Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan began his bilateral historic visit to Russia—the first in 23 years—on Wednesday amid escalating tensions between the West and Russia over the Ukraine crisis
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan began his bilateral historic visit to Russia—the first in 23 years—on Wednesday amid escalating tensions between the West and Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Khan is likely to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, the day Russian forces began what Moscow terms a "military operation" in Ukraine in defiance of Western pressure.
The visit, which was in the planning for months, comes as Islamabad tries to deepen its strategic relations with Moscow in the face of its strategic sidelining by the US. The Pakistan government termed it a prelude to “the greater relationship in strategic, energy and regional connectivity.”
Despite pressure in the wake of the prevailing situation, Prime Minister Khan didn’t postpone his visit—a sign that could widely be perceived as Islamabad’s tacit endorsement of Russian actions in Ukraine and could further dent its ties with the West, especially the US.
“What a time I have come, so much excitement. So excited on coming to Moscow,” Khan said on Wednesday, just after landing in the Russian capital.
C Raja Mohan, a foreign policy expert and senior fellow at Asia Society for Policy Institute, New Delhi, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine, “Khan and Putin would like to demonstrate that Pakistan and Russia now matter for each other—more than ever before–in yet another sign of the inexorably shifting geopolitics of the region.”
He further suggested Islamabad sees Russia as a “means to reduce its traditional reliance on the United States” now that Washington has moved close to New Delhi. Russia, on other hand, Raja Mohan argued, appears ready to move towards a more balanced regional policy between India— its traditional ally—and Pakistan, which still remains a major non-NATO ally of the US.
Madiha Afzal, an expert on Pakistan, who is a fellow at Brookings Foreign Policy, said, “It is certainly going to be a closely watched trip—given the timing which happens to coincide with the escalating crisis with Russia and Ukraine, and what it does to advance growing bilateral ties between Islamabad and Moscow.”
However, she suggested Pakistan might face trouble if the West's sanctions would put the proposed gas pipeline worth over $2.5 billion in jeopardy. Russia has already shown interest in building the gas pipeline in Pakistan.