imran: Amid Ukraine stand-off, Imran Khan off to Moscow for talks with Putin

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan PM Imran Khan embarked on a two-day trip to Moscow on Wednesday, the first since predecessor Nawaz Sharif travelled there 23 years ago, amid a fast escalating stand-off between Russia and the West over Ukraine.
While Imran’s visit seems to have been overshadowed by war clouds building up in the region, Islamabad said he would have wide-ranging discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin on bilateral, regional and international issues. The foreign affairs ministry avoided mentioning the agenda for the talks.
As such, it highlights the warming of ties between Pakistan and Russia against the backdrop of fast-changing geopolitics and emerging political realignments in the region.
In a recent interview with Russian state-run television RT, Imran said Islamabad did not want to become part of any bloc. But observers believe that the $60 billion-plus Chinese investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor has brought it too close to Beijing.
Pakistan has also tried in recent years to improve ties with Russia, a close partner of its arch-rival India. Pakistan’s strained relations with the US has been described as a key factor for the thaw in Islamabad-Moscow ties.
Besides growth in trade and economic relations, bilateral interaction has also increased. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov had visited Islamabad last April, nearly nine years after the last such visit by a Russian government figure.
There has been a significant surge in security cooperation between the two countries. They have been regularly conducting joint military exercises since 2016. In 2018, they formed a joint military commission, coinciding with Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s visit to Moscow.
Pakistan and Russia were seen recently supporting each other on the issue of Islamophobia, too. Imran called Putin to thank him for giving a pro-Muslim statement, saying that insulting Prophet Mohammad was not freedom of speech.
In his latest interview, Imran played down the timing of his Moscow visit as well as the possibility of it having any effect on Pakistan’s relations with the West. “This visit was planned well before the emergence of the current phase of the Ukrainian crisis…I received the invitation from President Putin much earlier,” he said.

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