Pakistan PM Imran Khan in Moscow, set to meet President Putin amidst Ukraine conflict

Pakistan PM Imran Khan, who arrived in Russia on Feb. 23 on a two-day visit, will hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to reset the bilateral ties and expand cooperation in the energy sector

Updated - February 24, 2022 05:20 pm IST

Published - February 24, 2022 12:58 pm IST - Islamabad

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. File.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. File. | Photo Credit: AP

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on February 24 began his engagements in Moscow by laying a wreath at ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ and is scheduled to meet Vladimir Putin, hours after the Russian President ordered a special military operation in eastern Ukraine, ignoring last-minute appeals and warnings from the West.

Mr. Khan who arrived in Russia on Feb. 23 on a two-day visit — the first by a Pakistani premier in over two decades — will hold talks with President Putin to reset the bilateral ties and expand cooperation in the energy sector.

The Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Digital Media, Dr. Arslan Khalid, has said that his visit to Russia “continues as per plan”, dismissing reports in a section of media that Mr. Khan has cut short his visit to Moscow in the wake of the latest developments.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Hussain said that Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow is proceeding and added that he will return to Pakistan as per schedule.

“Speculations about PM @ImranKhanPTI visit are misplaced. The Visit is proceeding and PM will return to Pakistan tonight as per schedule,” Mr. Hussain said in a tweet.

Prime Minister Khan visited the memorial at the Kremlin Wall and paid his respects to the soldiers. He laid a wreath at ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’, a war memorial dedicated to the Soviet troops fallen during World War II, state-owned Radio Pakistan reported.

Members of the Pakistani Prime Minister’s delegation were also present on the occasion.

Mr. Khan’s visit to meet Mr. Putin and discuss issues including economic cooperation came hours after U.S. President Joe Biden and other Western Governments imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia for sending its military into parts of eastern Ukraine.

He was expected to push for the construction of a long-delayed, multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline to be built in collaboration with Russian companies, the Pakistani media reported.

Prime Minister Khan will have a one-on-one meeting with President Putin on Feb. 24 afternoon during which they will discuss issues including economic cooperation, Pakistan’s Geo News reported.

In Washington, Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price said that the U.S. has communicated its position to Islamabad on Russia’s “renewed invasion” of Ukraine and it was the “responsibility” of every country to voice objection to Mr. Putin’s actions.

“Well, we’re certainly aware of the trip,” Mr. Price said. “We’ve communicated to Pakistan our position regarding Russia’s further renewed invasion of Ukraine, and we have briefed them on our efforts to pursue diplomacy over war.”

“We believe it’s the responsibility of every responsible country around the world to voice concern, to voice objection to what Putin appears to have in mind for Ukraine,” he said in response to a question on Feb. 23.

In an interview to Russia’s state-run RT television network ahead of his trip, Mr. Khan, 69, had voiced concern about the situation in Ukraine and the possibility of new sanctions and their impact on Islamabad’s growing cooperation with Moscow.

Mr. Khan, a cricketer-turned-politician, is the first Pakistani premier to visit Russia in 23 years after former Premier Nawaz Sharif travelled to Moscow in 1999.

Pakistan’s ties with Russia have moved past the bitter Cold War hostilities in recent years and the chill in the relations between Pakistan and the U.S. has further pushed the country towards Russia and China.

The two countries are not just exploring options to deepen economic ties, but Russia is also keen to sell arms to Pakistan, something it avoided in the past because of India’s opposition.

The two countries have already been holding regular joint military exercises since 2016 in another sign of deepening ties between Moscow and Islamabad. Besides, the two countries also share the same view on key regional and international issues including Afghanistan.

This article has been updated with Pakistan officials’ response.
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