RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Imran Khan shake hands before their meeting in Kremlin on Thursday.—AP
RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Imran Khan shake hands before their meeting in Kremlin on Thursday.—AP

• No agreements, MoUs signed during whirlwind tour
• Every responsible country must voice concern over Ukraine, US tells Pakistan
• Visit to Europe also being planned, cancelling trip would’ve been difficult, says Fawad

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Imran Khan conveyed to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that he regretted the situation developing between Russia and Ukraine, adding that Islamabad had hoped that military conflict could be averted through a diplomatic solution.

PM Khan and his entourage, who concluded the historic visit to Moscow after a working lunch meeting which lasted over three hours, left the Russian capital around 9:30pm local time.

A communiqué issued after the meeting stated that PM Khan stressed that conflict was not in anyone’s interest and that developing countries were always hardest hit economically in case of conflict. “He underlined Pakistan’s belief that disputes should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.”

PM Khan reaffirmed the importance of Pakistan-Stream Gas Pipeline as a flagship economic project between the two countries and also discussed cooperation on prospective energy-related projects.

Earlier in the morning, the premier paid his respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, a memorial to the Russians who perished in World War II.

But while the PM and his National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf were meeting President Putin and his team, the rest of the cabinet members could be seen strolling in Red Square.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry was constantly engaged with Pakistani journalists in Moscow or giving telephonic interviews to news channels back home.

Although there was no interaction with the press following the meeting between the two heads of government, press releases were issued from both sides after the meeting.

A readout on the Kremlin’s official website simply read: “The leaders of the two countries discussed the main aspects of bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on current regional topics, including developments in South Asia.”

Tangible takeaways

But as anticipated, nothing concrete has been agreed upon or signed that can be touted as a major successful takeaway from the visit. The two press releases of both meetings also do not mention any such agreement or even the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding.

Adviser to PM on Commerce and Investment Razak Dawood told DawnNewsTV the purpose of coming to Moscow was that Pakistan needed regional connectivity. “Beyond regional connectivity, we need trade, which is quite low with Russia,” he said.

Rejecting the notion that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could land Pakistan in hot waters, he said such crises offered an opportunity for countries like Pakistan. “If sanctions are imposed on Russia, we will see how to proceed further.”

Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar was of the view that whatever agreements were signed on several energy projects, eventualities like sanctions and other legal angles are covered in it. “Whatever decisions we make will be legal,” he said.

Washington’s ‘measured’ response

In a cautious response to PM Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow, the US on Thursday reminded Islamabad that ‘every responsible country’ must voice concern over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

When asked to comment on Mr Khan’s Moscow visit at a Wednesday afternoon news briefing, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “We’re certainly aware of the trip, and the points I said earlier about the PRC (China) in some ways apply here.”

Earlier in the briefing, Mr Price reminded China that “every responsible country in the world has an obligation to use any influence it has with the Russian Federation to urge, to incentivise, to advocate for Vladimir Putin to back down, for the Russian Federation to de-escalate.”

“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,” Mr Price said

The US, he said, has had a longstanding partnership and cooperation with Pakistan and “we view our partnership with a prosperous, with a democratic Pakistan as critical to US interests.

The US, he said, had a similar expectation from Pakistan on the question of Ukraine.

“We certainly hope, when it comes to those shared interests – the aversion of a costly conflict, the aversion of a destabilising conflict, that every country around the world would make that point clearly in unambiguous language in their engagements with the Russian Federation,” the US official said

Asked if the US saw the timing of the visit as an indirect endorsement of President Putin’s policies, Mr Price said: “You would have to ask the Pakistani government what the intent is.

It was perhaps in response to this that the Pakistani information minister, in his measured interaction with the media in Moscow, said Pakistan was moving ahead while keeping the complexity of the situation in mind.

“We are also in contact with the US and the PM is also likely to visit Europe soon as well,” he said, adding that in these circumstances, postponing the planned trip to Russia would have been difficult.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2022

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