04/12/2021, 10.22
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The Russian-Ukrainian conflict (and arms sales) reaches Islamabad

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov visited India and Pakistan. Moscow tries to offer itself as a mediator between the two Asian giants India and China. Ukraine has close contacts with Pakistan, thanks to its thriving arms market.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Russia and Ukraine are now also competing for international relations in South Asia. On April 9, Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov visited Islamabad after a negotiation session in India. The last official visit of the Russians to the Pakistani capital dates to 9 years ago.

Lavrov proposed to give a higher status to relations between the two countries, based on the achievement of a definitive settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. But immediately after the promises of "strategic trust" with Russia, Pakistan announced the visit of the chief of staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa, to the Ukrainian capital Kiev at the end of April.

Russia is forging important relations in South Asia, trying to present itself as a mediator in the growing conflict between the two giants of the continent, India and China. In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Lavrov said that "we are counting on the fact that the two countries, as responsible members of the international community, will be able to find acceptable political-diplomatic ways to quickly overcome their own discords".

Similar statements were reiterated by the Russian minister in the final press conference with his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, stating that "relations between Moscow and Beijing do not pursue the purpose of creating a military union ... We have common positions with Indian friends, and we want collaboration to be inclusive for the benefit of all, and not against someone ".

In India, Lavrov took great care not to name the other enemy, Pakistan, where he went immediately after his visit to Delhi. Relations with Islamabad are expanding in technical-military cooperation, with the implementation of rather extensive joint manoeuvres.

Lavrov's previous visit to Pakistan dates back to 2012, and had to overcome the drama of Putin's absence at the meeting of the so-called "Dushanbe quartet" (Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan), justified by the president's "too many commitments", in fact, not to upset the Indians.

Since then Putin had no time to visit Pakistan, but met his Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (OCS) summit, which was held in Bishkek in June 2019. Lavrov himself met several Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Kureshi, the last time in September 2020. It was then the Pakistani ambassador to Russia, Shavkat Ali Khan, who proposed the definition of "strategic trust" for relations between the two countries.

In this context, the “Ukrainian mine” exploded, right when the tension with Russia in the Donbass flared up. At the beginning of April, the Ukrainian ambassador to Islamabad Markijan Čučuk met with General Bajwa to "discuss the issues of security in the region and bilateral cooperation", especially in the military field.

This means involving the Ukrainian arms industry of the Ukroboronprom group. On the occasion, Čučuk also sent an invitation to visit Kiev, on behalf of Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Šmyhal '. This will allow Pakistani guests to visit the "Arms and security-2021" exhibition and the "Aviasvit-XXI" air show, with which Ukraine intends to show the world its military strength and technological progress in the sector.

General Bajwa's consent to the visit to Kiev therefore brings the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine to an international level. Military collaboration between Ukraine and Pakistan dates back to the 1990s, when Kiev delivered 320 T-80UD tanks to Islamabad, a Soviet legacy that allowed Ukrainians to save their war industry. In general, Ukraine has been pursuing an anti-Russian "Eastern diplomacy" for some time. President Volodymyr Zelenskii recently visited Qatar, and is preparing a trip to Turkey, trying to position himself on all sensitive terrain, from the Middle East to the Caucasus, and now also in South Asia.

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