FM Bilawal and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov pose for a photo prior to the meeting of Council of Foreign Ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Tashkent on Friday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has invited Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to visit Moscow at a time when Islamabad is trying to maintain a fine balance in its ties between the West and Russia.

The invitation was extended by Lavrov during his brief informal interaction with Bilawal during the meeting of Council of Foreign Ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Tashkent on Friday, an insider said on Saturday.

There was a bilateral meeting scheduled between the two foreign ministers but the late arrival of Lavrov to Tashkent led to the cancellation of the meeting, said the insider dismissing reports that there was any tension between Pakistan and Russia or Lavrov refused to meet Bilawal.

Bilawal met foreign ministers of all member states of SCO on the sidelines except Russia and India.

A meeting with Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishanker was not on the cards but no bilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had raised eyebrows as meetings between Pakistan and Russian diplomats on the sidelines of such regional forums were routine. But the foreign office sources played down the development.

They referred to the engagement of Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishanker who even because of scheduling issues could not hold a bilateral meeting with his Russian counterpart though he met other leaders at the margins of the conference. “Therefore, we should not read too much into it,” stressed a senior foreign office official while requesting anonymity.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has criticised the coalition government for toeing the United States line, saying that was the reason there was no meeting between Bilawal and Lavrov. PTI leader Fawad Chaudry claimed that Lavrov refused to meet Bilawal. Sources, however, dismissed such claims.

They insisted that Pakistan would continue to seek a cooperative relationship with Russia and Bilawal would visit Moscow at an appropriate time.

Pakistan’s relationship with Russia was at the heart of controversy when former Prime Minister Imran Khan was removed from power through a vote of no-confidence earlier this year.

The ousted prime minister has maintained that he was removed from power through a US conspiracy since he wanted to pursue an independent foreign policy, particularly efforts to deepen ties with Russia.

The basis of his claims was a classified diplomatic cable that details a meeting between the Pakistani Ambassador in Washington and a senior Biden Administration official in March.

Pakistan’s then Ambassador Asad Majid wrote back to the foreign office conveying the Biden administration’s serious reservations over Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow.

As per the diplomatic cable, US Under Secretary of State for South Asia Donald Lu informed the Pakistani envoy that the Biden administration was not happy with Imran’s decision to visit Moscow at a time when President Viladmir Putin was preparing for the invasion of Ukraine.

He then went on to say that Pakistan would have to face the dire consequences if a vote of no-confidence against Imran did not succeed.

The country’s top decision making body on national security met twice—once when Imran was still prime minister and second time when he was ousted from power—concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that the US was behind the vote of no-confidence against the PTI government.

But Imran is convinced that there was interference and has kept demanding a judicial probe into the controversy.

Russia officials and the state media have endorsed Imran’s allegations that he was punished for pursuing an independent foreign policy.

Against this backdrop, all eyes were on the SCO meeting that whether Foreign Minister Bilawal would meet his Russian counterpart.

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