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Explaining the Strategic Importance of an Afghan Oil Hub for Russia

  • Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan plan to build a logistic hub in Herat province which will facilitate the export of Russian oil to South Asia. 
  • This development could incentivize both Russia and Pakistan to agree on a strategic energy deal.
  • Improved relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, mediated by Russia, could then follow.
oil hub

Authored by Andrew Korybko via Substack,

Afghanistan’s acting Industry and Trade Minister Nooruddin Azizi told Reuters earlier this month that his country agreed with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to build a logistics hub in its northwestern Herat province, which he said will also facilitate the export of Russian oil to South Asia via road and rail routes. The outlet noted that he’s particularly optimistic about Russia exporting this resource to Pakistan in the coming future, though they’ve yet to reach a strategic energy deal despite several years of negotiations.

Even in the absence of one, it might be more convenient for Russia to export oil to India and other countries in its namesake ocean’s region via the North-South Transport Corridor’s Arabian Sea and Gulf ports, which Herat is connected to by the new railway to Iran’s border town of Khaf. Continued maritime exports to the region across the Baltic, Black, and Mediterranean Seas might be deemed strategically undependable due to tensions with the West, hence the need to pioneer a more reliable alternative.

Furthermore, the creation of that selfsame alternative right on Pakistan’s doorstep might incentivize its de facto military rulers to finally reach a strategic energy deal with Russia instead of continuing to dillydally indefinitely as a favor to their American patrons, thus unlocking their full trade potential. Azizi is optimistic that this might indeed occur after revealing on the sidelines of last week’s annual Russia-Islamic World Forum that he hopes to sign a transit deal with Russia, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan.

He also told Sputnik about his government’s vision of facilitating Russian oil exports to South Asia via Afghanistan which he earlier shared with Reuters, though Moscow has yet to confirm its participation in these plans, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t interested. Talks with Pakistan are presumably ongoing behind the scenes as suggested by Azizi’s optimistic media claims, which adds more context to the possibility of Russia inviting Pakistan to participate in the “Outreach”/“BRICS-Plus” Summit in October.

The preceding hyperlinked analysis explains how this could inadvertently offend Russia’s decades-long strategic partners in India, while these three herehere, and here detail its pro-BRI policymaking faction that emerged over the past year and the influence that it’s exerting over these calculations. The relevance to the present piece is that this profitable opportunity might convince the Kremlin to invite Pakistan to the aforesaid summit with a view towards increasing the odds of clinching an energy deal.

Leaving aside the unintended consequences that this could have for Russian-Indian relations in the event that Prime Minister Narendra Modi skips the summit out of protest on whatever pretext, improved Russian-Pakistani relations could lead to the Russian-mediated improvement of Afghan-Pakistani ones. It was analyzed in August 2022 that “The Taliban Envisions Russia Playing A Big Role In The Group’s Geo-Economic Balancing Act”, which is aimed at maintaining Afghanistan’s sovereignty vis-à-vis Pakistan.

It's beyond the scope of the present piece to explain, but these two analyses here and here detail their spiraling security dilemma that brought them to the brink of war in early 2023 and still remains tense. If Pakistan at least partially liberates itself from the American yoke enough to finally seal its long-negotiated strategic energy deal with Russia, then it therefore follows that it would have to improve ties with Afghanistan as well in order to facilitate the planned large-scale transit of oil via that country.

Russia, which has equally excellent relations with both in spite of occasional disputes such as Moscow’s disappointment with the Taliban’s refusal to form an ethno-politically inclusive government that respects women’s rights and suspicions about Pakistan arming Ukraine, could naturally mediate these talks. Any successful outcome would reinforce Moscow’s “Ummah Pivot” from the past few years that can be learned more about herehere, and here, the last of which specifically covers its Afghan dimension.

Russia – or rather its rapidly emerging and newly influential pro-BRI policymaking faction – might calculate that these benefits outweigh the potential loss of soft power in Indian society that would occur if it invites Pakistan to October’s summit in order to set the above into motion. India’s defiance of the US’ sanctions threats over its newly sealed Chabahar port deal with Iran and reaffirmation of its interest in continuing to scale trade with Russia might convince it that the tangible consequences would be nil.

This latest possible development in Russia’s “Ummah Pivot”, which requires finalizing a long-negotiated strategic energy deal with Pakistan and then mediating an improvement in Afghan-Pakistani relations, largely hinges on Russia’s reportedly planned Afghan oil hub that Azizi was the first to publicly reveal. If substantive progress is made on this by summer’s end, then that’ll greatly raise the chances that Russia invites Pakistan to October’s summit, while a lack therefore would keep the odds at their present level.

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By Zerohedge

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