ISLAMABAD: As Prime Minister Imran Khan prepares to depart on a “game changing” trip to Russia amid Moscow reportedly preparing for a full-scale offensive in Ukraine that Western governments have warned about for weeks, a minister in Ukraine said on Monday she had met Pakistan’s envoy to the country who had expressed support for its “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Khan’s visit to Moscow comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine after recognising them as independent on Monday. Putin's announcement drew US and European condemnation and vows of new sanctions.
On Monday, Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Emine Dzheppar tweeted that she had held a meeting with Pakistan’s Ambassador, retired Major Gen Noel Israel Khokhar, who had expressed support for her country’s sovereignty.
“Grateful to Pakistan for supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Dzheppar said on Twitter.
Khan will be in Moscow on February 23-24 on the invitation of President Vladimir Putin. He will be accompanied by a high-level delegation including members of his cabinet.
“The bilateral summit will be the highlight of the visit,” the Pakistani foreign office said.
Khan will be the first Pakistani prime minister to visit Russia in 23 years.
There are reports Pakistan's efforts to cosy up with Russia are in some part due to a push from longtime ally China, which enjoys a quasi-alliance with Moscow. Beijing has hinted recently it would support Russia diplomatically and perhaps economically if it invades Ukraine, worsening Beijing's already strained relations with the West, but would stop short of providing military support.
US President Joe Biden said last Friday Putin had decided to invade Ukraine within days, a claim Russia denies.
China's foreign ministry has repeatedly blamed the United States for "spreading false information" and creating tensions, urging it to respect and address Russia's demands for security guarantees.
In a show of solidarity, Putin visited Beijing for the Feb. 4 opening ceremony of the Olympics, declaring with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping a deepening "no limits" strategic partnership. Chinese state media said the two countries stood "shoulder to shoulder in upholding justice in the world.”
A Russian invasion into Ukraine would test China's resolve to put those supportive words into action, especially given China's oft-stated foreign policy principle of non-interference.