Russia Is Bombing Ukraine While Putin Is Chilling With Pakistan’s Prime Minister

“What a time I’ve come here. So much excitement,” Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on his arrival.

An extravagant ceremony awaited Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as he stepped onto a red carpet on a Moscow airstrip. Trumpet players from Russia’s Guard of Honor welcomed him with Pakistan’s national anthem on the evening of Feb. 23. 

“What a time I’ve come here. So much excitement,” Khan said to a diplomat as he was escorted off the airstrip. His words were caught on a video posted by his office on Twitter.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is welcomed with an official ceremony in Moscow, Russia on February 23, 2022. Photo: PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTRY/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The arrival marks the beginning of a bizarrely timed two-day visit where Khan is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while Russia’s armed forces are bombing Ukraine and Russia is becoming a pariah to the Western world. 

Just hours after Khan’s arrival, in the early morning of Feb. 24, explosions and gunfire were heard near Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. Russian forces reportedly fired missiles in several cities in Ukraine with military deployments to the country’s southern coast. Shortly before, in a televised address on Russian state TV, Putin announced the beginning of a Russian military operation in eastern Ukraine. 

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

As the spectre of war unfolds across Eastern Europe, Khan’s diplomatic visit on energy cooperation, countering Islamophobia, and Afghanistan has raised confusion, embarrassment and disgust. He is accompanied by a delegation of several high-ranking federal ministers.  

Khan has maintained a seemingly neutral stance about the conflict. In an interview with Russian state-media broadcaster RT, he said, “What we want to do is not become part of any bloc,” adding, “We want to have trading relationships with all countries.” Khan also expressed hopes for the current crisis to be resolved peacefully. 

Advertisement

In a video depicting their meeting at the Kremlin, Khan and Putin can be seen shaking hands before being seated. A nervous-looking Khan can be seen holding prayer beads in his hand.

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

Right before his scheduled meeting with Putin, Khan laid a floral wreath on the tomb of an unknown soldier at a monument in Moscow that pays tribute to the Soviet soldiers killed during World War II. 

In an apparent balancing act, Pakistan’s ambassador in Kyiv met with Ukraine's first deputy foreign minister and voiced support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity before the visit. 

But that was before the bombing. 

U.S. President Joe Biden has denounced the “unprovoked and unjustified” assault on Ukraine and vowed to hold Russia accountable. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has urged Russia to halt military operations underway. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made an impassioned plea for peace

Prior to the invasion, the United States, the European Union and Britain had slapped financial sanctions against an increasingly isolated Russia. The sanctions were in retaliation to Putin’s order of sending Russian troops to separatist territories of Ukraine under a “peacekeeping” mission just hours before he recognized them as independent regions. 

Now Pakistani analysts are concerned that the optics of the Russia visit could backfire and jeopardise Pakistan’s diplomatic ties with Western nations. 

Advertisement

“It is very clear that this visit is at a critical juncture as the Ukraine crisis is sweeping the entire world. So it becomes even more important because it could be seen as taking sides with Russia. The fallout could be serious,” Imtiaz Gul, executive director for the Center for Research and Security Studies, told VICE World News. 

Addressing the timing of the trip, Khan told Newsweek Pakistan that “this visit was planned well before the emergence of the current phase of the Ukrainian crisis… I received the invitation from President Putin much earlier.” 

During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan, a historic Cold War ally of the U.S., had a fraught relationship with Russia. In recent times, however, the two countries have pursued closer relations, especially as Pakistan’s diplomatic ties with the U.S. became increasingly lukewarm. In fact, on July 15, Russia signed an agreement to construct a $2.5 billion natural gas pipeline in Pakistan, giving Islamabad a majority 74 percent share in the project. The pipeline is part of a promised Russian investment of $14 billion in Pakistan’s energy sector, which puts Russia’s interests in competition with Pakistan’s historic leading ally, the U.S.

In a tweet, Adam Weinstein, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, pointed out Biden’s lack of communication with Khan in comparison to Putin’s sustained contact with the Pakistani prime minister. 

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

Opposition party politician Hina Parvez Butt lamented in a tweet what could be Pakistan’s resulting “alienation” from the rest of the world as a consequence of Khan’s trip. Journalist Kamran Khan also dubbed the visit as “an embarrassment.”

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

“The primary concern is that this trip, because of this problematic timing, is not construed or perceived by the U.S. and the West as Pakistan’s endorsement of Russia’s actions or as Pakistan taking sides,” Brookings Foreign Policy program fellow Madiha Afzal told VICE World News. 

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan takes part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin Wall in Moscow on February 24, 2022. Alexander NEMENOV / POOL / AFP

“That would conflict with Pakistan’s own interests as well – given Pakistan’s repeated statements that it should not be seen as part of any ‘bloc’ – and its own relationships, economic and otherwise, with the U.S and with the EU,” said Afzal. “This means that Prime Minister Khan will have to undertake a very careful, calibrated, and focused trip – one that focuses on Pakistan-Russia bilateral ties as planned in advance.”

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

When asked about the timing of Khan’s visit to Russia in a Feb. 23 press briefing, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said, “We believe it’s the responsibility of every responsible country around the world to voice concern, to voice objection to what Putin appears to have in mind for Ukraine. We’ve communicated to Pakistan our position regarding Russia’s further renewed invasion of Ukraine, and we have briefed them on our efforts to pursue diplomacy over war.” 

According to the Wilson Center’s Asia Program deputy director Michael Kugelman, Khan’s presence could potentially help boost Putin’s image. 

“The other risk is that Khan becomes a prop for Putin's propaganda, with Putin using Khan's presence as an example to the world that Russia still has good friends after what happened. Putin may try to goad him into saying something regarding Ukraine. Hopefully Khan doesn't take the bait,” wrote Kugelman in a tweet. 

“Ultimately, the question is what comes next. If Russia escalates further and expands its actions beyond eastern Ukraine, if global sanctions are ramped up even more, and if Islamabad continues to engage closely with Moscow, then you really have to worry about serious ramifications for some of Pakistan's key diplomatic relationships,” Kugelman told VICE World News. 

Follow Rimal Farrukh on Twitter.

Tagged:

war, Ukraine, russia, Πακιστάν, Afghanistan, Putin, south asia, Imran Khan, ukraine invasion, worldnews, world conflict

More
like this
Ukraine’s ‘Neo-Nazi’ Battalion Is Greasing Bullets in Pig Fat for Russia’s Muslim Soldiers
Why the World’s Biggest Democracy Is Silent on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
Behind the Hashtag That Inspired Mass Protests After Imran Khan’s Removal
Nuclear-Armed India ‘Accidentally’ Fired a Missile Into Nuclear-Armed Pakistan
Russian Media Is Hinting That Putin Hasn’t Made Up His Mind About Ukraine—Yet
Russia Trying to Seize Kyiv and Replace Ukraine’s Leaders, NATO Officials Warn
Everyone Expected Putin to Make a Major Ukraine Announcement. He Didn’t.
Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Is Likely to Create a New 1,300km Border With NATO