New Delhi: Russia on Tuesday denied it was in talks with Pakistan to join the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a project that India has reservations about since it crosses Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
“Reports appearing in Pakistan’s media about some ‘secret talks’ between Russia and Pakistan on the creation of China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC) do not correspond to the realities,” a Russian foreign ministry statement from Moscow said.
“The possibility of Russia’s joining this initiative is not being discussed with Islamabad,” said the statement forwarded by the Russian embassy in New Delhi.
“Our trade and economic cooperation with Pakistan has its own value. We aim for its further strengthening. The implementation by Russian companies of business projects in IRP (Islamic Republic of Pakistan), including the construction of North-South gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore, are implemented on bilateral basis,” it said.
In New Delhi, people familiar with the developments said India had not sought any clarification from Russia on the issue and that India’s concerns about the project—i.e. that it passes through a portion of Kashmir illegally occupied by Pakistan—were well known to all countries including China and Pakistan.
The Russian clarification follows reports that Pakistan had decided to accord approval to a Russian request for using the Gwadar port in Balochistan for its exports as Moscow has also shown interest to be part of the $46-billion CPEC.
Formal authorisation to Russia to join the CPEC will be given soon, a report in the Hindustan Times said on Saturday. Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper website also reported that Russia and Pakistan had backdoor contacts that had resulted in a major breakthrough, with Russia formally requesting access to Gwadar port and deciding to be part of the CPEC.
The Russian move followed Iran and Turkmenistan also announcing their willingness to use the Gwadar port for trade to have access to warm waters.
Other news reports quoted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as welcoming Russia’s intention to join CPEC, adding an agreement on this could be signed when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Pakistan in 2017.
The Russia-Pakistan engagement comes as Pakistan-US ties are deteriorating over Washington’s growing impatience with Islamabad’s inability to rein in Islamist insurgent groups in Afghanistan.
Russia and Pakistan held their first ever joint military exercise in September. About 70 soldiers from a mountain motorised rifle brigade of Russia’s Southern Military Division took part in the exercise.
This came after Russia lifted a long-standing arms embargo and signed a landmark military cooperation agreement with Pakistan in 2014. Last year, the two sides finalised a deal for four Mi-35 attack helicopters—a move that angered India. Since then, reports have suggested that Pakistan is interested in acquiring more military gear from Russia, including Su-35 combat jets.
New Delhi has been carefully watching Russia’s growing closeness to Pakistan and China in recent months. India and Russia have been strategic partners for decades, with New Delhi perceived to be close to the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.
A large percentage of India’s military hardware is still of Russian origin and New Delhi relies on Moscow for spares and supplies despite India increasingly buying defence equipment from countries like Israel, France and the US.