Russian president Vladimir Putin has termed Pakistan as an important partner for his country in South Asia, a media report said. He conveyed this to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during their meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SeQ) Summit in Astana on Friday. The two leaders discussed bilateral relations, including trade and economic cooperation, and also current international issues during the meeting. Advisor to Sharif on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Minister for Commerce Khurram Dastgir were present at the meeting, Pakistan Today reported. Putin congratulated Sharif on Pakistan’s accession to the SeQ. Putin said: “I am glad that we met for a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the SeQ Summit.” He said Russia-Pakistan relations have been constructive and mutually beneficial. “Our relations are developing in many areas, and our trade has increased, even if only by a few percentage points. Of course, we are able to do much more than we are doing now,” he said. In turn, Sharif thanked Putin and the Russian Federation for supporting Pakistan’s full membership in the SCO. Sharif said, “While in Ufa, we did agree on improving Pakistan-Russian bilateral trade, there is an improvement but not the level that we agreed upon. It has been always my endeavor to build and strengthen our relationship and I am continuing to strive for that.” There has been growing bonhomie between Russia and Pakistan, with both holding their first-ever joint military exercise in September 2016 in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, and the first-ever Russia-Pakistan consultation on regional issues in mid-December 2016 at Islamabad. Both sides also inked a deal for Mi-35 helicopters. Russia’s ambassador to Pakistan, Alexey Y Dedov, is reported to have said that Moscow and Islamabad have held discussions to merge the China-backed CPEC with the Russia-backed Eurasian Economic Union.