However, Putin dispatched Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Islamabad Wednesday in what looked like a hastily arranged effort to explain the change to Pakistani leaders and keep the door open for future warming of ties. Experts say that an increasingly anxious Russia wants very much to engage with Pakistan, and sees it as an indispensable regional player in dealing with whatever emerges in Afghanistan following NATO's pullout in barely two years. The Russians fear a repeat of the turbulent 1990s, when narcotrafficking exploded across former Soviet Central Asia and militant Islamist movements based in Afghanistan triggered major civil strife in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
"It remains to be seen what will happen, of course, but most in Moscow tend to view it through the prism of how things went when the USSR pulled its forces out of Afghanistan in 1989. There followed a string of disasters which nobody would like to see repeated," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow foreign-policy journal.
"Pakistan will be a key player, and it follows that Russia must have an open channel to Pakistan, at the very least to know how they will react and what they will do," he adds.
Not everyone agrees that the outlook for Afghanistan after 2014 is chaos. Gen. Makhmud Gareyev, president of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences and a former adviser to the pro-Soviet leader of Afghanistan, President Najibullah, following the withdrawal of Soviet forces, argues that things are quite different now.