Russian Scholar Mr. Peter Topychkanov’s Visit to IPRI on January 17, 2014

Ambassador Sohail Amin, President Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), after welcoming the scholar and brief introduction of IPRI opened the floor for discussion.

The visiting Russian scholar, Mr. Peter Topychkanov said there were good relations between Moscow and Islamabad in fields such as military cooperation. High Military officers from Pakistan have visited Russia in recent years and vice-versa. And there were regular interactions between the ministry of defence and ministry of foreign affairs of both countries. However, there was a need to develop cooperation between the researchers and academicians of two countries.

Briefing about the research on Pakistan in Russia, Mr. Topychkanov said that during Soviet era and even before the independence of Pakistan researchers such as, Yuri Vladimirovich Gankovski and V. N. Moskalenko were experts on Pakistan affairs. A Russian scholar VY Belokrenitsky even wrote a book “1947: A Political History of Pakistan.”After the fall of Soviet Union a vacuum was created and due to lack of resources and experts there remained few people who actually worked on Pakistan. Presently, there were hardly few researchers whose areas of interests included Pakistan.

Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), which was established by former President Medvedev, was interested in research on security situation of Pakistan. Topics such as terrorism, nuclear security and drugs were being neglected by the researchers of RIAC.

He said the main agenda for dialogue between the US and Russia was Arms Control and allied issues such as politics and security. Even in the times of crisis we had strategic dialogue with the US under Arms Control but it covered other issues as well. Similarly, if there was security dialogue between Pakistan and Russia, both countries could cooperate in such fields as politics, economy, energy and trade.

Pakistan-Russia joint working groups on counter terrorism, strategic stability and inter-governmental commission were positive developments and these would lead to further cooperation in other areas as well. Due to these working groups Russia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs Sergei Kapkov and deputy minister of defence Mr. Anatoly Antonov had shown their interest in the idea of research on Pakistan in RIAC.

Talking about economic cooperation between Russia and Pakistan Mr. Topychkanov said there were limited opportunities due to lack of resources in Russia. Russia needed more resources to protect its investment abroad. He added that even for Russia-China energy projects Beijing had invested more than Moscow for the development of pipelines and infrastructure. Russia was a passive partner in these projects. After the conclusion of energy projects with China it had become difficult to invest in other countries.

He further deliberated on the economy of Russia. He said the country needed to modernise its economy and required years to be able to participate in international projects. There was a debate during the tenure of former President Medvedev about modernisation of industry, economy and energy sectors. He did not have much success because there were many issues requiring attention including corruption. President Putin had continued his predecessor’s policy and was focusing on industrialisation, and corruption. Nonetheless people were pessimist regarding success in the fight against corruption.

He spoke on Russia’s role as a powerful actor in international politics. He said that there prevailed a view that Russia was “Soviet Union-2” which was not true. However, Russia had taken strong stance in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Iran and Syria, which demonstrated that Moscow’s role in the field of international diplomacy was growing. He said another important development was that Russia decided to become a donor country and not an aid receiving country. Russia provided aid to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Afghanistan and other countries. International politics was a complex business and the country was cautious in its foreign affairs and avoided dealing in the fields of military, nuclear capabilities and economy.

He said that President Putin’s foreign policy was different for Pakistan and India. Relations with one country were not at the cost of the other. Russia maintained its relations with Pakistan through security framework and hoped to develop cooperation in trade and economy. While with India, Russia maintained its traditional ties. He said Russia was not sure about election results in India and if Narinder Modi formed new government, it would be a new start in bilateral relations.

An IPRI scholar said that Pakistan had better relations with former Soviet Union for some time, and Soviets constructed Steel Mill for Pakistan. Soviets promised the development of electrical complex in Peshawar and a mechanical complex in Taxila, but these projects could not materialise. Since there was no conflict between Pakistan and Russia the relations between the two countries could further improve. He asked Topychkanov if Russia could help Pakistan in its energy crisis. The scholar replied that there was no conflict between Moscow and Islamabad, however to improve relations both countries need to overcome obstacles related to their past especially the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He was informed that Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan was based primarily on its security concerns.

An IPRI scholar said that the idea of joint research projects to overcome the negative perceptions about each other was a good idea and such projects should be carried out. Russian embassy in Pakistan could approach Pakistani scholars and could play an active role. Mr. Topychkanov suggested that to reduce the cost of joint projects, modern technologies such as video conferencing and online publications could be used. Russian government was also willing to invest for joint projects by think tanks which worked under the government.

The visiting scholar was asked that there was a general perception that Russia was reluctant about the development of east-west and north-south economic and energy corridor. He replied that the east-west corridor required advanced transportation system due to the hard terrain of Russia.  The north-south corridor was not economically feasible because the movement of goods from north to south involved heavy transportation cost which made the product an expensive one when it reached its destination. He said Russian companies were interested in the development of energy corridor and Russia was not against CASA-1000 and TAPI projects. Some Russian companies had discussion with Pakistan in this regard as well.

The scholar was informed that Islamabad had proposed to India the strategic restraint regime which was still on the dialogue table. Because of our lesser capability in conventional domain, it was not possible for Pakistan to adopt separate approaches for conventional deterrence and nuclear deterrence. From Pakistan’s perspective it had combined these two and adopted composite deterrence policy.

Mr. Topychkanov explained that their experience of nuclear safety and security was different from that of the US. Russia would not agree with the US that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons would fall in the hands of terrorists. After the fall of former Soviet Union Russia was worried about the security of nuclear material and protection of civil nuclear facilities. Even a small portion of nuclear material could be harmful. Since Russia did not have efficient border control system it was concerned about the safety and security of nuclear material. He said there were also problems of nuclear security in India. There were more than a dozen incidents of breach of nuclear security in India which included the mishandling and theft of fissile material.

An IPRI scholar observed that there should be exploration in areas where both countries could start afresh without letting the bitterness of past to interfere. The situation in Afghanistan and regional developments called for further cooperation between Pakistan and Russia. North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) were withdrawing from Afghanistan which required regional countries to cooperate for the stability of Afghanistan. Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Pakistan were immediate neighbours of Afghanistan. Russia was worried about drug trafficking and terrorism smuggled to Russia from Afghanistan through CARs. The Indo-Russia cooperation in missile defence and space technology could have its implications on the strategic balance of South Asia. The Russian scholar said that drugs and terrorism was not an American problem it was their problem. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia should address the regional drug problem. Russia had more drug addicts than in other regional country. He said Russia understood Pakistan’s security concerns.

Replying to a question whether Russia was worried about growing Indo-US ties and US backed role of India in Asia-Pacific, Topychkanov replied that it was difficult for Russia to be a competitor to the US in its relations with India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan had huge diaspora in the US which was a binding force to maintain strong relations with the US. Diaspora was the real soft power of India and Pakistan in the US.

It was defence cooperation with India which made Russian defence industry survive after the fall of former Soviet Union and cooperation with India would continue. India and China were main importers of Soviet military technology. Several countries felt that Russian foreign policy was determined by its military and security policies.

Topychkanov was told that Pakistan viewed Russia as a resurgent power and Islamabad did realize Moscow’s importance in international affairs. These realizations lead Pakistan to increase efforts to improve ties with Russia.  In recent past there were high level visits to Moscow.

Talking about disarmament in South Asia the visiting scholar said that Russia understood security concerns of Pakistan and India and both countries were not ready to limit the development of their nuclear weapons. Russia would not interfere in that. However India and Pakistan could talk about arms control.

President IPRI thanked the visiting Russian scholar and said there existed institutional arrangement between Pakistan and Russia in the form of Joint working groups on counter terrorism, strategic stability and inter-governmental commission. There was a need to overcome the constraints to improve the functioning of existing institutional arrangements. The meetings of these official institutions were not held regularly which needed attention from both sides. He added that there existed inter-governmental committee on economics but that too was not active enough. There was a need to identify and overcome impediments to promote bilateral ties.

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Aftab Hussein is Research Officer in IPRI.

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