ISLAMABAD - Russia is set to expand ties with Pakistan and engage in trade and business worth billions of dollars, officials have said.

A 64-member delegation headed by Minister for Trade and Industries for the Russian Federation Denis V Manturov is visiting Pakistan. The delegation will be in Pakistan until December 11 to attend an Inter-Governmental Commission.

Senior government officials told The Nation that agreements were being signed between the two countries to enhance cooperation to the highest levels.

The new Pak-Russia deal is expected to amount $9 billion under which Islamabad would purchase heavy and medium fighter jets, medium and short-range air defence systems, tanks, combat helicopters, and warships.

Russia is expected to provide financial assistance worth $1 billion for the rehabilitation and upgrading of Pakistan Steel Mills project.

The Russian-based company developed a project of converting Muzaffargarh thermal power station to coal and establishing a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant at Jamshoro.

Russia will also offer Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ-100); a narrow-bodied aircraft with a dual-class cabin that can transport 100 passengers over regional routes.

The plane is being marketed by Sukhoi – a major military aircraft manufacturer in Russia – in Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. “The aircraft is comparable in comfort to Airbus and even Boeing,” said an official.

As Russia prepares to enter Pakistan in a big way, Islamabad may eventually become Mascow’s closer partner than New Delhi, experts believe.

Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has played a significant role in bringing Pakistan and Russia closer. “The army chief has even visited Russia and discussed the defence ties. We (Pakistan and Russia) are now exchanging visits and coming even closer,” said another official.

Last week, Pakistan and Russia signed an agreement on settlement of mutual financial claims and commitments on operations of the former Soviet Union, whereby Pakistan repaid the debt of $93.5 million to Russia.

The document was inked by Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak and Ambassador of Pakistan to Russia Qazi Khalilullah. Funds will be credited within 90 days from the effective date of the agreement.

A well-placed government official said the debt was an irritant which barred Russia from cooperating at higher levels. “We have removed the problem. Russia will come to Pakistan strongly now,” he said.

Another official said Pak-Russia ties have improved quickly in the recent years. “The past bitterness is over. We are close friends now,” he added.

According to the Russian Finance Ministry, export and import operations on supplies of various products were carried out in the 1980s between the USSR and Pakistan. Countries had outstanding commitments on repayments of funds from accounts of Russia’s VEB.RF with the National Bank of Pakistan.

These funds were earlier received to settle the debt of Pakistan but were later blocked in the absence of agreements on settlements of counter-claims related to settlements within the framework of export-import operations of the former USSR.

Russia has aspired many times to help reconstruct Pakistan and become a major defence partner and supplier of high tech military equipment.

Currently, China is the largest arms supplier to Pakistan. From 2014 to 2018, China sold weapons for 6.4 billion dollars. The second place in the supply of weapons is held by the United States, which concluded contracts worth 2.5 billion dollars.

The third is Italy, which sold weapons in the amount of 471 million dollars. If the $9 billion contract would be signed, Russia will become the number one arms exporter to Pakistan.

This year, a meeting of the Pakistan-Russia Consultative Group on Strategic Stability was held in Islamabad. Sergey Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, had led the Russian delegations.

During the meeting, the two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on prevailing regional and global security environments and their impact on the international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation agenda.

The two sides agreed on the need for preserving multilateralism in the field of international security and disarmament and shared the concern regarding the possible erosion of painstakingly negotiated international arrangements in several areas, it added. “The discussions encompassed issues such as non-militarization of outer space, upholding bilateral and multilateral treaties, developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security as well as matters related to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva,” a foreign ministry statement said.

Pakistan-Russia Consultative Group on Strategic Stability is a platform for structured dialogue between the two sides and has been meeting since 2003.