Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first visit to Russia from Feb 23

Prime Minister Imran Khan will travel to Russia on Wednesday on a two-day visit – the first by a Pakistani premier in over two decades during which he will hold talks with President Vladimir Putin and review the bilateral ties including energy cooperation besides exchanging views on major regional and international issues.

Prime Minister Khan will pay an official visit to Russia on February 23-24 at the invitation of President Putin, the Foreign Office said in a statement on Monday.

He will be accompanied by a high-level delegation including members of the Cabinet, it said.

It said that the bilateral summit between President Putin and Prime Minister Khan will be the highlight of the visit.

“During the Summit meeting, the two leaders will review the entire array of bilateral relations including energy cooperation. They will also have a wide-ranging exchange of views on major regional and international issues, including Islamophobia and the situation in Afghanistan, the FO said.

Khan’s visit to Russia comes weeks after he visited China where he attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics and held talks with top Chinese leadership including President Xi Jinping despite a diplomatic boycott by the US, European Union and several western countries of the mega event. President Putin also attended the event.

His visit to Moscow, which comes amid heightened Russia-Ukraine tensions, is believed to be a clear signal to the West, especially after he said no to Washington on giving military bases in Pakistan following American withdrawal from Afghanistan and not receiving a phone call from US President Joe Biden since he assumed his office in the White House.

Pakistan and Russia enjoy friendly relations marked by mutual respect, trust and convergence of views on a range of international and regional issues, the FO said.

The visit of the Prime Minister will contribute to further deepening of the multifaceted Pakistan-Russia bilateral relationship and enhancement of mutual cooperation in diverse fields, it added.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Sunday confirmed that preparations for the visit of the Prime Minister Khan were underway, the state-run TASS news agency reported.

Progress is also expected on the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline project that the Russian company would undertake in Pakistan laying a pipeline from Karachi to Kasur near the Indian border.

A Russian delegation was in Pakistan recently to negotiate toll-free proceedings and tax exemptions in connection with the Pakistan Gas Stream Project.

Khan will become the first Pakistani premier to visit Russia in 23 years after former premier Nawaz Sharif travelled to Moscow in 1999.

Though former presidents General Pervez Musharraf, Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited Russia, none of them was an official trip.

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 US has further pushed the country towards Russia and China.

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.

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