- Premier to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin among other officials
- Agenda includes pushing for construction of long-delayed, multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday reached Russia for a two-day visit during which he will hold bilateral meetings with President Vladimir Putin and other officials.
PM Imran was received by Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov upon reaching Moscow, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a Twitter post.
A delegation of ministers is also accompanying the premier.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Senator Faisal Javed Khan called the visit historic and a game-changer. "This is historic as it's the first visit to Russia by any Pakistani Prime Minister in 23 years. Khan-Putin meeting is scheduled for Thursday," the senator stated in a Twitter post.
"Wide-ranging exchange of views on major regional and international issues, including Islamophobia and the situation in Afghanistan will be discussed during PM Imran's meeting with President Putin.
"Meeting to review the entire array of relations between the two countries, including energy cooperation, trade. PM’s Russia visit will be a game-changer," he wrote.
During the visit, PM Imran is also expected to push for the construction of a long-delayed, multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline to be built in collaboration with Russian companies.
Khan's trip to meet President Vladimir Putin and discuss issues including economic cooperation comes hours after a number of Western nations hit Russia with new sanctions for its military deployment into parts of eastern Ukraine.
It is pertinent to mention here that PM Imran's two-day visit was planned before the current crisis over Ukraine.
"Both countries are eager to launch the project at the earliest," Pakistan's energy ministry spokesman told Reuters about the Pakistan Stream gas pipeline.
The 1,100 km (683 miles)-long pipeline, also known as the North-South gas pipeline, was initially agreed to in 2015 and was to be financed by both Moscow and Islamabad, using a Russian company to construct it.
It is unclear how the latest sanctions will affect the project, which would deliver imported Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from Karachi on the Arabian Sea coast to power plants in the northeastern province of 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.
In an interview ahead of his trip, Khan had expressed concern about the situation in Ukraine and the possibility of new sanctions and their effect on Islamabad's budding cooperation with Moscow.
Relations between Pakistan and Russia were minimal for years as Islamabad sided with the United States in the Cold War and was given Major Non-NATO Ally status by Washington after US forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
In recent years, however, relations between the United States and Pakistan have deteriorated and there has been thawing between Moscow and Islamabad, which has seen the planning of projects in the gas and energy fields.
In an interview published on Monday, Khan played down the timing of the visit, and any effect it would have on Pakistan's relations with the West.
"This visit was planned well before the emergence of the current phase of Ukrainian crisis ... I received the invitation from President Putin much earlier," he told Newsweek Pakistan.
Last week, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry termed Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to Russia a "game-changer" for bilateral relations of the two countries.
“It will be a great and game-changer visit, and by the grace of Allah, the Almighty, now after China, Pakistan’s relations with Russia are going to get further strengthened,” he said while addressing media.