Pakistan Reader# 546, 31 January 2023
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
On 30 January, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari met with Russian FM Sergey Lavrov in Moscow during his two-day visit to Moscow. During the visit, the two sides agreed to pursue initiatives to deepen bilateral cooperation in various fields, including education, economy, energy and connectivity. In a joint conference, the two ministers spoke about the Ukraine war, the situation in Afghanistan and other political issues. FM Bilawal stated that he hoped that the United States would not interfere in growing bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia, adding that Islamabad could act as a bridge between superpowers.
On the Ukraine war, he called for the resolution of the issue through diplomatic means saying, “We have a firm belief that all conflicts can be resolved peacefully and there are no obstacles which diplomacy cannot surmount. Ukraine conflict is no exception. Developing countries like Pakistan are facing negative consequences of the conflict in terms of economic impact.”
Further, on Afghanistan, FM Bilawal stated that Pakistan and Russia were cooperation on Afghanistan to achieve common goals of peace and stability in the country.
Islamabad-Moscow: A working relation
In the recent past, Pakistan and Russia have been proactive in their engagements with each other. The latest engagement came on 19 January, when the two countries finalized consultations to enhance cooperation in areas of mutual interest. This decision was reached during the eighth meeting of the Inter-governmental Commission on Trade and Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation of Pakistan and Russia. During the meeting, they discussed ways of supplying oil and gas to Pakistan on a “long-term” basis and other matters related to improving bilateral economic and trade relations. They also finalized a draft protocol which would be agreed upon and signed at the meeting’s plenary session to be held on 21 January. The Russian delegation is being led by Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov. The delegation met with Pakistan’s energy ministers and other government officials. The delegation also met with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Lahore, where “views were exchanged on supplying oil and gas from Russia to Pakistan on a long-term basis.” Additionally, he received a message from President Vladimir Putin who views Pakistan as Russia’s key partner in South Asia and the Islamic world. Putin also expressed interest in deepening the bilateral relationship as well as increasing trade and investment between the two sides.
The engagement comes as Pakistan and Russia work towards strengthening their bilateral relations in areas of trade, investments, energy and defence. The relationship consolidated further with then Prime Minister Imran Khan who visited Moscow in February 2021 making it the first bilateral visit by a Pakistani prime minister to Russia in nearly 23 years.
Areas of cooperation
Pakistan and Russia have moved towards building a strategic relationship through several areas of cooperation. These include defence cooperation, energy supplies, technology transfer, investment and trade.
In terms of defence cooperation, the engagement includes buying assault helicopters and participating in joint military and naval exercises. Additionally, for Russia, Pakistan is a prospective market for their military equipment and investments.
In terms of energy supply, the main area of cooperation on energy is the 1100km-long Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline that is planned for transporting gas from Karachi to Kasur is the largest project between the two countries. This along with the supply of Russian energy at discounted rates to Pakistan is an area of cooperation.
In terms of trade, Pakistan and Russia are both looking at enhancing economic cooperation in sectors of IT, agriculture, power, petroleum, railways, water, and commerce. Until now, there has been minimal focus on these areas. In a deal signed in November 2022, Pakistan's finance ministry said that it approved the import of 450,000 tonnes of wheat from Russia ahead of the next crop season. Such deals are made in the light that in 2020, the bilateral trade volume reached a record high of USD 790 million, a 45 per cent increase from 2019.
Syed Irfan Raza, “Pakistan expects no US interference in Russia ties,” Dawn, 31 January 2023
Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, “Outreach to Russia,” Dawn, 24 January 2023