The regional geopolitical dynamics are changing, and a growing China-Russia proximity is a major indicator of that transformation.
The week-long military drills that began along the coast of Russia’s Primorsky region in the Peter the Great Gulf on August 22, reflect the growing collaboration between the two countries. Some 22 vessels, 20 aircraft, 40 armored vehicles and 500 marines from Russia and China are participating in the active phase of the ‘Joint Sea 2015 II’ drills in the Sea of Japan, off the coast of Russian far eastern city of Vladivostok. The goal is to strengthen anti-sabotage, anti-submarine, anti-vessel and anti-aircraft defense. Gunnery drills with various types of surface, underwater and aerial targets are also part of the games.
Earlier in May, Moscow and Beijing held a joint nine-ship naval exercise in the Mediterranean, “to consolidate and develop China-Russia all-round strategic coordination and partnership, to deepen the pragmatic and friendly cooperation between the Chinese and Russian militaries, and… to further enhance their capability of jointly coping with maritime security threats,” according to a press conference by the Chinese Defense Ministry.
Deep defense cooperation with India weighed heavily on Moscow
Pakistan’s planned acquisition of advanced Russian Mi-35 attack helicopters and the Russian offers of support in the power sector may also be seen as a reflection of the growing China-Russia cooperation. The move may be seen as a significant shift in Moscow’s policy towards Pakistan. Clearly, the deep defense cooperation with India weighed heavily on Moscow for decades, but the expanding India-US corporate sector cooperation perhaps works to the advantage of Pakistan, which is desperate for economic revival and development.
Primarily designed for attack and military transport missions, the Mi-35 ‘Hind E’ multi-role gunship helicopter is manufactured by Rostvertol, a subsidiary of Russian Helicopters.
Moscow’s decision is probably guided by the greater engagement between Washington and Delhi, including defense deals close to $10 billion in the last decade or so, including contracts for the purchase of 22 American AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and 15 Chinook heavy-lift choppers in May this year, overlooking their Russian rivals Mi-28 Havoc and Mi-26.
Pakistan may also reach an agreement with Russia to buy the Pantsir-S1 short-to-medium range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon system, the Mi-28E all-weather attack helicopters, and the 9K37 Buk Grizzly missile system, said a report in Want China Times on June 26.
Islamabad is already considering purchasing advanced Yak-130 trainer jets for its air force from Moscow, according to reports. “Pakistan Air Force officials have been talking to executives from Rosoboronexport and Irkut, the maker of the Yak-130, in various arms trade shows, though no definite intention to buy has been received,” the Australian Defense Industry news website defenseworld.net reported on August 20. The Yakovlev Yak-130 aircraft can be deployed as a light strike aircraft or as a trainer for a range of fourth or fifth generation fighters, according to ViewsWeek.com. The Russian Air Force is using as many as 300 of these jets.
Earlier this year, China gifted three Z-10 Fierce Thunderbolt helicopters to Pakistan, and Islamabad may be considering buying more. The Z-10s, considered to be China’s frontline attack helicopters, have been undergoing trial under various conditions in Pakistan, especially in desert region of Bahawalpur. The helicopter has a Russian origin, and was designed by Russian rotorcraft company, the Kamov Design Bureau, under a contract with China.
Russian or Chinese hardware is not new to Pakistan any longer. The JF-17 Thunder, the fighter jet it co-produces with China, is powered by Russian Klimov RD-33 turbofan engine. It first received Mi-17s in the 1990s, and opened a state-of-the-art Mi-17 overhaul facility at the Aviation Base Workshop in Rawalpindi in June 2014, with the help of the Saint Petersburg Aviation Repair Company (SPARC).
The Mi-35 deal is a major departure from Russia’s refusal to export military hardware to Pakistan
While the Mi-35 deal marks a major departure from Russia’s refusal to export military hardware to Pakistan, it will certainly help Islamabad in upgrading or replacing its aging air fleet, and equip it with new air and ground defense systems, reducing its dependence on the sweet will of the US and its allies. The expansion of cooperation to the energy sector is also a welcome development. Potentially, the import of electricity from Russia and China, and working on hydroelectric power plants with their cooperation, can be a boon for Pakistan, with the price hovering around 6 to 8 cents per unit – far cheaper than what it costs us today. Pakistan may also ask China for ultra high-voltage DC transmission lines, thus far the most efficient for long-distance transmission of electricity with minimum line-losses, says Arshad Abbasi, a noted water and power expert who has methodically exposed deficiencies in the Pakistani governance structures. The technology can be used for import of electricity both from Russia and China.
Chinese companies are currently working on several hydroelectric and thermal power projects (mostly coal-based), raising hopes for an end to a prolonged power shortage. At one stage, Russia also offered to export some 5,000MW electricity to Pakistan via the Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan corridor.
But can Pakistan optimally handle even its current power generation capacity before it imports additional power from its neighbors? Perhaps not, says Abbasi. “Incompetence, greed for kickbacks, the lack of a comprehensive practical policy, management incapacity, and an absence of vision” are factors that continue to deprive Pakistanis of electricity, he says. He cites a $38 million World Bank grant for the ministry’s capacity-building between 2008-2013 as an example.
While Chinese and Russian cooperation may help Pakistan get closer to solving its energy problem, a lot depends on how sincerely, consistently and professionally the government in Islamabad handles the potential new supply of energy. No amount of energy, experts believe, will help Pakistan without major long-term reforms in the power sector.