Russian envoy lauds Thai diplomacy
Moscow keen to engage Asean further
As Thailand's year-long chairmanship of Asean came to an end last month, the country's efforts to create a positive and stable environment amid the trade war between China and the United States received praise from Russia.
In a special interview with the Bangkok Post, Russia's Ambassador to Thailand, Evgeny Tomikhin, said Thailand successfully steered the bloc away from conflicts despite the global tendency to shift towards protectionism.
"Thailand managed to find a balanced model to move Asean forward, which was really difficult to do," he said.
"I don't think [managing the trade war] this year will be any easier for Asean, but its policies have been quite balanced because one of the organisation's main objectives is to create a stable environment which can sustain growth, not only for its members but also for its neighbours."
With the United States looking set to sign the so-called "phase-one" deal with China in Washington on Jan 15, tensions between the two giants are expected to cool.
In light of the plan, Mr Tomikhin said China and the US should iron out the differences between themselves, despite the impacts on their trade with Asean and Russia.
"We may have our considerations and views, but the final decision is up to them," he said.
When asked about Russia's plan to adapt its foreign policy to the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), Mr Tomikhin admits that he does not fully grasp the concept, before going on to stress the importance of solidarity and underlining Asean's role in the region.
"We support [the AOIP] and Asean's push to have a more central role in regional affairs. Otherwise, why would we upgrade our relationship with Asean to a 'strategic partnership'?" he said.
"[A threat] to the principle will bring about problems for the region, its entire geopolitical structure and/or its security architecture."
When asked about concerns over regional security as countries in the region, including Myanmar and Thailand, have decided to buy military equipment from Russia, Mr Tomikhin sought to allay fears by saying military hardware isn't a big part of Russian trade with either nation.
"There is a treaty between the Russian Federation and the US concerning arms reduction and limitations. For us, it is important to find that 'line' when it comes to national affairs. On one hand, it's just trade. But on the other hand, regional dynamics are also important," said Mr Tomikhin.
"Russia is a partner and friend to all countries."
Mr Tomikhin also called for greater cooperation between Asean and Russia through Russian-led international cooperation mechanisms, such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
"For Russia, it is very important to establish close platforms in the framework of President [Vladimir] Putin's initiative on the establishment of a new Eurasian partnership ... I think this year will bring about new developments," said the ambassador.
On the subject of economic cooperation, Mr Tomikhin said that Russia is waiting for Thailand's response to the next EAEU-Thailand FTA working group meeting. The first working group meeting, he said, was held in Moscow last June.
"We want to develop a much closer relationship with Asean nations. About two or three years ago, EAEU signed a free trade agreement with Vietnam, making it the first Asean member country to sign up to the pact. About two or three months ago, Singapore joined the EAEU," he said.
At the moment, he said, Russia is looking for business opportunities in Thailand's Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), in a bid to push up bilateral trade between Thailand and Russia, which has stagnated at about US$3.5 billion (105.87 billion baht) for two consecutive years.
"The aviation sector is particularly interesting because we have the equipment and technology. We are thinking about establishing a service centre for Russian-built aircraft in Thailand and its neighbouring countries," said Mr Tomikhin.
The ambassador also said Russia is keen to cooperate in the energy sector.
"We are one of the world's leaders in oil and gas. We have contacted some Thai companies and we would like to invite them to consider these opportunities. Last month, we started to export natural gas through the Power of Siberia pipeline from Russia to China," he said.
On people-to-people contact, the ambassador said Russia and Thailand should work towards providing more travel information because more and more tourists are choosing to go to smaller, alternative destinations.
"More and more Russians are going to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai," he said.
"Asian tourists tended to prefer classical destinations like St Petersburg, but these days you can see many tourists in Murmansk to see the northern lights."
Mr Tomikhin said Russia is developing its infrastructure to make it more convenient for tourists to get around, which he believes will attract more Thai tourists to explore more destinations in Russia,
"We have a lot of interesting places, including Lake Baikal," he said.
The number of Thai tourist arrivals in Russia went up from about 50,000 in 2018 to more than 70,000 in 2019.
Meanwhile, the number of Russian tourists in Thailand remained more or less the same at 1.5 million -- ranking first among European countries.
The ambassador said he recently visited Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
"It is a positive place to live and work. Unfortunately, there is no snow because I am a fan of skiing," said Mr Tomikhin.