MOSCOW– President Asif Ali Zardari arrived in Moscow on Wednesday to strengthen Pakistan's relationship with Russia on his first major foreign visit since the killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday will host Zardari at the Kremlin where officials were also expected to sign agreements on cooperation in agriculture, aviation and energy.
Moscow is not usually seen as an ally of Islamabad, not least because of its historically close ties to Pakistan's traditional foe India.
Tensions also still linger over the Pakistani secret service's backing of mujahedeen insurgents who fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
But Pakistan is particularly keen to bolster its international alliances with big non-Western powers like Russia amid the boiling controversy with the United States over bin Laden's death and domestic economic problems.
Zardari visited Kuwait at the weekend while Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is due to visit China next week.
The Kremlin hailed the death of bin Laden as a "serious success... in the war against international terrorism" but Pakistan has expressed fury that US forces carried out the raid without informing Islamabad first.
On Wednesday, Medvedev said bin Laden's death could directly affect Russia, ordering officials to tighten up security at the country's foreign embassies.
The Kremlin said Medvedev and Zardari would adopt a joint statement calling for broader economic and political ties and also discuss the fight against terror.
Zardari's programme will also include a tour of Skolkovo, a future high-tech centre outside Moscow billed as Russia's answer to Silicon Valley and a trip to Saint Petersburg.
Speaking in an interview with Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency ahead of the visit, Zardari said he hoped his talks in Russia would breathe new life into bilateral ties.
"Russia has always been a superpower, and I can say it remains a superpower. But today it is also a very big part of our region," he was quoted as saying.
He also said ramping up economic and political ties was in the interests of both countries.
"Tsarist Russia was dreaming about getting access to southern seas," he was quoted as saying.
"Pakistan invites modern Russia to take advantage of its access to southern seas which will no doubt facilitate economic prosperity of the two countries."
Medvedev hosted Zardari at his Sochi residence as part of the four-way summit -- which also included Afghanistan and Tajikistan -- last August when the participants agreed to pursue joint economic projects to help bring stability to the volatile region.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday Russia was keen to explore and develop oil and gas in Pakistan and help the country build railroads and underground gas storage facilities.
Gazprom would be keen to join a plan to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan, while Russia is also ready to take part in the project code-named CASA-1000 whose aim will be sending power from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Russian companies are also interested in modernizing the Soviet-built Pakistan Steel plant in Karachi, the Kremlin said without providing further details.
Citing a source close to the management of state conglomerate Russian Technologies, Vedomosti business daily said on Wednesday that the highlight of the Zardari visit would be a preliminary agreement to give Pakistan a $540 million loan to modernize Pakistan Steel.
Russian Technologies could not confirm the report but Boris Kanzeba, deputy head of Tyazhpromexport, a company which would be involved in the works, confirmed to AFP the talks to upgrade the plant had been going on for some time. (AFP)