Russia launched a new offensive before the one year anniversary of its attack on Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Operations have been strengthened against eastern and southern Ukraine, and a major increase in aggression has been predicted. Nearly one year of this war has ravaged Ukraine. The prolonged conflict is expected to worsen what is already considered a grave “humanitarian and human rights catastrophe”. Yet amidst this massive humanitarian catastrophe and economic crisis, what Ukraine has repeatedly stressed is military aid to counter and defend itself against Russian attacks. Several countries, including Ukraine’s neighbours like Poland, have responded to this call. Nordic and Western states have also come to Ukraine’s aid. This includes the United States (U.S.), Canada and the United Kingdom (U.K). In the Islamic world, Turkey has been the primary state supplying arms to Ukraine.
Recent reports place another country on this list; Pakistan is now on the list of countries allegedly coming to Ukraine’s military aid. Among this supposed supply are cluster munitions and howitzer shells. Reportedly, Pakistan is set to dispatch 159 containers of various ammunition, including propellant bags, primers and fuses, and 155mm howitzer shells via Poland. Ostensibly, this supply also contains rockets travelling via Karachi Port to Germany’s Emden port. While there have been confirmed arms supplies from other states to Ukraine–including U.S., U.K., and France etc.– Pakistan’s foreign office has categorically denied any such supplies.
Given Pakistan’s consistent stance of neutrality and its previous refusal to ostracise Russia in the United Nations during the vote on Ukraine, it is unreasonable that the country would go down the path which creates more trouble in its current economic state.
Even before the onset of the war, Pakistan stressed the peaceful resolution of the conflict through mediation and negotiation. Despite its internal political and economic instability, this stance has remained unchanged since the one year that the conflict has been active. And despite internal political and ideological differences, the current government has upheld its predecessor’s tradition of calling for the peaceful resolution of conflict. The country also recognises the economic costs of the war for developing countries like itself. Given Pakistan’s consistent stance of neutrality and its previous refusal to ostracise Russia in the United Nations during the vote on Ukraine, it is unreasonable that the country would go down the path which creates more trouble in its current economic state.
A brief comparison of the Pak-Russia relations and Pak-Ukraine relations also points in this direction. Pakistan and Ukraine’s defence cooperation dates to the 1990s. This cooperation has consisted mainly of Ukraine supplying Pakistan with arms and not the other way around; approximately 320 T-80UD tanks manufactured by the Kharkiv Machine Building Design Bureau (KMDB) were ordered by Pakistan in 1996. They were subsequently delivered during the years 1997-1999. In addition to this, Pakistan has signed several Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with Ukraine in the defence sector. Since 2016, these have included areas ranging from the supply of diesel engines for Pakistani tanks to the upgradation and maintenance of other armoured vehicles. Other defence-related MoUs have included mutual agreements on the protection of classified information. However, this relationship is reported to be indeterminate, and Pakistan has been working to find alternative sources for the supply and maintenance of its arsenal. Contrastingly, the assistance from Pakistan to Ukraine has consisted mostly of humanitarian aid.
Comparatively, Pakistan has had strained relations with Russia for a considerable period. It allied against Russia during the Cold war. Their relations were further strained due to the Afghan policy of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Yet Pakistan has always realised the need to repair this relationship. The growing western financial pressure and the West’s tumultuous policies towards Pakistan have also created a vacuum which cannot solely be filled by Chinese support. For its part, Russia has also highlighted Pakistan’s importance in a recent meeting between the two countries’ leaders following the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s summit in Uzbekistan; Russia recognises the country as a “priority partner” in South Asia.
Pakistan is also seeking to strengthen its ties with Russia to mitigate its energy crisis. The current progress in bilateral ties is driven by the Pakistani authorities’ efforts to revitalise bilateral relations. Pakistan is striving to import petroleum products and Russian oil at discounted rates. The technical details of the cooperation are expected to be settled in March this year, after which Pakistan is looking forward to the supply of Russian oil and oil products. This will help with the unchoking of its economy, which is close to default. Given its grave economic and energy conditions, it is unlikely that Pakistan would gamble with an unfavourable military aid project. Pakistan has previously stressed that it would not be taking sides or attaching itself to any camps in the war. Notwithstanding this policy, Pakistan recognises Russia’s importance. While the former Prime Minister’s visit to Russia became the subject of scrutiny, the fact that the meeting was not cancelled despite speculations of Russia’s aggressive motives highlights the importance Pakistani authorities have given to reviving ties between the two states. In this situation, Pakistan would not risk its future by engaging in arms supply to Ukraine.