Pakistan’s February 25 ceasefire agreement with India could be a move towards a potential deal with Russia for Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent visit to Islamabad lends credence to this speculation.
The Islamic nation has been toying with the idea of procuring the SU-35 aircraft for quite some time. But its failure to strike a deal with Moscow could be rooted in its strained relations with its neighbor India.
Pakistan is believed to have been conveyed a clear message by Russia that unless it mends its ties with India, there is no chance for the country to get a deal on SU-35 fighter jets, according to a BBC report.
Needless to say, India and Russia maintain close defense partnerships although the former has substantially cut its military imports under its Make-in-India initiative. And despite US reservations, India seems to be determined to go ahead with the S-400 Triumf air defense system deal with Russia.
According to reports, Pakistan’s interest to acquire the SU-35s can be linked to the new ceasefire agreement with the Indian Army at the Line of Control, the de facto border that divides the two countries in the Kashmir region.
While questions have been raised about Pakistan’s long-term commitment to peace and stability on the border given its past records, the move is seen as a mere attempt to please Russia for a potential deal for the SU-35.
A similar strategy was adopted by the UAE to ease tensions with Israel to clear hurdles from its F-35 deal with the US.
In January this year, the Gulf nation had inked an agreement with Washington to purchase 50 F-35 stealth jets and up to 18 armed drones, Reuters reported.
Nevertheless, if this deal bears fruit this time, the SU-35s would plug a long-drawn capability gap for the Pakistan Air Force, as the service lacks a heavyweight twin-engine air superiority fighter in its arsenal.
The potential sale of Su-35s to Islamabad can change the power dynamics in South Asia because the SU-35 could be the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) answer to India’s SU-30MKI air superiority jets, which the Pakistanis have always feared.
It is said that during the 2019 Op Swift Retort, launched in response to India’s Balakot airstrike, the PAF F-16s were hell-bent on shooting down at least one Indian flanker.
The Su-35 is the latest in the Flanker family and was earlier dubbed the SU-27M (along the Russian tradition to name modernized weapons with the suffix ‘M’) but later changed its name to attract export orders.