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Malik Ayub Sumbal is Senior Broadcaster, Political Commentator, and Media Consultant. Malik has been associated with world-leading media outlets and news channels. He has more than 18 years of experience while working on key editorial positions. Malik was President at the Consortium for Press Freedom (CPF), a leading organization working for the Press Freedom and Free Speech around the world.
Could Russia-Pakistan relations be on the mend?

Could Russia-Pakistan relations be on the mend?

Pakistan and Russia are heading fast towards strengthening ties as relations between Islamabad and Washington gradually worsen. And it seems that with rumors of a potential Pakistan purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia, the wounds between Pakistan and the US could never heal.

There is a famous saying that says there are no permanent allies and no permanent enemies – only permanent interests, which Pakistani leadership may be taking to heart after 71 years of independence.

Pakistan and Russia relations have had a tense history. An example of the nature of the relations between these two countries could be understood with the story of an individual visiting the Russian embassy in Islamabad. After this visit, Pakistani intelligence agencies chased and followed that person for several months, with the intent of figuring out why the person visited the Russian embassy.

May 17, 201‍7: An S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system takes part in military training of the 428th Zvenigorod Guards Missile Regiment on combat duty in Moscow Region, Russia. /VCG Photo

Unfortunately Pakistan has put it at risk, namely the relationship with several countries including Russia, its next door neighbor, by being an ally of the United States.

The relationship between Pakistan and the US is very strange in nature. Pakistan has been a major ally and friend of the US since 1947. After the September 11 attacks, Pakistan became a close partner in the war against terrorism. Despite this partnership, Islamabad and Washington have a love-hate relationship. Their relations are based on the personal loyalties of individuals, rather than on institutional cooperation. There are very strong lobbyists in Pakistan working for the interests of the US, including in non-governmental organizations and even what some would call civil society activists.

The 1960 U-2 incident

On May 1, 1960, at the peak of the Cold War era, a spy plane flying from Badaber, near Peshawar, from a secret US facility provided by Pakistani authorities, was brought down by Russia. The incident revealed Pakistan’s secret role in helping the United States against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Nikita Khrushchev, chairman of the Council of Ministers of the then USSR, sent a very powerful message to Pakistan authorities, “Gentlemen, Don’t Play with Fire.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) welcomes Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif during his visit to Moscow, February 19, 2018. /VCG Photo

Relations between Pakistan and Russia entered a very dangerous phase after this historic U-2 incident and the level of distrust from both sides reached an extreme level, much of which has never been overcome in the last seven decades.

There was an extensive deadlock between both sides in diplomatic relations, as India and Russia’s strong strategic partnership always interfered with the establishment of ties between Islamabad and Moscow.

But after Pakistan became a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with the strong support of China, it has broken the ice between Russia and Pakistan.

The U-2 incident is a bitter moment in the history of Pakistan and Russia relations, as well as how Pakistan was exploited by the United States for the disintegration of the USSR. For Russia, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was an awful nightmare, making it nearly impossible to forget in any kind of smoothing of relations with Pakistan.

Pakistan’s interest in S-400 defense system

Recently Russian acting Ambassador to Pakistan Vladirmir Berezyuk has confirmed that a very high profile businessmen delegation will be due in Pakistan. This delegation will sign several agreements on various sectors.

May 17, 2017: A Pantsir-S self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery system takes part in military training of the 428th Zvenigorod Guards Missile Regiment on combat duty in Moscow Region, Russia. /VCG Photo

Russia is currently involved in many projects in Pakistan, such as the Karachi Steel Mill and Gudhu Power Plants. It could also be interested in cooperation in other fields, such as banking, oil refineries, and space technology.

Russia is also highly interested in and waiting for a formal invitation to invest in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

There are also backdoor talks going on for the purchase of the Russian S-400 defense missile system. India had plans to purchase the system, but the deal may fall through as the country increases its defense ties with the US.

Pakistan’s abrupt U-turns in its foreign policy is nothing new under the strong influence of the US and its active lobbyists in Islamabad, which previously hindered a visit from Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Though Russian and Pakistan relation’s future is bright, there is still a very strong need to fill the existing gap of distrust. Pakistan has to ensure and address all the possible concerns by Russia, especially regarding US influence.

(The author is a columnist, political analyst and broadcaster. The article reflects the author’s opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.)

Malik Ayub Sumbal is an Award-Winning journalist, Geopolitical Analyst, Commentator & Moderator. He is the author of his newly published book Tovuz to Karabakh, A Comprehensive Analysis of War in South-Caucasus. He tweet @ayubsumbal