Moscow can offer more
It is a positive development that Russia has pledged closer cooperation in the anti-drug, anti-terrorism problems. However, the truth is that Moscow and Bangkok have little to offer each other in these areas. Information sharing and frequent contacts are always welcome. But Thailand's huge problems of drug abuse and trafficking are regional, and almost never touch Russia, even indirectly.
The cooperation pledge came late last week during the trip to Russia by a high-ranking government delegation led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The visit was successful, especially given that the meetings had no specific agendas or goals. Gen Prayut attended the Asean-Russia Commemorative Summit in Sochi, and held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines aimed at enhancing relations between the two countries. At the end of the year, there will be ceremonies and celebrations of 120 years of official diplomatic ties.
The Russian trip which was the first by Gen Prayut gives pundits and analysts more ammunition for the continuing narrative that the military regime is moving away from its traditional friends. Last year, this narrative was all about China, and the supposed shift in Thai diplomacy to the middle kingdom. Currently, Russia is said to be the new best friend of Gen Prayut's two-year-old coup administration. Where some see diplomatic jerking and flinching, others see Thailand widening its many options.
Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union, have spent most of the past 70 years in Thailand's diplomatic freezer. There was good reason for this. After World War II, Moscow and some other countries in the West spent much effort trying to keep Thailand out of the United Nations. After that, as chief international sponsor of Vietnam and the international communist movement, Moscow was an ideological opponent. Cold war over, it is past time for Bangkok and Moscow to move relations onto a more professional and closer status.
There is vast room for better cooperation, but last week's developments were lacking. Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya and his counterpart, Russian Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Igor Zubov, came up with the statement on combating drug traffickers "and other illegal activities". There were no specifics stated, which is understandable since the drug trafficking problems of the two countries almost never intersect.
The one glaring area that calls for better cooperation was studiously ignored by Gen Paiboon and Mr Zubov. That is the present and growing presence of Russian criminals in Thailand. Apart from those simply seeking refuge from Moscow's justice, Russians have become deeply involved, in questionable ways, in several home businesses. These include the tourist industry and real estate. European-style violence including murders have taken place, and police are often hobbled by a language problem and the Russian mafia's version of omerta, or silence in front of law enforcement.
Indeed Russia can make a significant contribution if it truly wants to help Thailand fight the drug problem. In addition, if Russia has suggestions on how the Mekong Region can better address cross-border trafficking, they will be well heard and appreciated.
Overall, however, given the summit-like importance of Gen Prayut's visit, better results could have been expected. The problem of "foreign mafias" in Thailand is real, and a national threat. They are involved in both licit and illegal businesses. Increased Russian help in identifying and even tracking so-called Russian mafia members and crime figures would be very welcome.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org