Russia, Pakistan in talks for Putin’s maiden visit to the country

PTI, Jan 24, 2022, 8:40 PM IST

Pakistan and Russia are in talks to finalise the plan for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first visit to the country this year, according to a media report.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has already extended a formal invitation to President Putin. He reiterated the invitation to Putin during his recent telephonic conversation with the Russian president.

The two leaders are also expected to meet in Beijing next month on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

The visit of the Russian president was being discussed by the two sides for the last two years but could not materialise because of a variety of reasons including the Covid-19 pandemic, officials familiar with the development told The Express Tribune on Sunday.

The likely visit of President Putin will be the culmination of years of efforts by two sides to open a new chapter in their ties that were marred by the Cold War rivalry.

Moscow also wants that there must be ‘big ticket projects’ or other initiatives that the Russian president would announce when he finally undertakes the trip to Pakistan, the report said.

However, diplomatic sources said Putin wanted to undertake the visit when he had “something big to sell”.

With the signing of the Pakistan Steam Gas Pipeline agreement, the prospects of Putin visiting Pakistan have brightened significantly.

Pakistan is keen that President Putin inaugurates the groundbreaking of the multibillion-dollar gas pipeline project, which might kick off later this year. Pakistan wants Russian companies to lay the pipeline from Karachi in Sindh province to Kasur in Punjab province.

The North-South Gas Pipeline, which has now been renamed as Pakistan Steam Gas Pipeline, is a flagship project that the two countries intend to undertake ever since they decided to bury their Cold War rivalry and enter into a new era of bilateral ties.

The agreement was originally signed in 2015 but because of possible US sanctions on the Russian companies and other issues, the work on the 1,122km-long pipeline could not be started.

However, the two sides finally crossed those obstacles and signed an amended agreement that would now give 74 per cent stakes in the pipeline to Pakistan. Earlier, the pipeline was to be constructed completely by Russia under the built, operate and transfer model.

The project will cost around $2.25 billion. Once complete, the pipeline will help address the shortage of gas in Punjab. The LNG that Pakistan now imports will be re-gasified through this proposed pipeline.

Officials familiar with the development said the project not only had economic but strategic significance for Pakistan. They said Pakistan wanted to broaden ties with Russia as part of its efforts to diversify its foreign policy options.

In April last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Islamabad after a gap of almost nine years. During the visit, he conveyed a message to Pakistani leadership on behalf of President Putin that Moscow was willing to extend all possible help to Islamabad.

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, according to the Express Tribune.

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