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Imran’s one-hour meet with Putin stretches to three hours amid Moscow’s Ukraine offensive

President Vladimir Putin met Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in the Kremlin on Thursday in his first face-to-face talks since the start of a special Russian military operation in eastern Ukraine and the two leaders discussed the main aspects of bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on current regional topics, including “developments in South Asia”.

Khan, who arrived in Russia on Wednesday on a two-day visit – the first by a Pakistani premier in over two decades – began his engagements in Moscow by laying a wreath at ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’, hours after the Russian President ordered a special military operation in eastern Ukraine, ignoring last-minute appeals and warnings from the West.

During the meeting in the Kremlin, the leaders of the two countries “discussed the main aspects of bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on current regional topics, including developments in South Asia,” said a brief statement issued by the Russian President’s office – Kremlin.

This was the first face-to-face talk of the Russian leader with a foreign leader since the start of a special military operation to protect Donbass.

Earlier this month, the Russian embassy in New Delhi had said in a statement that the “Russian official position on the issue of Kashmir and Russia’s principled stance on non-interference in bilateral disputes remain unchanged.” “The solution should be found between India and Pakistan only, and it should be based on the achieved agreements, including the Simla Agreement of 1972 and the Lahore Declaration of 1999,” it said.

During the meeting on Thursday, President Putin and PM Khan reviewed the entire array of bilateral relations, including economic and energy cooperation, particularly the Pakistan Stream gas pipeline, state-owned Radio Pakistan reported.

The regional situation, including the developing scenario of Ukraine, also came under discussion, it added.

President Putin also hosted a luncheon for Prime Minister Khan.

Earlier, Putin received Khan when he arrived for the summit meeting. The two leaders warmly shook hands and posed for cameras. Then they proceeded to the one-on-one meeting which was initially planned for one hour but it was extended as the two sides warmed up to strengthen their ties despite the timing of Khan’s visit due to the Ukraine situation.

Prime Minister Khan was 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 Member of the National Assembly Amir Mahmood Kiyani.

Earlier, the Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Digital Media, Dr. Arslan Khalid, said that his visit to Russia “continues as per plan”, dismissing reports in a section of media that Khan has cut short his visit to Moscow in the wake of the latest developments.

The meeting between Khan and Putin to discuss issues including economic cooperation came hours after US President Joe Biden and other Western governments imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia for sending its military into parts of eastern Ukraine.

Khan was expected to push for the construction of a long-delayed, multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline to be built in collaboration with Russian companies, the Pakistani media reported.

Separately, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in their meeting in Moscow reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen bilateral relations.

They discussed important regional and global issues, including bilateral relations, enhancing cooperation in areas of mutual interest.

Qureshi said on the occasion that Pakistan attaches special importance to bilateral relations with Russia. He said relations between Pakistan and Russia have gradually strengthened.

He said that Pakistan is pursuing the agenda of promoting economic priorities and regional ties.

In Washington, Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price said that the US has communicated its position to Islamabad on Russia’s “renewed invasion” of Ukraine and it was the “responsibility” of every country to voice objection to Putin’s actions.

“Well, we’re certainly aware of the trip,” Price said. “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.” “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,” he said in response to a question on Wednesday.

In an interview with Russia’s state-run RT television network ahead of his trip, Khan, 69, had voiced concern about the situation in Ukraine and the possibility of new sanctions and their impact on Islamabad’s growing cooperation with Moscow.

Khan, a cricketer-turned-politician, is the first Pakistani premier to visit Russia in 23 years after former premier Nawaz Sharif traveled to Moscow in 1999.

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.

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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