Russia–China–Pakistan Engagement in the Changing Global Context: Scrutinizing the Realist Logic of a Trilateral ‘Axis’

AuthorSamprity Biswas
DOI10.1177/0973598421998899
Published date01 June 2021
Date01 June 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
25(1) 7 –25, 2021
© 2021 Jadavpur University
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DOI: 10.1177/0973598421998899
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Article
Russia–China–
Pakistan
Engagement in the
Changing Global
Context:
Scrutinizing the
Realist Logic of a
Trilateral ‘Axis’
Samprity Biswas1
Abstract
Russia’s robust engagement with China coupled with the recalibration
of its ties with Pakistan, coming at the backdrop of Russia’s increasing
estrangement with the West, Pakistan’s dissatisfaction with the USA
over the suspension of security assistance, and India’s closeness
toward the latter are leading scholars and political analysts to remark
that Russia, China, and Pakistan are gradually inching toward the
formalization of an ‘axis’ or a strategic ‘counter alliance’ in a bid to
push for a greater bipolarity in world affairs. Though there are not
enough signs to prove that Russia–China–Pakistan ‘axis’ is a reality,
what is of significance is the emergence of converging interests
among these three states that is gradually leading toward deeper
1 Doctoral Candidate, Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of
International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Samprity Biswas, Doctoral Candidate, Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School
of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Delhi 110067, India.
E-mail: biswassamprity@gmail.com
8 Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 25(1)
engagements among them. It is in this broader context that the article
will endeavor to analyze the factors propelling such a development
and seek to discern the possible implications it may have on the time-
tested ties between Russia and India. The study will move beyond the
realist concepts of a power-centric and relative-gain approach that
presents this trilateral engagement as a ‘counter alliance’ to the USA
and India’s supremacy in the region; instead the article argues that the
factors as presented in the realist narratives are inadequate to explain
the nature of Russia–China–Pakistan engagement in the light of (a)
Russia’s invested relationship with India that is steeped in historical
nostalgia which makes it highly unlikely for Russia to turn against
the latter; (b) second, Russia’s tactical relationship with Pakistan
inevitably weakens one leg of the so-called axis; (c) third, Russia’s
robust partnership with China invalidates the realist argument that
Russia retains an interest in countering China’s growing status as
a countervailing power in the region; (d) fourth, the ‘other’ ( i.e.,
the USA and India) vis-à-vis which the realists attempt to posit the
Russia–China–Pakistan ‘axis’ as a counter strategic alliance is itself
noninstitutionalized and fraught with many challenges.
Keywords
Russia, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the USA, India, Taliban, realism,
terrorism, foreign policy, counter military alliance
Introduction
In the light of significant alteration to the strategic dimensions of the
geopolitical world order, Russia, China, and Pakistan are gradually
coming together. Most scholars and analysts of international relations
are placing their arguments regarding a possible Russia–China–
Pakistan ‘axis’ within the broader context of Russia’s desire to push
for greater bipolarity in world affairs by searching for allies in the
East in the light of its estranged relationship with the West. As
Russian foreign policy has come to be characterized by an assertive
fervor, as manifested in Georgia (2008), Crimea (2014), and Syria
(2015), most analysts have attributed this assertiveness to the external
developments that have characterized the international system at
large (Gardner 2015; Lukin 2016; Mearsheimer 2014); for instance,
Mearsheimer’s (2014) offensive structural realism holds that Russia’s

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