Islamabad: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday left for Russia on a two-day visit – the first by a Pakistani premier in over two decades during which he will hold talks with President Vladimir Putin and exchange views on major regional and international issues.

Khan is accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising senior members of his Cabinet.

According to Foreign Office, the bilateral summit between Prime Minister Khan and President Putin 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. They will also have a wide-ranging exchange of views on major regional and international issues, including Islamophobia and the situation in Afghanistan, the FO said.

It said the visit of the Prime Minister will contribute to further deepening of the multifaceted Pakistan-Russia bilateral relationship and enhancement of mutual cooperation in diverse fields.

In a tweet, the Russian Foreign Office said that President Putin and Prime Minister Khan will hold talks in Moscow on Thursday.

Khan’s visit to Russia, which comes amid heightened Russia-Ukraine tensions, is believed to be a clear signal to the West, especially after he said no to Washington on giving military bases in Pakistan following American withdrawal from Afghanistan and not receiving a phone call from US President Joe Biden since he assumed his office in the White House.

Prime Minister Khan has expressed hope for a “peaceful solution” to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine as he emphasised that military conflicts could never solve problems.

“I am not a believer in military conflicts. I believe the civilised societies resolve the difference through dialogues and countries that rely on military conflicts have not studied history properly,” Khan said during an interview with Russia’s state-run television network RT on the eve of his visit.

Khan said he was sure that people in Ukraine and Russia were aware of the consequences of an impending conflict.

President Putin on Monday signed decrees to recognise Ukraine’s regions of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics as independent , escalating the tension in the region and increasing fears of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. He also ordered Russian troops into eastern Ukraine in what the Kremlin called a “peacekeeping” mission in the Moscow-backed regions.

The US-led West has warned Russia that it would face severe consequences for its actions in Ukraine.

Khan’s visit to Moscow comes weeks after he visited China where he attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics and held talks with top Chinese leadership including President Xi Jinping despite a diplomatic boycott by the US, European Union and several western countries of the mega event. President Putin also attended the event.

Before leaving for Moscow, the Prime Minister chaired a meeting of the Central Executive Committee of his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in Islamabad, where the Prime Minister took the meeting into confidence about his Russia visit.

Radio Pakistan reported that the meeting appreciated the independent foreign policy being pursued by the government.

Later briefing the media persons, Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry said Prime Minister Khan, in an interview with a Russian television, made it clear that Pakistan will not become part of any bloc.

Chaudhry said the Prime Minister’s Moscow visit has gained great significance in view of the current international scenario. All eyes are now on the meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said.

Khan is the first Pakistani premier to visit Russia in 23 years after former premier Nawaz Sharif travelled to Moscow in 1999.

Though former presidents General Pervez Musharraf, Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited Russia, none of them was an official trip.

Pakistan’s ties with Russia have moved past the bitter Cold War hostilities in recent years and the chill in the relations between Pakistan and the US has further pushed the country towards Russia and China.

In April last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Islamabad after a gap of almost nine years. During the visit, he conveyed a message to Pakistani leadership on behalf of President Putin that Moscow was willing to extend all possible help to Islamabad.

The two countries are not just exploring options to deepen economic ties, but Russia is also keen to sell arms to Pakistan, something it avoided in the past because of India’s opposition.

The two countries have already been holding regular joint military exercises since 2016 in another sign of deepening ties between Moscow and Islamabad. Besides, the two countries also share the same view on key regional and international issues including Afghanistan.

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