Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan will travel to Moscow on Wednesday, the first bilateral meeting between the two nations in over two decades even as a standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine has escalated sharply.
Khan will have “wide-ranging” discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin on bilateral, regional and international topics during the two-day visit, according to a statement from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.
The visit comes as the South Asian country has drawn closer to Beijing as the flagship nation for Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. Its historic ties with the U.S., a key ally during the Cold War years, have become lukewarm. However, Islamabad isn’t shifting camps, Khan said.
“What we want to do is not become part of any bloc,” he said in an interview with the Russian state-run television broadcaster RT. “We want to have trading relationship with all countries.”
However, the Pakistani premier warned that a conflict between Russia and the U.S.-led West would be catastrophic for developing countries like Pakistan.
U.S. and European governments have threatened new sanctions after Putin recognized two self-proclaimed separatist republics in eastern Ukraine and ordered troops sent to them in the latest escalation of Moscow’s standoff with the West.
The bilateral meeting between Khan and Putin will be the first since former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Russia in 1999.
Pakistan has tried in recent years to improve ties with Moscow, a close partner of its arch-rival India. The two nations have supported each other too. Putin said that insulting Islam’s Prophet Mohammad is not freedom of speech. Khan then called Putin to thank him.
Russia is also helping Islamabad with the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline — a mega pipeline project that is crucial since the country’s existing network is running at near maximum capacity. The pipeline’s shareholders’ agreement will be signed this month followed by a design study and construction is likely to begin by the end of the year, Pakistan’s Energy Minister said in an interview with Bloomberg.
The project has been delayed for a few years with one reason being the Russian companies earlier selected had U.S. sanctions imposed on them, said Khan. Khan’s administration is also looking to increase trade with other central Asian nations.
“Pakistan is diversifying its relations within the whole emerging security architecture,” said Huma Baqai, an associate professor at the Karachi-based Institute of Business Administration. “That does not mean at all that Washington has become irrelevant for us, but Moscow has become more important.” – Bloomberg.
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