The Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Might Herald Larger Russian Regional Ambitions

This isn’t wishful thinking speculation either but premised on recent reports about what Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Javad Owji expected to discuss with his Russian counterpart Nikolay Shulginov on Tuesday in Moscow the day before President Ebrahim Raisi’s trip there.

The Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP) that serves as Russia’s flagship investment in this South Asian state might herald much larger regional ambitions for the Eurasian Great Power. This isn’t wishful thinking speculation either but premised on recent reports about what Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Javad Owji expected to discuss with his Russian counterpart Nikolay Shulginov on Tuesday in Moscow the day before President Ebrahim Raisi’s trip there.

Iran’s publicly financed international media flagship Press TV reported that “Owji planned to discuss options for shipping Iranian natural gas to Pakistan and India with the participation of Russian companies, and manufacturing of oil industry equipment.” Considering the source, it’s safe to say that this report was accurate even though no follow-up details were reported about the outcome of their talks on that particular topic.

Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile analyzing how receptive Russia might have been to this suggestion. The Kremlin’s “energy diplomacy” sees it leveraging its export of these resources and expertise in this industry for the purpose of enhancing its influence in partner countries. Unlike what the US-led Western Mainstream Media (MSM) has fearmongered, Russia doesn’t “weaponize” energy but constructively uses such cooperation for mutually beneficial ends.

In the South Asian context, the Eurasian Great Power expects to become a major energy supplier to those countries whose consumption of such resources is expected to dramatically increase across the coming years. India is leading the pack in this respect but Pakistan isn’t too far behind, ergo the reason why Russia is investing several billion dollars in building the PSGP. This project is expected to serve as proof of the concept that Russia can become a reliable energy supplier even to former rivals.

At the same time, the special and privileged Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership is comprehensively diversifying from its hitherto focus on military-technical cooperation to include other spheres like energy. The two Great Powers plan to work more closely together on this in the coming future, which will likely take the form of India importing such resources from Russia’s Arctic and Far East regions. It’s in this context that the PSGP might have an even more strategic relevance than previously thought.

Indian-Pakistani ties remain complicated despite last year’s ceasefire surprisingly still holding. These neighboring rivals both plan to import Turkmen gas through the TAPI pipeline that’s been planned for years but hasn’t yet been completed owing to the uncertain situation in the war-torn Afghan transit state through which such exports must traverse. With TAPI stalled for the time being but Indian and Pakistani energy needs continuing to rise, Iran becomes a much more appealing source of imports.

India complied with its American partner’s prior demands to curtail energy cooperation with Iran under the threat of secondary sanctions but the potential removal of those restrictions pending progress on the ongoing attempts to renegotiate the Iranian nuclear deal could revive its interests. Even if that doesn’t happen, newly created Russian companies might shoulder the burden of such secondary sanctions in order to profit as intermediaries in facilitating Iranian energy exports eastward.

It’s unimportant whether or not they reach India through an expanded PSGP that might eventually connect to India just like TAPI was supposed to since that Pakistani project already proves Russia’s interest in considerably investing in regional energy infrastructure as a reliable partner. The deep and trust-filled relations between Russia and India could see the latter also expanding its planned reliance on Moscow’s regional energy efforts, in particular its possible role in facilitating Iranian exports eastward.

The details of such a deal would of course need to be discussed a lot more between all relevant parties, with everything depending on Russia and Iran first reaching on agreement on this pragmatic regional energy cooperation proposal, but there’s cautious optimism that something or another might realistically result from the latest talks in Moscow. The PSGP proves Russia’s interest in the region’s energy industry and can play a role in bringing Iran, Pakistan, and India closer together as a result.

It can’t be over-emphasized just how much of a pivotal role the trust between Russia and India would play in such an outcome. New Delhi knows that Moscow would never work against its interests, but to the contrary will always do everything to help its special and privileged strategic partner. This includes pragmatically facilitating Iranian exports eastward, including potentially via the PSGP. Even if that project isn’t used for whatever reason, India shouldn’t have any suspicions about it in general.

The more that Russia invests in Pakistan, the greater the stakes that Moscow has in regional stability since any potential conflict between those South Asian rivals would risk endangering its own investments. This in turn incentivizes Russia to do its utmost to encourage political solutions to their disputes and potentially even mediate between those two in the event of a sudden escalation, though of course only if requested by both parties to do so.

Russia’s comprehensive “Return to South Asia” – which takes military, diplomatic, energy, and other forms across the region’s many countries though currently focusing mostly on Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan – is a completely new dynamic that holds the exciting potential for enhancing stability there. If Russia and Iran reach an agreement to facilitate the latter’s energy exports eastward, then everyone would certainly benefit. That might even set the basis for encouraging further regional cooperation.

Particularly, India and Pakistan are both interested in reviving the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) that they blame one another for sabotaging in recent years. Without getting involved in this blame game, Russia could possibly build upon any regional energy infrastructure successes – especially the potential expansion of the PSGP to India in the best-case scenario – to incentivize both parties to put aside their prior dispute in the interests of regional pragmatism.

Observers must remember that while the PSGP is a purely apolitical commercial project, it nevertheless could have far-reaching regional strategic implications that might be unlocked so long as all pertinent parties have the political will to advance these mutually beneficial ends. The trust between Russia and India as well as Moscow’s forthcoming efforts to pragmatically balance the region in the interests of stability will determine exactly how far all of this could go, but hopefully it’ll eventually bear fruit.

By Andrew Korybko
Source: OneWorld

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