The Russian reconnect

The reiteration from Moscow that it is willing to supply gas to Pakistan is a welcome development

September 17, 2022


Ice seems to be melting on the Russian front. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting on the sidelines of SCO Summit in Samarkand on Thursday has set a new direction in the frosty relations between the two countries. The reiteration from Moscow that it is willing to supply gas to Pakistan is a welcome development, and falls within the parameters of economic exigency that the latter is facing at the hands of a pestering slowdown and skyrocketing rise in energy prices. What makes the interaction between Pakistan and Russia more important is that this time it is the PMLN-led coalition government that is mulling to enter into trade with a country in the other bloc. Former prime minister Imran Khan landed in a controversy after his landmark visit to Russia, and it is believed that he was shown the doors for treading a line of action that irked the United States. Come full circle, Shehbaz is poised to make a strategic choice, and the onus of decision now solely rests with Islamabad.

President Putin was forthcoming as he spelt out the viability and desirability of energy supplies to Pakistan, reminding that a section of the necessary infrastructure is already in place. Pakistan has a vibrant interaction with Russia in many realms, and the pursuit of energy unfortunately has landed in the power politics conundrum. Both the countries are eager to seek an out-of-the-box solution to further their cooperation, and at the same time are mindful of American sensitivities and concerns. The Western sanctions on Russia and the war in Ukraine are primary impediments for a meaningful bilateral interaction. The flagship economic project of Stream Gas
Pipeline is an instant victim of realpolitik. The $2.5 billion project has been on the agenda since 2015, unable to take off for reasons of political exigency. Likewise, the 1,100 kilometers long pipeline from Karachi to Kasur, which is being built under the Russian aegis too, has hit snags.

Russia sits on a portfolio of $14 billion regional gas infrastructure, and more than a dozen countries are beneficiary of it. Similarly, Moscow has an edge in industrial collaboration, and there is a lot that Pakistan can gain from it as it sizzles under sick units, which are an instant financial liability. Thus, any meaningful understanding with Russia comes as a win-win equation
for Pakistan, as it struggles with inflated oil and gas bills in the international market, and is faced
with a harsh winter coming up in a month or two. The desire on the part of Moscow to sell gas and wheat at subsidised rates is a welcome proposition, and is in need of being realised in larger national interests. This at the same time comes as a source of strength in its foreign policy, by negating the impression that it is inclined towards a particular power pole.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2022.

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