Imran arrives in Moscow, first visit of a Pak leader in 20 years

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan arrives in Moscow Wednesday on a two-day official visit, at the invitation of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. The prime minister is accompanied by a high-level delegation including federal ministers Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, Asad Umar, Hammad Azhar, Commerce Advisor Abdur Razzak Dawood, National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf and Amir Mahmood Kiani.

After a span of two decades, this is the first visit of any Pakistani prime minister to Russia. The bilateral summit 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, according to Foreign Office.

They will also have a wide-ranging exchange of views on major regional and international issues, including Islamophobia and the situation in Afghanistan.

The prime minister’s visit will contribute to the further deepening of the multifaceted Pakistan-Russia bilateral relationship and enhancement of mutual cooperation in diverse fields.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan leaves for Moscow at Islamabad Airport on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy: Prime Minister’s Office)

Pakistan-Russia relations have made impressive progress over the past two decades. There has been regular interaction between the two sides at the highest level as well as the working level.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has spoken thrice to President Putin on August 25, 2021, September 14, 2021 and January 17, 2022. The prime minister has also extended an invitation to President Putin to visit Pakistan.

In an interview ahead of his trip, PM Imran had expressed concern about the situation in Ukraine and the possibility of new sanctions and their effect on Islamabad’s budding cooperation with Moscow.

It is unclear how the latest sanctions will affect the project, which would deliver imported Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from Karachi to power plants in Punjab.

The project is important for Pakistan — particularly the power sector — as the country’s dependence on imported LNG grows in the face of dwindling indigenous gas supplies.

The pipeline project has already suffered delays because of earlier sanctions.

“This North-South pipeline suffered, one of the reasons … was the companies we were negotiating with, turned out that US had applied sanctions on them,” PM Imran told Russia Today on Tuesday.

“So, the problem was to get a company that wasn’t sanctioned,” he said of the project.

Pakistan-Russia collaboration on pipeline project

In 2015, Russia and Pakistan agreed in principle to build a 1,100 km-long pipeline to deliver imported LNG from Karachi to power plants in Punjab.

The pipeline’s designed annual capacity stands at 12.4 billion cubic metres (bcm), with the possibility to be increased to 16bcm.

The cost will require investments of between $1.5bn, according to Russia, to as much as $3.5bn, estimated by Pakistan, with 26 per cent of it to be financed by Moscow and the remaining 74pc by Islamabad.

The project was to be launched in 2020, but Russia had to replace the initial participant after the company was hit by western sanctions not related to the Pakistan Stream project.

Currently the pipeline, a rare example of Russian participation without state gas company Gazprom, involves the Eurasian Pipeline Consortium, steel pipe maker TMK, which produces steel pipelines for the energy sector, and Operational Services Centre run by the Russian Energy Ministry.

Russian shareholders expect to return their investments from gas shipping fees.

Currently, feasibility studies are taking place on the project but there is no firm date set for the launch. According to Russian media reports, shareholder agreement for the Pakistan Stream should be signed this month.

On May 28, 2021, Russian Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov and Pakistan’s ambassador in Moscow Shafqat Ali Khan signed an agreement on behalf of their countries to build the Pakistan Stream gas pipeline.