Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is scheduled to undertake a maiden visit to Russia today (Sunday) in a move highlighting Pakistan’s push to maintain a close relationship with big powers.
“Foreign Minister Bilawal will undertake an official visit to Moscow at the invitation of Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov from January 29-30, 2023,” a statement issued by the Foreign Office on Saturday read.
The foreign minister, as per the statement, will hold official talks with his Russian counterpart where the two sides would deliberate upon the entire spectrum of bilateral relations and exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.
The visit is seen as significant given the fact that former prime minister Imran Khan cited his push to deepen ties with Moscow as one of the reasons behind his ouster through an alleged US conspiracy.
Imran travelled to Moscow on a bilateral visit and met Russian President Vladimir Putin the day he ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine. The former premier was convinced that he was punished for that visit and his intent to pursue an independent foreign policy.
Imran had said that Washington was not happy with his decision to visit Moscow in February as Putin was preparing to invade Ukraine. Hours before his meeting with Putin at the Kremlin, Russia had invaded Ukraine.
The ousted prime minister later claimed citing a diplomatic cable that the US had warned him that if a vote of no confidence did not succeed Pakistan would have to pay a heavy price.
Imran also claimed that he was ousted from power since he refused to take the US dictation on foreign policy issues.
The opposition alliance that voted him out of power and later formed a coalition government had always rebutted the PTI chairman’s allegations. In order to dispel the impression that the incumbent government had the blessing of the US, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif held a bilateral meeting with the Russian president at the sidelines of the SCO summit in Samarkand in September last year.
The move highlighted that despite the change of government in Islamabad, both the sides were keen to deepen their bilateral cooperation.
The two former Cold War rivals had long been seeking rapprochement much before Imran came to power. The two countries decided to bury their bitter past and adjust to the new realities.
As Russia’s long-standing strategic ally, India, had developed close ties with the US, Moscow and Islamabad, too, tried to diversify their options.
After Imran’s ouster, the Russian media blamed the US for being behind it but in a meeting with Shehbaz, Putin indicated that he was willing to work with the new dispensation in Islamabad.
Pakistan, beset with economic crisis, is exploring options to import oil and gas from Russia at discounted rates. The two sides during the recent visit of the Russian energy minister reached an agreement to complete all the formalities by March before Pakistan started importing Russian oil.
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