover calling for merger of Eurasian Economic Corridor, a Russian-backed trade project similar to the CPEC, has drawn sharp reactions from Indian foreign policy experts.
  • “We have to use all our diplomatic capability to impress upon the Russians that their engagement with Pakistan impinges on our national security interests,” Sheshadri Chari from the BJP said.
  • Just last week, a high ranking Russian official stated during a speech in Afghanistan’s Parliament that Moscow supported the Taliban as a legitimate ‘political’ movement, which created unease in New Delhi.

Why is Russia warming up to Pakistan?

  • Russia and Pakistan were on opposing camps during the Cold War, as the erstwhile Soviet forged close defense ties with Pakistan’s arch rival India.
  • However, the ongoing draw down of US-led coalition troops in Afghanistan after a decade-long ‘War on Terror’ risks leaving a security vacuum in the country, which the Putin administration looks keen to fill.
    Experts believe that Russia’s recent feelers to Pakistan indicate that the Putin administration considers Islamabad crucial to the future of Afghanistan.
  • “Moscow would never want Afghanistan to unravel as that would directly affect stability in Central Asia and threaten Russia’s immediate neighbourhood,” a vice-president at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, Nandan Unnikrishnan, says.
  • Unnikrishnan notes that there is clear shift in Russia’s policy towards Pakistan. “Moscow had isolated Pakistan completely during the Cold War, and is now making overtures to it.”
  • He says that Russia knows that it has to factor in some of Pakistan’s economic interests to win Islamabad’s cooperation in security issues, that would help Moscow address its security interests in Afghanistan.
  • BJP’s Chari agrees. “Moscow is just cosying up to Pakistan because the Russians want to address their security concerns in Afghanistan.”

So, is Russia moving away from India?

  • While Moscow is definitely trying to forge a relationship with Pakistan, it may not be in a position to risk its relations with India as yet.
  • Russia was India’s largest defense supplier until only recently being surpassed by the US.
  • Chari from the BJP believes that India has got nothing to worry from growing Russia-Pakistan partnership, at least for now.
  • “The scale of Pakistan-Russia partnership is much less that of the China-Pakistan ties,” he notes.
  • Chari believes that Russia is just serving its national interests by inching toward Pakistan.
  • However, there might be friction between Moscow and Delhi in the future if Russia pursues the idea of getting itself involved in the CPEC.