Russia and Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) late last month to carry out a feasibility study for prospectively building a $10 billion undersea gas pipeline that Moscow hopes will eventually connect Iran, Pakistan, and India.
The megaproject was first floated last November during President Putin’s visit to Tehran at the time, and the progress that’s been made since then to get to the point of signing this MOU speaks to the fast-moving and increasingly strategic nature of Russian-Pakistani relations as each Great Power seeks to diversify their international relationships with non-traditional partners such as one another in order to better adapt to the changing complexities of the emerging Multipolar World Order. Just as importantly, however, it also proves Russia’s willingness to “balance” competing pairs of Great Power rivals in order to retain regional stability, such as what it’s slated to do between Pakistan and India if its pipeline plans succeed. The bet that Russia is tacitly making is that tensions between those two countries will diminish if they enter into a Russian-facilitated relationship of complex interdependency with one another through this pipeline.
There are also other tangential benefits to this megaproject as well.
The first is that it’s much more geopolitically viable than the $10 billion TAPI pipeline from Turkmenistan that has to pass through conflict-plagued Afghanistan, which could potentially become delayed or ultimately rendered unviable if Daesh establishes a presence in the western part of the landlocked country through which this project will traverse. Relatedly, so long as India has the political will to resist the US’ sanctions threats, then the Russian-built pipeline from Iran could ensure that it remains one of the Islamic Republic’s main energy consumers. Even if it doesn’t and the project ends up stopping in Pakistan, then it’s possible that Russia could cooperate with Saudi Arabia – which recently committed billions of dollars to CPEC – and China to build a CPEC-parallel pipeline to the People’s Republic. Failing that, an indisputable point to consider is that Russia and Pakistan are nevertheless still cooperating to break the US-imposed “isolation” of Iran.
This seemingly simple observation is a lot more important than many might initially think.
Both partnered Great Powers have years of experience surviving under different manifestations of American pressure, though Iran certainly takes the cake from both of them when it comes to this, and all three will have to pool their collective resolve to resist the increased pressure that they’ll surely come under by the US if they do indeed go forward with these pipeline plans. The combination of their shared incentives to cooperate with one another and the similar position that they’ll be put in vis-à-vis American pressure because of it could conceivably contribute to a strengthening of their trilateral relations that might in turn form an important axis of stability in Eurasia and further the ultimate goal of a Golden Ring of multipolar Great Powers if Turkey and China eventually join this multilateral platform of resistance. Assessed in this manner, Russia’s planned pipeline with Pakistan could be a real geostrategic game-changer.