Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan heads to Russia on Wednesday for a two-day state visit. The trip – the first state visit by a Pakistani prime minister since 1999 – could not come at a more critical juncture in global politics. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the Donetsk and Lugansk breakaway regions of Ukraine and ordered the deployment of troops there.
Why is Imran Khan Visiting Russia?
Khan’s visit to Moscow will center on economic ties and the uncertainty in Afghanistan. The Pakistani prime minister seeks to advance the trade relationship between Moscow and Islamabad and advance bilateral infrastructure projects that have stalled.
The volume of trade between Pakistan and Russia is low, totaling under $800 million in 2020. The composition of bilateral trade is heavily tilted toward Moscow, which enjoyed a surplus of nearly $500 million in 2020. Pakistan’s export of goods to Russia totaled $144.5 million in 2020. Citrus fruits make up the bulk of these exports, which while growing rapidly from 2004-15, has leveled off in recent years.
Pakistan and Russia have struggled to conclude an agreement for a natural gas pipeline from the port city of Karachi to Kasur in central Pakistan. The two countries aim to sign shareholding and facilitation agreements for the $2.5 billion pipeline, known as the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project, during Khan’s visit. But Moscow is discomfited by Islamabad’s poor track record in abiding by sovereign guarantees.
The visit comes as relations between the two former Cold War rivals continue to warm. For decades, Russia has been – and remains – India’s largest source of arms. And India is Russia’s largest arms export market. Pakistan, an American ally during the Cold War, supported the Afghan mujahideen to evict the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. But as the U.S.-India relationship grows, Pakistan and Russia have been exploring ways to build their relationship.
Imran Khan’s Interview with Russia Today
Prior to departing for Moscow, Khan sat down for an interview with the state Russia Today (RT) channel on Tuesday. The broad-ranging interview covered Khan’s views on spirituality as well as geopolitics.
The Pakistani prime minister also shared his views on two other regional powers: China and India. Khan described the Hindutva ideology that India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party adheres to as “inspired by the Nazis.” He even offered to debate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi live on television.
Khan also said that while Pakistan has no desire to see a U.S.-China Cold War emerge, he believes that “the nation we can learn most from is China.” The two countries have a strong, historic bilateral relationship. And in recent years, they have grown an economic partnership through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – which is billed as a connectivity initiative tied to China’s broader Belt and Road Initiative.