Russia ties with Thais at 'strongest' point
Envoy hopes for closer trade, security links
The Russian envoy to Thailand says relations with Thailand are at their ''strongest'' point, as the countries prepare to mark their 120th anniversary of diplomatic ties next year.
Speaking to the Bangkok Post, the ambassador of the Russian Federation, Kirill Barsky, said relations between the countries are extensive, ranging from political dialogue, economic cooperation, to security and tourism.
He said the governments have agreed to further strengthen economic bonds, with a series of pacts and high-level visits between the two countries set to inject more life into the trade relationship.
Thailand is Russia's biggest trade partner in Southeast Asia with bilateral trade worth US$5 billion (180 billion baht) last year.
"We will continue to implement agreements reached by our two prime ministers and we have a broad agenda to strengthen the legal basis of our cooperation, taking new measures to expand trade and initiating economic projects to reinvigorate engagement between our business communities,'' Mr Barsky said.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Thailand in April last year. Ten pacts were signed between the governments and private sector.
During the visit, Mr Medvedev and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha pledged to increase trade to $10 billion by this year.
Building on that, the Russian ambassador said Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak will visit Moscow soon for trade talks.
"Our priority areas now are the energy sector, transport, agriculture, science and technology,'' he said.
Thailand and Russia are exploring the possibility of working on ''peaceful'' nuclear energy, in which a memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed and working groups convened.
Trade engagement between Thailand and the Eurasia Economic Union (EEU), created in January last year, would also be discussed. The Eurasia Economic Union groups Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Close ties are also extending to security, amid unconfirmed reports that Thailand plans to buy tanks from Russia.
Mr Barsky said the security dialogue is moving alongside political and economic cooperation as Russia is one of Asean's dialogue partners, playing a key role in maintaining the global security order.
A visit by a top Russian security official, Nikolai Patrushev, chief of the Russian security council, early next month, will be another highlight.
The Russian ambassador said Mr Patrushev will visit with security officials from Russia to discuss security concerns with Thai security officials led by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.
"They will discuss cooperation in combating international terrorism,'' Mr Barsky said, adding the delegation will include officials from the defence ministry, interior ministry, drugs and federal security service (FSB).
Mr Patrushev is a close aide of Russian president Vladimir Putin and chairs the security consulting body which advises the president.
He had worked in the Russian secret service, or KGB, which was once headed by Mr Putin.
Mr Barsky said Russia is ready to work with Asean and its global friends to fight terrorism.
"This is the new threat, let's join hands and fight it,'' he said.
A T-shirt with an image of colourful Russian President Vladimir Putin, former head of the KGB, is displayed in Mr Barsky's embassy office.
Asked whether president Putin will revisit Thailand again to reaffirm ties, Mr Barsky said he expected Gen Prayut will invite Mr Putin when he attends the commemorative Russia-Asean summit, which will be held in Sochi on May 19-20, to mark the 20th anniversary of Asean-Russia relations.
On political engagement since the coup, the envoy said Russia sees political developments in Thailand as its domestic affairs, while still hoping Thailand will restore democracy.
"Russia has never attached strings to its relations with foreign countries. We are committed to the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of foreign countries and Thailand is no exception,'' Mr Barsky said.
After the military took control of the country in May 2014, he said, Russia said it backed reconciliation and the restoration of democracy in accordance with constitutional law.
"But Russia strongly believes that what is happening in Thailand is its own affairs and Russia will never interfere,'' he said.
The Putin administration will not abandon or put pressure on its friends. Nevertheless, Russia will use this opportunity to strengthen relations and deepen cooperation without any reluctance.
"Thailand faces many problems these days and Russia, as a friend of Thailand, is eager to extend a friendly hand to help Thais to overcome them,'' he said.