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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 302, 3 March 2022

Imran Khan’s maiden Russia visit: Four focus areas



Pakistan aims to deepen the relations with Russia and make use of the new strategic environment in its favour

Abigail Miriam Fernandez

Prime Minister Imran Khan embarked on a two-day visit to Moscow on 24 February making it the first bilateral visit by a Pakistani prime minister to Russia in nearly 23 years. Although the much-anticipated visit came amidst the Ukraine tensions, the three-and-a-half-hour meeting between Imran Khan and President Putin was not a short discussion. According to the Kremlin, the two leaders discussed the main aspects of bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on current regional topics, including developments in South Asia. A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in Pakistan said that the two leaders held wide-ranging consultations on bilateral relations and regional and international issues of mutual interest. The PMO’s statement added that PM Khan underscored Pakistan’s commitment to creating a long-term, multi-dimensional relationship with Russia. 
 
Pakistan’s bear hug
In the recent past, Pakistan has been working towards building its bilateral relations with Russia; Khan’s visit is a part of this. In December 2021, the national security advisers of the two countries met in Moscow. According to National Security Division (NSD), National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf and Secretary of the Security Council of Russia Nikolai Patrushev reviewed several areas of bilateral relations. They held in-depth discussions on regional and international issues including the economy, energy, defence, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, information and cybersecurity. In April 2021, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Pakistan, the first by a Russian foreign minister in nine years. During the visit, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi termed the meeting as the beginning of ‘a new era’ with Russia. Thus, in the recent past, there has been substantial engagements at various levels between the two countries.   
 
Imran Khan’s Moscow visit: Four focus areas
PM Khan’s visit is aimed to strengthen the bilateral ties in key areas of defence, energy and economic cooperation. These three areas have focused on the recent visit and previous engagements.
 
First on defence and security. Pakistan has been keen on procuring new defence equipments from Russia without triggering any sanctions. Additionally, regarding intelligence sharing and for enhancing cooperation in security-related matters, plans have been made to finalise pending agreements such as the agreement on Mutual Protection of Classified Information, agreement on Intellectual Property Rights and agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Ensuring International Information Security.
During the visit, the two countries signed a letter of intent to enhance bilateral cooperation in the technology sector, foster business relations and increase exchanges between the scientific and technological institutions of the two countries. In this regard, the Skolkovo Foundation, Russia’s principal agency for the development and commercialisation of advanced technologies, and the Special Technology Zones Authority (STZA) of Pakistan will collaborate for this purpose.
 
Second, international support at NSG and the FATF. Pakistan also seeks to gain Russian support for its membership in the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) and Russian support in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Conversely, since Russia also looks for defence cooperation and sales in South Asia, Pakistan wants to serve as a significant buyer for Russian defence and technology.
 
Third, on energy, pipeline and investment. As Russia seeks to increase investment in Pakistan, the ongoing construction of 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. During the visit, PM Khan reiterated this flagship economic project between the two countries and also discussed cooperation on prospective energy-related projects. With the two sides currently negotiating shareholding and facilitation agreements of the project, the visit has given a push for the construction of a long-delayed gas pipeline.
 
Additionally, PM Khan’s visit comes after Germany put the Nord Stream 2 pipeline on hold. Thus, with Russia now looking for new buyers, Pakistan’s depleting gas reserves and supply issue makes them a perfect buyer. Pakistan’s Minister of Energy, Hammad Azhar said that the visit was an “opportunity to learn the technology” of laying a gas pipeline from the Russians, whom he says is the best in the business. He added, “We don’t have the expertise of the scale and size that is needed for this project,” adding, “The project will remain majority-owned [74%] by Pakistan to begin with, so it could be a win-win.”
 
Fourth, both Pakistan and Russia are looking at economic cooperation in vital sectors of IT, agriculture, power, petroleum, railways, water, commerce. Until now, there has been minimal focus on these areas. Following the visit, PM Khan announced that Pakistan would import two million tons of wheat from Russia and buy natural gas under bilateral agreements that were signed during his official visit. He said, “We went there because we have to import two million tons of wheat from Russia. Secondly, we have signed agreements with them to import natural gas because Pakistan's own gas reserves are depleting.”
 
To conclude, Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow aims to deepen the relationship between Pakistan and Russia. The meeting highlights both Pakistan’s and Russia’s commitment to strengthening the bilateral ties between the two countries. Although the relationship is still nascent, Pakistan and Russia stand to gain from their budding relationship by furthering economic cooperation, regional connectivity and strategic cooperation. However, the groundwork for a significant relationship has been laid at all levels. As Imran Khan remarked: “Inshallah (God willing), the time will tell that we have had great discussions.”

References
PM Imran arrives in Moscow on two-day visit to advance gas pipeline project,” Dawn, 23 February 2022
Energy cooperation in focus during PM Imran's meeting with Russian President Putin,” Dawn, 25 February 2022
Baqir Sajjad Syed, “PM Imran looking to reinvigorate ties during Russia trip,” Dawn, 22 February 2022
Fahd Husain, “Should the PM have gone to Moscow?,” Dawn, 26 February 2022
Zofeen Ebrahim, “Renewables on the burner as gas pipeline dominates Imran Khan’s Russia trip,” The Third Pole, 24 February 2022
Russia to enhance IT cooperation,” Dawn, 26 February 2022
Ayaz Gul, “Khan After Putin Visit: Pakistan to Import Wheat, Gas from Russia,” VOA, 28 February 2022
Kamran Yousaf, “Why Pakistan and Russia are getting closer?,” The Express Tribune, 28 February 2022
Khalid Mustafa, “New era of economic cooperation with Russia on the cards,” The News International, 26 February 2022
Shahbaz Rana “Pakistan seeks to restore Russian ties to pre-1979 era,” The Express Tribune, 26 February 2022

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